CubaBrief: Amnesty says hundreds of Cubans jailed for exercising their rights. Swedish NGO urges further int’l pressure on Cuba. OTD in 1997, Cuban soldier gunned down a Danish student in Havana.

Joachim Løvschall: December 7, 1970 – March 29, 1997

In the spring of 1997, Joachim Løvschall was in Havana studying Spanish. On March 29, 1997, in Havana, Cuba, he was shot and killed by a Castro regime soldier brandishing an AK-47. That was twenty-six years ago today.

Joachim posed no threat, he was unarmed. Joachim’s family  was never informed of the soldier’s identity. No one was held accountable for the 26 year old man’s death. Joachim’s family is not satisfied with the official explanation.

Father of Joachim Løvschall, Christian Løvschall, spoke about his son’s initial disappearance and the family’s efforts to find out where was Joachim on June 12, 2007, during a parallel forum at the United Nations Human Rights Council:

“Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April – i.e. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible. At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively… Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April. We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases.”

 Christian Løvschall outlined what he had learned concerning his son’s untimely death:

We do feel we were (and still are) left with no answers except to maybe one of the following questions: Where, When, Who, Why Starting out with the where we were told that Joachim was killed by the soldiers outside the Ministry of Interior.

Where

What we do not understand is why no fence or signs did inform that this is a restricted area? I have been on the spot myself, and the place appears exactly like a normal residential area. So you may question whether this in fact was the place of the killing? Contrary to this the authorities keep maintaining that the area was properly sealed off, and the relevant sign posts were in place.

When

As to when Joachim was killed we only have the information received from the police because of the delay informing one might believe that this is another forgery made up to cover the truth.

Who

The who was in our opinion has never been answered by the Cuban authorities. We understand that a private soldier on duty was made responsible for the killing, and also it has been rumored that his officer in charge has been kept responsible. This is of course the easy way out, but why can’t we get to know the whole and true story?   

Why 

Why did the soldiers have to fire two shots, one to his body and one to his head, to murder him? Was Joachim violent and did he, an unarmed individual, attack the armed soldiers? Or is it simply that the instruction to Cuban soldiers are: first you shoot and then you ask? But again: Who can explain why two shots were needed?

26 years later and the human rights situation has not improved.

On March 27, 2023 Amnesty International released their annual report, and the chapter on Cuba is an indictment of the Cuban dictatorship. The introductory summary highlighted the Castro regime’s failure on all fronts: both civil and political rights, and social and economic rights.

Food shortages and electricity outages were frequent throughout the year. Hundreds of people remained in prison following a crackdown on protesters in July 2021. In the wake of Hurricane Ian, authorities deployed military cadets to repress widespread protests over electricity outages and interrupted the internet. Three prisoners of conscience remained in prison, representing only a tiny fraction of the total number of people feared detained for the peaceful exercise of their human rights.

Civil Rights Defenders, a Swedish NGO, on March 24, 2023 released a statement on the upcoming vote for the National Assembly titled “Cubans are allowed to vote but not to choose” in which Erik Jennische, head of the Latin America department at Civil Rights Defenders called for international solidarity for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and that additional pressure be placed on the Cuban dictatorship.

“The important thing now is that human rights defenders working for democracy in the country receive support from the international community. The international community, in turn, also needs to put pressure on Cuba to hold free and democratic elections.”

Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter, March 29, 2023

26 years without justice for Danish student gunned down in Havana by a soldier

  “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986

Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba twenty six years ago today on March 29, 1997. The identity of the soldier was never revealed to Joachim”s family. No one was brought to justice. Joachim’s family is not satisfied with the official explanation.

The last time they saw Joachim
On March 28, 1997 Joachim Løvschall ate his last dinner with white wine in a little restaurant called Aladin, located on 21st street in Havana. He went to the Revolutionary Plaza and bought a ticket to the Cuban National Theater. Following the performance he went to the theater’s bar, Cafe Cantante, and met up with two Swedish friends. They each drank a couple of beers, but soon left because Joachim did not like the music. At 23:30, they said good bye to each other on the sidewalk in front of Cafe Cantante. 

Joachim was never seen alive again. 

[ Full article ]

https://cubanexilequarter.blogspot.com/2023/03/26-years-without-justice-for-danish.html

Amnesty International, March 27, 2023

Cuba 2022

Food shortages and electricity outages were frequent throughout the year. Hundreds of people remained in prison following a crackdown on protesters in July 2021. In the wake of Hurricane Ian, authorities deployed military cadets to repress widespread protests over electricity outages and interrupted the internet. Three prisoners of conscience remained in prison, representing only a tiny fraction of the total number of people feared detained for the peaceful exercise of their human rights.

Background

In September, following a referendum, Cuba approved a new Family Code which legalizes same-sex marriage and, among other things, allows same-sex couples to adopt.

According to US official statistics, between October 2021 and September 2022 more than 224,000 Cubans made their way to the USA, a significant increase compared with the same period in 2020-2021, when just over 39,000 Cubans arrived in the USA. Many made dangerous journeys through the Darien Gap, a jungle that connects Panama and Colombia, while others risked travelling by boat.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Throughout the year, food shortages forced people to queue for hours for basic goods, and parts of the island were frequently left without electricity. The authorities placed the blame for the economic situation almost entirely on the US economic embargo, ignoring their obligation to fulfil economic, social and cultural rights.

Repression of dissent

By the end of the year, hundreds of people remained in detention following a crackdown on protesters in July 2021,1 according to the NGO Cubalex.

