CubaBrief: Laura Pollán at 75 – Remembering the Cuban dissident leader’s legacy. Global rise in number of political prisoners with Belarus and Cuba in the lead. Cuba and Iran undermining Peru

They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens.” – Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2010)

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, was born 75 years ago today on February 13, 1948. She had been a school teacher, before her husband,  Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez, was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members. Amnesty International recognized them as prisoners of conscience.

This drove her break with the regime, and the formation of a dissident movement that marked a before and after in Cuban history.

Laura reached out to the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the 75 prisoners of conscience jailed in March 2003, which included her husband and they carried out a sustained nonviolent campaign that after eight years obtained the freedom of their loved ones. The first group was released in November 2010, and the last of the group of 75 were freed in March 2011.

Laura was greatly admired both inside and outside of Cuba for founding the Ladies in White movement after the Black Cuban Spring of 2003. She, and the group of women she led, nonviolently challenged the Castro regime in the streets of Havana initially, and eventually across the island.

She did not disband the Ladies in White when her husband returned home in February 2011. Laura recognized that the laws had not changed, that prisoners of conscience remained behind bars.

Laura Pollán and Héctor Maseda reunited in February 2011

Mary O’Grady in The Wall Street Journal on October 24, 2011 reported that Pollán instead of disbanding sought to expand “the movement across the country and promised to convert it to a human rights organization open to all women. Speaking from the Guanajay prison as her condition was deteriorating, jailed former Cuban counterintelligence officer Ernesto Borges Pérez told the Hablemos Press that making public those objectives likely sealed her fate.” Laura Pollán died on October 14, 2011 and was cremated shortly afterwards.

Following her death, her husband Héctor Fernando Maseda mourned and through tears observed that “the toll on our private lives has been that after eight years of forced separation, we didn’t even get eight months together. So I had one month of happiness for every year of separation.”

Héctor Fernando Maseda marches with the Ladies in White following Laura’s death in October 2011

Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet MD, who was a first degree medical specialist in internal medicine, before being fired from his post by the government for his dissident views, examined the circumstances surrounding the death of  Laura Pollán and wrote an analysis in November 2011 titled “A MEDICAL ANALYSIS OF LAURA POLLAN’S PAINFUL, TRAGIC AND UNNECESSARY DEATH.” He concluded that ” There is concrete evidence that the closest relatives, friends and dissidents expressed suspicions about a possible assassination by the communist regime’s political police. Now, what has been proven over and over again is the stubborn nature of the regime at this sad, tragic and unnecessary death.”

U.S. journalist Tracey Eaton interviewed Laura’s widower Héctor Maseda on Dec. 15, 2011, about three months after her death, and he held the Castro regime responsible for her death, but admitted that he did not have the evidence to back up his allegation.

Twelve years later, and the wisdom of her analysis is reflected in over a thousand prisoners of conscience, and a dictatorship that changed the penal code to increase punishments for exercising freedom of expression.

Belarus, Cuba, and Vietnam have jailed thousands of prisoners of conscience in recent years.

The Ladies in White continue to be subjected to brutal repression, and four women of this movement are today jailed in Cuba for calling for the release of political prisoners, and nonviolently defending human rights.

Ladies in White Tania Echevarría, Saylí Navarro, Sissi Abascal and Aymara Nieto imprisoned.

Laura is not forgotten, and her memory and example continue to animate the Ladies in White, and their current leader Berta Soler.

Berta Soler Fernandez is the current leader of the Ladies in White in Cuba.

Sadly, too many in the international community are funding the dictatorship, and ignoring what Havana does with the resources provided. On February  12, 2023 in her column “Cuba Dares Biden to Look Away” exposed the nexus between Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and terrorist groups in subverting democracy in Peru.

