CubaBrief: March for Freedom and Justice in Cuba carried out in DC. AS/COA discuss Payá legacy. CFC stands in solidarity with a free Ukraine. Silent vigil for BTTR martyrs.

A “March for Freedom and Justice in Cuba” was held on February 23, 2023, by the Center for a Free Cuba, Cuba Decide, the Patmos Institute, and the podcast “Cubans in Washington, DC”, to draw attention to the anniversaries of the murder of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo by prison guards on February 23, 2010, and the shooting down of two civilian aircraft of the humanitarian organization Brothers to the Rescue by Havana in an act of state terrorism on February 24, 1996 killing Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre.

Other victims of Castroism, including the Cubans killed on October 28, 2022 when a boat carrying refugees was ambushed and sunk north of Bahia Honda by a Cuban coast guard cutter, were also remembered by protesters. It is unfortunate that the U.S. Embassy in Havana has echoed the regime talking point that this massacre was an “accident.” It is reminiscent of the attempted whitewash of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown by President Obama in December 2014 that called a premeditated act of state terrorism “a tragic circumstance.”

More photos and videos will be shared next week.

Also on February 23rd in Washington DC at 12 noon the Americas Society/Council of the Americas hosted a discussion on “Cuba and the Struggle for Freedom: A Book Talk with David Hoffman and Rosa Maria Payá” that is required viewing, and is available online. It is important to recall that the Castro dictatorship has a long history of carrying out extrajudicial executions targeting nonviolent dissidents.

Prior to the start of “March for Freedom and Justice in Cuba” demonstrators, including CFC members, gathered in solidarity with Ukrainian protesters outside of the White House and expressed their support.

On February 24, 2023, the Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) joined together with writers, journalists, artists, and human rights defenders to condemn Russia’s invasion, stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in their struggle to remain free and independent in a petition circulated by Article 19, on the one year anniversary of the expanded war.

The Center is circulating a petition for the creation of an International War Crimes Tribunal against Vladimir Putin that has gathered over 950 signers, and remains open for signature, and before the war started called on the Biden Administration to impose sanctions on Russia to dissuade Putin from expanding his war in Ukraine. Lamentably, the Center’s call went unheeded.

On the same day at Florida International University a silent vigil organized by the families of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña and Armando Alejandre, the four men killed by the Cuban government in an act of state terrorism on February 24, 1996, was held. In the evening, at our Lady of Charity in Coconut Grove, a special mass was held for the four martyred members of Brothers to the Rescue.

On February 21, 2023, President Joe Biden gave an important speech in Warsaw, Poland on the stakes in the struggle against Russia’s invasion in Ukraine where he recognized that the: “Appetites of the autocrat cannot be appeased. They must be opposed.” We hope that his Administration will embrace that same spirit in dealing with the brutal dictatorship in Cuba that is backing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s takeover of Hong Kong and threats against Taiwan, and its appetites involve subverting democracies in the region, creating an oligarch class, while most Cubans remain in poverty, and allying with other terror sponsor states such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria to advance their respective anti-democratic agendas.

Article 19, February 24, 2023

Ukraine: Open letter of solidarity, 24 February 2023

Posted on February 24, 2023

Photo: Eli Wilson/ Shutterstock

We are writers, journalists, artists, human rights defenders, and those who stand in solidarity with them from around the world, including those who stay in Ukraine and made the difficult decision to leave our homes. On the one-year marking of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we write to express our collective condemnation of Russia’s multi-pronged war against the Ukrainian people and culture.

We grieve for the thousands of people killed as casualties of Russia’s campaign of violence. Russia’s war has sought to rupture Ukraine’s social fabric and culture, displacing millions of people in the destruction of cities and towns. We grieve for the deaths of writers, artists, journalists, cultural workers, and all who have cultivated Ukraine’s blooming culture and civil society sector.

In the last year, the space for free expression in Ukraine has been under attack by the Russian military’s actions. Russian soldiers have deliberately killed and kidnapped journalists and writers. Artists had to flee Ukraine in order to survive and continue their work. Russian bombardments have indiscriminately destroyed and damaged hundreds of places where Ukrainians experience culture and history, from community cultural houses to Holocaust memorial centres. There is evidence that the Mariupol Drama Theater, the 19th century Regional Youth Library in Chernihiv, and other remarkable cultural objects have been deliberately targeted. But Russia’s military actions since 24 February, 2022, represent only one prong in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine.