In March, Amnesty International called for access to the country to monitor the trials of those detained, but the authorities failed to grant access to any international observers. That same month, in an unusual move in a context where defence lawyers are tightly controlled by the state and access to court documents is rare, Cuban authorities made public at least six judgments relating to approximately 129 people, including some teenagers, who had been charged with more severe offences for participating in the July 2021 protests. They were mainly accused of throwing rocks or bottles at law enforcement officials. Some were given 30-year prison sentences.2

In September and October, in the wake of Hurricane Ian, people protested across the island following widespread power outages. According to reports received, the authorities responded by deploying military cadets to repress the protests and there were reports of arbitrary detentions. The authorities also appeared to have intentionally shut down internet access, an increasingly common tactic to limit communication in Cuba in moments of political sensitivity. The internet interruptions lasted at least two consecutive nights, which made it hard for families to communicate following the storm. Journalists at 14 y medio, an independent online newspaper, also had no internet, impacting their ability to report.3

On 2 October, President Díaz-Canel downplayed the widespread nature of the protests and suggested that a minority of “counter-revolutionaries” with connections outside Cuba had carried out “acts of vandalism such as blocking roads or throwing rocks.” He said they would be dealt with using the “force of the law”.

In December, a new Penal Code came into force, which risked entrenching long-standing limitations on freedom of expression and assembly and is a chilling prospect for independent journalists, activists and anyone critical of the authorities.4

Women’s and girls’ rights

Women human rights activists were central to resisting repression of dissent. Mothers of people, including young people, detained in the context of the July 2021 protests were vocal in advocating for their release.

Lawmakers failed to include femicide as a crime in the new Penal Code, despite proposals from women advocates.

Human rights defenders

At the end of the year, prisoners of conscience Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Maykel Castillo Pérez and José Daniel Ferrer García – all of whom were detained in the context of the crackdown on dissent in July 2021 – remained in prison.

In June, the Popular Municipal Court of Central Havana sentenced artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and musician Maykel Castillo Pérez to five and nine years in prison, respectively, for a range of charges historically used to silence dissent including “public disorder”, “contempt” and “insulting national symbols”.5

Months previously, in January, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had concluded that Castillo Pérez – one of the writers of the song “Motherland and Life” (“Patria y Vida”), which is critical of the government and was adopted as a popular protest anthem – had been arbitrarily detained and called on the Cuban government to release him immediately.

In July, the family of José Daniel Ferrer García, leader of the unofficial political opposition group the Patriotic Union of Cuba, reported that he was being held incommunicado, putting him at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.6 In October, his family reported that he was being held in solitary confinement, segregated from other prisoners and with very limited access to the outside world.7

  1. “Five things you should know a year on from Cuba’s 11 July protests”, 11 July

  2. Cuba: Amnesty International calls for access to country to monitor trials of 11J protesters”, 24 March

  3. Cuba: Tactics of repression must not be repeated”, 5 October

  4. “Cuba: New criminal code is a chilling prospect for 2023 and beyond”, 2 December

  5. “Cuba: Amnesty International condemns sentences of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo”, 24 June

  6. Cuba: Political leader held incommunicado”, 12 July

  7. Cuba: Prisoner of conscience at risk”, 19 October

https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/americas/central-america-and-the-caribbean/cuba/report-cuba/

Civil Rights Defenders, March 24, 2023

Cubans are allowed to vote but not to choose

On Sunday, 26 March, the Cuban National Assembly will be appointed. The people can vote – but have nothing to choose between. The Cuban Communist Party will stay in power. 

When Cubans are offered to vote on 26 March, there are few similarities to a free and democratic election. There is only one candidate for each position in the National Assembly, and each candidate has been approved by a commission loyal to the Communist Party. They have never nominated a single opposition candidate. In addition, the electoral law excludes measures that aim to influence voters’ decisions to vote for or against any candidate. It is therefore prohibited to conduct election campaigns. It is impossible for Cubans to choose a different government than the one that has ruled the country since 1959. Cubans are allowed to vote but not to choose. 

Human rights defenders both inside and outside the country argue that the elections on 26 March are not legitimate because there is no real possibility of choosing between different candidates; and that the elections ultimately only legitimise the regime. In recent elections, more and more people have chosen to abstain from voting as a protest against the lack of democracy in the country. A trend that is expected to continue on Sunday. 

“Three million Cuban voters abstain from voting. These three million are not represented, and the voter list in my country is eight million. If almost 40 per cent of the electorate is not represented, the elections are not legitimate,” says human rights defender and historian Manuel Cuesta Morúa in an interview with Civil Rights Defenders Latin America department.  

Need support from the outside

The Cuban authorities have cracked down on people who have dared to stand up against the government. In the summer of 2021, the largest demonstrations against the government since Castro took power in 1959 broke out. Demonstrators, including minors, were sentenced to long prison terms. 

“The important thing now is that human rights defenders working for democracy in the country receive support from the international community. The international community, in turn, also needs to put pressure on Cuba to hold free and democratic elections,” says Erik Jennische, head of the Latin America department at Civil Rights Defenders. 

Erik Jennische believes that Sweden and the EU could play a big role in the democratic development of Cuba. Read our Opinion Piece on how Sweden can make a difference: In Cuba’s election, there is only one candidate – now it is time for the Swedish government to press for democracy (in Swedish).

https://crd.org/2023/03/24/cubans-are-allowed-to-vote-but-not-to-choose/