In March 2015, political and security analyst Dardo López-Dolz, a former Peruvian vice minister of the interior, laid out the threat before a U.S. House subcommittee. He said Iran and Hezbollah came to his attention in 2011, when “a connection was forming between the Islamic Republic and other activist movements in Peru controlled by Havana, Caracas and La Paz.” The Cuban and Venezuelan “political/social organizations aimed at subverting and weakening our democratic institutions and spreading socialist ideology,” he said, had been operating in Peru “since at least 2005.”

The Islamic regime in Iran, a close ally of Havana, has embarked on a six month long crackdown against protesters killing over 528 protesters, and jailing approximately 20,000 protesters.

The Washington Post, February 13, 2023

Annals of Autocracy

Opinion

They clicked once. Then came the dark prisons.

By the Editorial Board

Feb. 13 at 8:00 a.m.

Ms. Perednya was arrested and sentenced to 6½ years in prison. Ms. Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison and to a 34-year travel ban. Ms. Krivtsova has been added to a list of terrorists and extremists, charged with discrediting the military and put under house arrest, and she is facing seven years in prison. All of them are being punished by despotic regimes for nothing more than posting or reposting something on social media.

That’s all — a click.

They are hardly alone. The world’s political prisons are bulging. A string of popular uprisings over the past few years brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the streets, protesting against authoritarianism in Hong Kong, Cuba, Belarus and Iran; against the military junta that toppled democracy in Myanmar; and against strict restrictions on speech and protest in Russia and China. Also, Arab Spring uprisings swept Egypt, Syria and elsewhere a decade ago, and protests broke out in Vietnam in 2018. Most of these protests were met with mass crackdowns and arrests. Thousands of participants — largely young and demonstrating for the first time — have been held in prison for demanding their rights to speak and think freely and to choose their leaders.

Authoritarian regimes often work in the shadows, using secret police to threaten dissidents, censor the media, prohibit travel or choke off internet access. But when prisons are jam-packed with thousands who simply marched down the street or sent a tweet, the repression is no longer hidden; it is a bright, pulsating signal that freedom is in distress.

[…]

Political prisons are, sadly, not new. During the 20th century, the practice of mass repression grew to immense proportions in Joseph Stalin’s gulag system of forced labor camps. Political prisons have been notorious in Fidel Castro’s Cuba; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Cold War East Germany; apartheid South Africa; North Korea; and, in recent years, in China’s Xinjiang region.

[…]

Jailed for speaking out

The authoritarian rulers were not idle. They planned to take back the public square, and now they are doing it. According to Freedom on the Net 2022, published by Freedom House, between June 2021 and May 2022, authorities in 40 countries blocked social, political or religious content online, an all-time high. Social media has made people feel as though they can speak openly, but technological tools also allow autocrats to target individuals. Social media users leave traces: words, locations, contacts, network links. Protesters are betrayed by the phones in their pockets. Regimes criminalized free speech and expression on social media, prohibiting “insulting the president” (Belarus), “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (China), “discrediting the military” (Russia) or “public disorder” (Cuba).

[…]

The worldwide toll of this sort of 21st-century authoritarianism is growing. Over the past four years, just four uprisings in various parts of the world have led to nearly 18,000 people being arrested and incarcerated. In Belarus, mass demonstrations erupted after Mr. Lukashenko stole an August 2020 election. The number of political prisoners in Belarus has soared from a handful to 1,441 now. In Myanmar, or Burma, citizens are fighting a military coup that overthrew its young democracy in February 2021. There are 13,884 political prisoners there today. In Cuba, on July 11, 2021, a massive and spontaneous street protest broke out across the island, and more than 1,000 have been arrested in its wake. In Hong Kong, there were only a handful of political prisoners in 2019, when protests erupted against China’s increasingly authoritarian rule; now, there are 1,337. Another 20,000 people have been detained in Iran since protests began there in September. A young Iranian couple was recently sentenced to five years in prison each after a video went viral on Instagram of them dancing in public, the woman without a head covering.