Alongside the deliberate destruction of human life and infrastructure, Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied the existence of Ukrainian history and culture distinct from Russia. Since 2014, Russia has illegally occupied Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk, where writers, journalists, and activists have been jailed for their expression under the administration of the Russian Federation and armed separatist groups backed by Russia. Russian authorities have banned Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar language instruction and media and excavated a world heritage site to construct a revisionist history rooted in President Putin’s denial of other cultures.

Yet, despite being under attack, journalists, writers, artists, and cultural rights defenders continue to make art, write, and contribute to Ukrainian culture. Translators and members of the free press ensure that the realities of life in Ukraine and the impact of Russia’s violence are broadcast to the world. The diary entries, essays, poems, independent reporting, and street art are central to rebuilding in Ukraine when the war is over.

We, the signatories below, stand in solidarity with Ukraine’s culture and civil society sector and support its writers, artists, journalists, and cultural workers’ efforts to create life beyond Russia’s war. We reiterate our condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and call for the support of all journalists, cultural figures, and all unjustly persecuted in Ukraine for their expression.

Russia should be held accountable for its war crimes and human rights abuses. We urge the international community to support all Ukrainian efforts to investigate these crimes and ensure that the deliberate targeting of Ukrainian cultural heritage by the Russian regime is included in national accountability mechanisms as well as the international commission of inquiry for Ukraine.

We call on international governments to join us in solidarity by providing livelihood support to Ukrainian writers, artists, and journalists inside and outside the country and ensure that they can continue to create art wherever they are. Russia must be held accountable for its violations of cultural rights and human rights in Ukraine.



PEN America

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

International Press Institute (IPI)

PEN Belarus


Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ)

PEN International

Safe Havens | Freedom Talks

GITINYWA A.Louis, Advocate & Legal Consultant, Senior Partner at Kigali Attorneys Chamber LLP

PEN Uganda

Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network

Tanzania Artists Rights Organization (TARO)

Dr Piotr Rypson, Chair of ICOM Poland, Curator of Jewish Historical Institute, Adjunct Professor of Polish-Japanese Academy of Computer Technology

ICOM Poland National Committee

Penn Cultural Heritage Center, Penn Museum

PEN Canada

Christopher Merrill, Director, University of Iowa International Writing Program

Askold Melnyczuk, Arrowsmith Press

Artist Protection Fund

Russell Scott Valentino, Professor and Chair, Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Culture, Indiana University

Sarah D. Phillips, Professor of Anthropology and Director, R.F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute, Indiana University

Gianluca Del Gobbo, AVnode network for audiovisual and performing arts

Jan Moritz Onken, Conductor & Artistic Director The Silk Road Symphony Orchestra & The Silk Road Cultural Belt

Callias Foundation

dr Dominik Kuryłek, main curator of museum of Photography in Krakow

Esther Claassen, European Cultural Foundation

John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba

P.E.N.- Québec

Octavio DelaSuaree, President, Academia de la Historia de Cuba en el Exilio

Claudia Genlui, Art Curator

Ileana Fuentes, Author, Translator, Columnist, CubaNet News, Member, PEN de Escritores Exilio Cubano

Guillermo G. Marmol, Chairman Board of Trustees, Center for a Free Cuba

Alexis Romay, Author

Carolina Barrero, Cuban human rights defender and pro-democracy activist

Cartoonists Rights Network International

Jillian C. York, Director for International Freedom of Expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation

ICOM Israel

Centrala Centre for Central and Eastern European art and artists

Ukrainian Cultural Foundation


English PEN

Dr. Katherine Schofield, Department of Music, King’s College London

Martin Bright, Editor-at-Large, Index on Censorship

Trans Europe Halles

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, Cuban activist of the San Isidro Movement (MSI)

Ithaca City of Asylum (ICOA)

Oregon Institute for Creative Research

Avant-Garde Lawyers

Freedom House

Ahmedur Tutul Chowdhury, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Shuddhashar FreeVoice

Human Rights Movement and Film Festival “Bir Duino – Kyrgyzstan”

Cambodian Center for Human Rights

Rohan Chakravarty, Cartoonist, India

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

DAKILA Philippines

Active Vista International Human Rights Festival

ArtLords and Wartists, Afghanistan

Sofia Karim, Turbine Bagh, London

Post-Museum, Singapore

Sunitha Janamohanan, Arts Manager and Educator, Singapore/Malaysia.

