CubaBrief: Report from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

Prisoner of conscience Maykel Castillo Pérez jailed since May 18, 2021 marks two years of unjust detention today. The Center joins many in the international community demanding his immediate release.

Over two days in Geneva, Switzerland the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy convened its opening session on May 16, 2023 in the Palais des Nations, where the UN Human Rights Council meets, and on May 17th held the all day summit at The International Conference Center Geneva (CICG).

The Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) as one of 25 partner organizations, is proud to see Cuban dissidents at the 15th annual gathering in Geneva, Switzerland. Over the past 15 years Cuban dissidents, and former political prisoners have spoken at the Geneva Summit.  This is the second year that CFC is a partner organization of the Summit.

This year Cuban independent journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa addressed the Geneva Summit, and one day earlier was interviewed by CFC’s executive director. In his address to the Summit he touched on the totalitarian nature of the Cuban Communist Party.

“The Communist Party, beyond being the only political organization allowed in the country, is the only one that runs all the newspapers, all the magazines, all the radios and all the television channels, therefore, the Cuban media does not do journalism, but propaganda”, said the exiled journalist in his speech. The grandson of one of Fidel Castro’s bodyguards recounted that “in a house surrounded by photographs of Castro and Che Guevara” he wrote his first articles, which tried to bring to light “all the dark areas” of his country, “that had been hidden for more than six decades.”

Our coalition announced on May 2, 2023 that its prestigious women’s rights award would go “to Shima Babaei, an exiled Iranian women’s rights activist and former political prisoner, in tribute to the courageous women and girl protesters of Iran.”  On November 1, 2022 prominent Cuban American women in an urgent appeal asked President Biden to remove “the murderous Iranian regime from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.” This was an act of solidarity with the Iranian opposition that was carrying out the campaign at the time. Iran was removed from the Commission on December 14, 2022.

On May 4, 2023 this cross-regional coalition of 25 human rights organizations announced that its prestigious Courage Award would go this year to Félix Maradiaga, a leading Nicaraguan opposition politician who was released in 2023 after being subjected to 611 days in prison and solitary confinement.

CFC’s executive director sat down with Félix Maradiaga in a short interview in which the former Nicaraguan prisoner of conscience answered the following questions.

Why has Daniel Ortega taken such a hard line in Nicaragua?

Why has Daniel Ortega taken more extreme methods than Maduro in Venezuela with the political opposition?

Why is it that despite a free trade agreement between Nicaragua and the United States that Nicaraguans are fleeing the country in numbers comparable with Cubans fleeing the Castro regime in Cuba that is sanctioned by the United States?

What can the average citizen watching this interview do to help the Nicaraguan people?

Arturo McFields Yescas has an OpEd in The Hill today, “Repression and corruption fuel migration from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela” that addresses some of the same points raised in the Maradiaga interview.

CFC prepared and distributed hard copy versions of petitions calling to Expel Cuba from the UN Human Rights Council, and to Free the Guantanamo Five in the Geneva Summit. Both are still open for signature online., May 16, 2023

Free the Guantanamo Five petition ( open and available for signature)

Political trial against five nonviolent Cuban demonstrators is about to start. Amnesty International asks for their release. More than a thousand young Cubans are serving long sentences for participating in similar nonviolent protests in the summer of 2021.

What is happening

Hundreds of Cubans in the municipality of Caimanera, Guantanamo, Cuba on May 6, 2023 at 7:00pm took to the streets to demand “human rights”, “freedom” and chanted “Patria y Vida”. Videos circulated on social media, as well as live broadcasts captured protest images that went viral internationally.

Havana quickly shutdown the internet and deployed officers from the National Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior. The “black berets” violently put down the protests and arrested at least five protesters.

Yandris Pelier Matos, the brothers Felipe Correa Martínez and Luis Miguel Alarcón Martínez, and brothers Rodi and Daniel Álvarez González were violently detained for taking part in this non-violent protest and Luis Miguel Alarcón Martínez was taken away unconscious as a result of the beating he suffered. 

The families of the five men were not able to see them until a brief visit five days later on May 11, 2023. Victoria Martínez Valdivia, mother of Felipe Correa Martínez and Luis Miguel Alarcón Martínez explained that Yandris Pelier Matos had a wound on his forehead that had been stitched up. She said it had been caused by the government’s Black Berets that had violently broken up the protest. The other four no longer showed visible signs of injury.