[ … ]

​[…]

[ Full article ]

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/interactive/2023/political-protest-new-generation-faces/


The Wall Street Journal,  February 12, 2023

Opinion

The Americas

Cuba Dares Biden to Look Away

Hosting Iran’s top diplomat makes a mockery of the U.S. policy of ‘engagement.’

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Feb. 12, 2023 3:14 pm ET


While much of Washington was searching American skies for a Chinese surveillance balloon on the morning of Feb. 4, Havana was preparing for the arrival of Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Three days later, as President Biden left the State of the Union, he was caught on a hot mic calling out to New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez with some urgency: “Bob, I gotta talk to you about Cuba. I’m serious.”

[…]

In March 2015, political and security analyst Dardo López-Dolz, a former Peruvian vice minister of the interior, laid out the threat before a U.S. House subcommittee. He said Iran and Hezbollah came to his attention in 2011, when “a connection was forming between the Islamic Republic and other activist movements in Peru controlled by Havana, Caracas and La Paz.” The Cuban and Venezuelan “political/social organizations aimed at subverting and weakening our democratic institutions and spreading socialist ideology,” he said, had been operating in Peru “since at least 2005.”

Mr. López-Dolz warned of “a dangerous convergence taking place in Peru between Iranian and Hezbollah cells, the governments of Cuba and Venezuela,” and various other groups including the Shining Path, “which jointly direct the so-called Fronts for the Defense of the Environment.”

[ … ]

[ Full article ]

https://www.wsj.com/articles/cuba-dares-biden-to-look-away-iran-tehran-venezuela-peru-immigration-human-rights-violation-trafficking-f994f040


Race and Equality, August 12, 2022

Cuba: Race and Equality presents a petition to the IACHR on human rights violations against the organization Ladies in White and each of the women that are part of it

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  • Cuba: Race and Equality presents a petition to the IACHR on human rights violations against the organization Ladies in White and each of the women that are part of it

Washington DC, August 12, 2022 – The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) presented a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), to declare the international responsibility of the State of Cuba for the violations perpetrated against 55 women for being part of the Damas de Blanco collective, and against the Cuban organization itself, with the purpose of dismantling it and preventing it from continuing its work in defense of human rights.

In the document, Race and Equality details a pattern of 3,086 short-term arbitrary detentions, 243 acts of criminalization, 226 cases of physical, racial, and gender violence; as well as the siege, surveillance and constant threats perpetrated by the Cuban government against the Ladies in White between 2013 and 2022, a period during which the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in favor of the members of this organization are in force.

They will walk dressed in white until Cuba is free

“The communist regime is aware of the precautionary measures that the IACHR has granted us, but nothing has changed in its attitude and harassment, every day it attacks our members,” says Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, who spoke with Race and Equality on the human rights violations that she and the other women of this organization have suffered; as well as the prolonged arbitrary imprisonment that four of her partners are currently suffering, three of them for having participated in the peaceful protests of July 2021, known as 11J.

Berta, 59, is one of the founders of Ladies in White, a group that emerged in 2003 after 75 people were arrested for being dissidents of the Cuban government, in a series of arrests known as the “Black Spring”. She and other relatives, almost all of them women, met at the Villa Marista prison in Havana to find out how their loved ones were doing and demand that they be released, on March 30, 2003, they decided to go dressed in white to the Santa Rita de Casia Church, a parish in Havana that pays tribute to the saint of “impossible causes.” Thus, going to mass, she started this organization, whose name was coined by the independent journalist exiled in the United States, María Elena Alpízar.

“Since then we have been victims of aggression, and more than 12 members have been imprisoned. Currently, four of our members are in jail; one who was about to serve four years in prison and when she was released they created a new case for her and sentenced her to five years and four months in prison, for not having agreed with State Security to leave the country with her family; she is Aymara Nieto Muñoz. The other three women are Sissi Abascal, Tania Echevarría and Sayli Navarro, who were arrested for having participated in the 11J protests and were sentenced to between six and eight years of imprisonment”, says Soler.