Sharmila Seyyid – Writer and Activist , Sri Lanka

Katrina Stuart Santiago, writer and critic, Philippines

People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action-PAGASAph

Stéphane Segreto-Aguilar,Head of International Development of ARTCENA, Circostrada Network Coordinator

The Washington Post, January 27, 2022

Letters to the Editor


Opinion: Extrajudicial killings continue in Cuba

Oswaldo Payá, seen here in 2006, was killed in July 2012 while in a car in Cuba. (Javier Galeano/AP)

The Jan. 23 editorial “Cuba’s show trials roll on” was spot on, but it left unsaid that the extrajudicial killings also continue.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel appeared on state television after the 11J protests started on July 11, stating, “The order of combat is given, revolutionaries take to the streets.” This directive incited government security forces to commit violence against civilians. They shot and killed unarmed demonstrators.

Authorities recognized one death in these protests. Diubis Laurencio Tejeda was a 36-year-old singer who was shot in the back by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Havana on July 12. There are others, but they have not been officially recognized.

Christian Díaz, age 24, disappeared after joining the protests. Relatives on July 12 reported him missing to the PNR in Cárdenas. Police told his father that Christian was jailed in Matanzas. On Aug. 5, officials informed his family he’d drowned in the sea and was buried in a mass grave. His family is convinced he was beaten to death.

This isn’t the first time Havana has covered up state murders. The 2012 killings of Cuban dissident leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero by security forces are two high-profile examples.

John Suarez, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Miami Herald, January 16, 2022

Flashback to 1962, but Vladimir Putin is no Nikita Khrushchev, Joe Biden is no John F. Kennedy | Opinion


JANUARY 16, 2022 1:38 AM

Carl von Clausewitz, the XIX Century Prussian military strategist, wrote that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy is predicated on raw power and blackmail – and if needed murders and kidnappings both inside and outside Russia.

 His massive military buildup on Ukraine’s border and his threat to deploy troops “and infrastructure” in Cuba and Venezuela are aimed to force the Biden Administration and America’s allies to submit to his will. Comparisons with the 1962 October Missile Crisis that brought humanity to the brink of nuclear war are deceiving. Putin is no Nikita Khrushchev and Joe Biden is no John Kennedy.

Two months after the Bay of Pigs debacle, in the June 1961 Vienna Summit, the Soviet dictator demanded the United States leave West Berlin, having concluded that the inexperienced recently elected American President could be intimidated. President Kennedy was unprepared, and the Soviet leader dominated the meeting and strengthened his view that his adversary was also immature. This assessment of the Vienna Summit resulted in Khrushchev erecting the Berlin Wall two months after the meeting. 

President Kennedy learned from this disastrous meeting, its catastrophic consequences for East Berliners, and during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he adroitly marshaled American friends around the world, imposed a naval blockade, and successfully pressed Khrushchev’s withdrawal of Soviet nuclear missiles, despite Fidel Castro’s public tantrums

Today, the context is different. The Russian dictator is not a Party apparatchik but a seasoned KGB officer, who, despite earlier international assurances about Ukraine’s territorial integrity, in exchange for Kiev’s giving up its nuclear arsenal, annexed Crimea and keeps military forces engaged in a secessionist war in the Donbas region of Ukraine. 

The United States has an obligation with regard to Ukraine. When negotiations between Ukraine and Russia broke down on removing nuclear weapons from Ukraine in September 1993, Washington engaged in a trilateral process with Ukraine and Russia. This resulted in the January 1994 Trilateral Statement. Ukraine agreed to transfer its nuclear warheads to Russia. Ukraine received security assurances from the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom. 

Abandoning Ukraine in the short term may appear to guarantee peace, but the words of Winston Churchill in another crisis in 1938 should give today’s policymakers pause; “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.” 

Despite serious efforts in the Administration to help the President revisit and learn from foreign policy setbacks, Putin and other foes are not discouraged by what they see. Instead, they work on the assumption that Washington’s disarray, finger-pointing and accountability provide them with a unique opportunity to strike at American interests

Consider the following:

 The Trump Administration backed tough sanctions on Russia and did all it could to kill the $11 billion Nord Stream 2, that would pump gas to Germany increasing Russian leverage over Europe, but the Biden Administration, believing there was hardly anything worth saving from the previous Administration’s policies, waived the harshest sanctions without obtaining any concession from Russia, and eventually replaced them with weaker measures as the situation in Ukraine worsened. 