These are not isolated cases. In Cuba, there are more than a thousand political prisoners in terrible conditions who have been arbitrarily detained. For example, Cuban musician and human rights defender Maykel Castillo Pérez will mark two years in prison on May 18, 2023 for using his music to advocate for human rights.

What is at stake

Families were told by the government official overseeing the case to get attorneys, that the trial could take place within four days or sooner, and the worst thing about this case, for the accused, was that the protest took place in Caimanera. Cuba does not have an independent judiciary, and all indications are that regime officials want to make a cautionary example of these five individuals to discourage future protests.

Now is the time to act

International scrutiny and strong condemnation can mitigate the level of punishment meted out by limiting Cuban officials’ sense of impunity, but the time to act is now before the legal proceedings have played out. The lives of Yandris Pelier Matos, Felipe Correa Martínez, Luis Miguel Alarcón Martínez, Rodi Álvarez González and Daniel Álvarez González are at stake. These are the Guantanamo Five. 

If enough people of good will speedily take action now their lives can still be saved. Otherwise they face long prison sentences, and greater physical abuse.


  • Hundreds of nonviolent protesters were beaten down by Cuban secret police on May 6, 2023 in Caimanera located in the province of Guantanamo near the U.S. military base.

  • Five were violently taken, despite offering no resistance, family were not able to see them until May 11th, and they face imminent judicial proceedings that fall short of international standards.

  • Amnesty International has demanded their immediate release and you should too.

The Hill, May 18, 2023

Repression and corruption fuel migration from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela

by Arturo McFields Yescas, Opinion Contributor – 05/18/23 7:30 AM ET

The dictatorships of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are demanding fewer sanctions and more privileges. To that end, they have fabricated the false narrative that the sanctions imposed upon them are causing mass emigration. This idea has even gained popularity among intellectuals, leftwing presidents and even American politicians. 

But it is a lie. The main causes of forced and desperate emigration from these countries are the repression, exclusion and illicit self-enrichment routinely practiced by the ruling elites in Managua, Havana and Caracas. Seven million Venezuelan migrants, among others, attest to this tragedy. 

In Venezuela, citizens suffer criminal violence, state repression, and economic devastation. The homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants is 40, now the highest in Latin America. Out-of-control inflation is also forcing people to leave. Venezuela’s own central bank admits to an 86.7 percent inflation rate in the first four months of 2023, and the real figure is likely much higher. 

In Nicaragua, the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega has confiscated the properties of more than 3,000 non-governmental organizations, including the Red Cross and Caritas. Legal certainty does not exist there, and the right to own private property is dying. Ortega released and exiled 222 political prisoners in February 2023. Between February and June, he is expected to detain 100 addition people arbitrarily; by the end of 2023, he could easily triple the number. 

According to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, 72 percent of Cubans live in extreme poverty — that is, on $1.90 per day or less. This is the result of 64 years of dictatorship and corruption. 

Despite Cuba’s reputation for training doctors, it is not easy for Cubans to find medical specialists. All or nearly all of them have left. The Castro-Canel dictatorship sends its best doctors and specialists around the world as a form of soft-power diplomacy. For Cubans back home, it’s every man for himself.

According to the organization Prisoners Defenders, as of February 2023, 1,066 political prisoners were registered in Cuba. Civic protest is a risk, and criticism of the dictatorship is a crime. 

The regimes of Cuba and Nicaragua are leading the attacks on religious freedom in the Americas. Both autocracies total more than 1,500 attacks on faith and parishioners. A crime without punishment. 

Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are all in the red index of the Reporters Without Borders ranking. Venezuelans live in a climate of restricted information, in which government measures threaten the very exercise of independent journalism. In Nicaragua, journalists live in hiding or in exile. In Cuba, the new penal code gives the green light to censorship and harassment. 

Meanwhile, more than 56 million people suffer from hunger in Latin America, according to a report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Venezuela (22.9 percent) and Nicaragua (18.6 percent) lead the rankings. This is not a coincidence. And even as their people starve, Ortega and Maduro are lovers of imported meat and exotic cuts.

The migratory crisis is being approached from multiple perspectives, which is a good thing. But the fundamental cause that cannot be forgotten is that bad governments force citizens to risk their lives and run away to find a better life.  

The lack of a clear and firm policy to respond to the oldest dictatorships in the Americas will continue to fuel the migratory hemorrhage.

Arturo McFields is a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States. He is an exiled journalist and former member of the Peace Corps of Norway (FK).