The Ladies in White have been arbitrarily detained, beaten and even stripped naked for taking to the streets and demonstrating against the State of Cuba. “The regime has stolen money from us and has arrested our sons and our daughters’ husbands to pressure us to desist from being part of this organization, which in 2011 was made up of more than 250 women throughout the country,” says Berta, who proudly says that one of the collective’s achievements has been to achieve, together with the Cuban church and several human rights organizations, the release of the prisoners of the ‘Black Spring’, who despite being sentenced to up to 28 years in prison, have only served seven years in prison.

As a result of the multiple attacks, on October 28, 2013, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of the Ladies in White. The Commission asked the Cuban government to adopt a series of actions “to preserve the life and personal integrity of the members of the organization [1],” and also to present a report on the investigations carried out to clarify the acts of violence that have occurred. against the collective. However, none of this has happened and human rights violations against the Ladies in White have persisted.

“State Security, when they stop us, threaten to take us to prison, tell us that we cannot go to mass or even meet. They  threaten us all the time that the Ladies in White are going to disappear… many times they arrest us and keep us inside the patrols or in the cells, and the next day or whatever time they establish to keep us imprisoned, they release us and they impose fines on us without telling us why we have been fined,” says Berta, who also states that she is not afraid of being arrested. She and the more than 50 women who are still part of this organization say that they will continue dressed in white walking towards any church on the island, until there are no people deprived of liberty for political reasons, and Cuba is free.

A petition to end the persecution

Race and Equality presented this petition to the IACHR so that it formulates a series of recommendations to the Cuban State that will allow an end to the prolonged and systematic persecution implemented against Ladies in White, and each and every one of its members. In addition, reparations were requested from the victims and their relatives, and to adapt laws, public policies, procedures, and practices to international human rights standards, to guarantee that the island’s women activists can demonstrate, demand changes, congregate and mobilize without being violated.

From the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights we will continue to support the independent civil society of Cuba, so that universal rights are recognized on the Island, and the inhabitants of this country can demand changes from the Cuban State, without fear of being victims of repression and arbitrary arrests.

[1]Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Resolution 6 / 2013. Precautionary Measure N. 264 – 13. Ladies in White Matter regarding the Republic of Cuba. https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/decisiones/pdf/MC264-13-esp.pdf

https://raceandequality.org/cuba/cuba-race-and-equality-presents-a-petition-to-the-iachr-on-human-rights-violations-against-the-organization-ladies-in-white-and-each-of-the-women-that-are-part-of-it/

From the Archives:

The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2011

A Dissident’s Mysterious Death in Havana

Days after a beating by a mob, Laura Pollán fell ill and soon died. She was cremated two hours later.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

October 24, 2011

For more than eight years, the Castro regime tried its level best to silence Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán. Ten days ago Pollán did fall silent. She passed away, after a brief illness, in a Havana hospital.

Hospital officials initially said that she died of cardiac and respiratory arrest. But according to Berta Soler, the spokesperson for the Ladies in White in Havana, the death certificate says that Pollán succumbed to diabetes mellitus type II, bronchial pneumonia and a syncytial virus.

Since there was no independent medical care available to her and there was no autopsy, we are unlikely ever to find out what killed Pollán. We do know that although she was a diabetic with high blood pressure, both were under control and she did not need regular insulin shots. Indeed, she had been healthy only weeks before her death, according to friends and family. We also know that the longer she remained under state care, the sicker she got.

[ … ]

The movement took on enormous visual power, and when images of the ladies being attacked in the streets went viral, the dictatorship was humiliated. The Castros were forced to offer the Black Spring prisoners “liberation” through exile with their spouses.

Pollán and her husband refused. Instead she expanded the movement across the country and promised to convert it to a human rights organization open to all women. Speaking from the Guanajay prison as her condition was deteriorating, jailed former Cuban counterintelligence officer Ernesto Borges Pérez told the Hablemos Press that making public those objectives likely sealed her fate.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204618704576645362368682524