Washington’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan sent a message of weakness to America’s enemies that animated both Russia and China into a more aggressive posture in Ukraine, and Taiwan respectively.

 In June 2021, the Biden administration lifted sanctions on three former Iranian officials and energy companies in an effort to get Iran to change course on its nuclear program in exchange for loosened sanctions. Iran did not respond as expected, and the White House reintroduced sanctions in October 2021 on two senior Iranian officials and two companies supplying weapons to groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Ethiopia.

Twice in 2021, Biden said that the United States would defend Taiwan if attacked by Mainland China, but the Administration walked back the statements citing a policy of “strategic ambiguity.”

China’s warplanes are flying over the Taiwan Straits into Taipei’s defense zone in multiple provocations. Not holding China responsible for millions of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s growing presence in the developing world must be part of Putin’s appraisal. Be that as it may, what is to be done now?

 1. The American people and the world need to be reminded that NATO is a defensive alliance, which presents no danger to Russia unless Moscow attacks one of its members. 

2. The best way to promote peace and lower tensions on the Ukrainian-Russian border is for Nord Stream 2 to be shut down until Russian troops leave Crimea, reminding Moscow of their commitments to the territorial integrity of Ukraine and pursuing comprehensive and multilateral sanctions. 

3. The Biden Administration should be prepared to provide military supplies and intelligence assistance to Ukraine if requested.

4. Congress should introduce emergency military appropriations, setting aside assistance to NATO members under Russian threat who request help.

 5. America’s European allies, Japan, Australia, and others should be encouraged to join a broad diplomatic response to Putin’s aggressive designs that includes multilateral sanctions. 

A weak America makes for a more dangerous and uncertain world because it encourages international aggression. Americans will support these and similar efforts that should not be a partisan issue. 

Frank Calzón was among the founders of the Center for a Free Cuba, and John Suarez is its executive director

From the archives

Newsweek, February 27, 2016

Why Are Castro’s Worst Crimes Being Erased?

This article first appeared on The Daily Signal.

Even before President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba next month, his administration has looked to rewrite the history of the Castros’ worst crimes. An example of this was in 2014, when the Obama administration commuted the double life sentence of Gerardo Hernández.

Hernández had been in jail for conspiracy to commit murder through his actions related to the 1996 downing of aircraft owned by the anti-Castro nonprofit “Brothers to the Rescue.” Brothers to Rescue is a Miami based organization, formed by Cuban exiles, which advocates against the Castro dictatorship.

The atrocities took place in 1996, when two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by Cuban jets over international airspace, killing four. Two more Cuban fighters chased a third Brothers to the Rescue plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West, but failed to shoot it down.

This plane returned and provided critical information on what had occurred. If it had been shot down, the Cuban government had a cover story in place to justify the shoot-down.

In order to carry out the attack, the Castro regime had a spy, who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, initially pose as a survivor in Cuba to confirm the regime’s story. But this story imploded when the third plane made it back to Florida.

The objective of the Castro Regime was to destroy the relief organization while at the same time taking attention away from a crackdown on a national opposition gathering in Cuba.

This was happening in the midst of a warming relationship that started in 1994, between the Clinton administration and Castro that included secret joint military exercises.

Hernández was set free by the Obama administration and was returned to Cuba the same day his sentence was commuted. Two days later, on December 19 2014, Obama sought to rewrite the history of the incident, stating in a press conference that “[i]t was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.”

Historical and legal records demonstrate that Obama is wrong.

The Cuban dictatorship planned the attack by using its spy networks in the U.S. to obtain information , which allowed the Castros to carry out this act of state terrorism while also carrying out an influence operation to blame the victims in the media coverage.

On November 14 1997, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found Cuba guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft.

A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on June 10 2001 found Cuban spy Gerardo Hernández guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue.

On August 21, 2003, a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot-down. Indictments were returned against General Rúben Martínez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez.

The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft. They are still at large.

There has been a lack of political will on behalf of the White House to pursue justice in the premeditated murders of these four men, but the indictments remain open.

Family members of the four killed (Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña and Armando Alejandre) have pursued and will continue to pursue justice and have concrete results for their efforts. Unfortunately, they face an Obama administration that is trying to downplay the actions of the hostile Cuban government.

John Suarez is a human rights activist with the Cuban Democratic Directorate.