CubaBrief: Cuban student leader Pedro Luis Boitel martyred 51 years ago today. EU High Representative begins visit to Cuba. NGOs call on EU To address Cuba’s human rights crisis

A vigil was held in front of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C one year ago today, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at 5:00pm to mark 50 years since student leader Pedro Luis Boitel Abraham died on hunger strike at the El Príncipe Prison in Havana where he was tortured. His oppressors remain in power in Cuba.

Activists gathered in front of the Cuban Embassy to remember Pedro Luis Boitel who died during a hunger strike on May 25, 1972. He had suffered years of torture at the hands of prison officials, and having completed his prison term, he was not freed, leading to his final hunger strike. This crime remains unpunished like the others of the Castro dictatorship. Demonstrators paid homage to Pedro Luis and other Cuban martyrs, and asked for an end to impunity.

During the vigil demonstrators gathered signatures for a petition calling for the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners. Petition is also online and calls for the end of repression on the island and the freedom of all those imprisoned for exercising their fundamental human rights. The petition has been signed by more than 600 parliamentarians, prominent diplomats and international political figures and is still open at this link: .

Pedro Luis Boitel was forced to go thirsty during a hunger strike in prison, because “Castro gave the order that they cut off his water until he died,” according to what his cellmate, the human rights activist and former Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission Armando Valladares, told EFE on May 25, 2022.

The 51st anniversary of Pedro Luis Boitel’s death coincides with the arrival of the European Union’s High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell in Cuba. Over two days May 25-27 he will represent the EU “at the third Joint Council, co-chaired on the Cuban side by Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez. The Joint Council, established by the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA),” has been meeting regularly since 2018.

On May 23, 2023 the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights held a hearing on human rights in Cuba where Jonathan Hatwell, the head of the Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Division of the of the European External Action Service – EEAS was unable to confirm if  EU High Representative Borrell would be presenting a list of political prisoners to the Cuban government requesting their release.

Mr. Borrell arrived in Cuba today and is Tweeting out information about his meetings on the island.

At the same time there are 13 political prisoners planted in protest on hunger strike in Cuba, three of them taken from the prison at dawn and who remain missing. Their relatives are surrounded by the police in their homes. Meanwhile Mr. Borrell’s first meeting was with “entrepreneurs” in a place that is owned by the “son of a high-ranking military” official.

Ahead of the European Union (EU)-Cuba Joint Council on May 26, Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, People in Need, Race and Equality, and World Organisation Against Torture wrote on May 22, 2023 to urge Mr. Borrell to ensure that human rights remain at the very center of the EU’s relations with Cuba, at a crucial moment for the country’s human rights defenders.

EEAS Press Team, May 23, 2023

Cuba: HR/VP Josep Borrell in Havana on 25-27 May

High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell will travel to Cuba on 25-27 May to represent the EU at the third Joint Council, co-chaired on the Cuban side by Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez. The Joint Council, established by the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA), meets regularly since 2018. The PDCA enshrines the EU’s policy approach of critical but constructive engagement towards Cuba.

The visit will be an opportunity to take stock of the bilateral relationship, and also to discuss regional and global issues.

During his stay, HR/VP Borrell will meet with the Cuban authorities, Cuban business people, and a range of voices from Cuban society sharing their perspectives on Cuba’s challenges and opportunities, as well as the EU business community and EU Member States present in the country. He will also visit EU-funded development cooperation projects.

The visit is also part of EU outreach to Latin American and Caribbean countries in the run-up to the upcoming EU-CELAC Summit to take place in Brussels on 17-18 July.

The EU is Cuba’s most important trade, investment and cooperation partner. The EU continues to support projects in areas including agriculture, energy, ecological transition, economic modernisation and support of the incipient private sector to ultimately help improve the lives of Cuban people.

22 May 2023

Dear High Representative Borrell,


Ahead of the forthcoming European Union (EU)-Cuba Joint Council on 26 May, our organizations are writing to urge you to ensure that human rights remain at the very centre of the EU’s relations with Cuba, at a crucial moment for the country’s human rights defenders.

Our organizations continue to document[1] the Cuban authorities’ ongoing crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in the country, stifling dissenting voices and targeting human rights defenders. Cuban human rights defenders face harassment and repression by the Cuban authorities and remain excluded from spaces where international actors and the Cuban government take decisions that affect their work and the wider human rights situation in the country.

The Cuban government’s approach has long been marked by restrictive laws, censorship and intimidation tactics, with ever increasing machinery to control the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, while individuals defending human rights face unfair trials and arbitrary detention. This trend has only increased with the targeting of protesters since the demonstrations of 11-12 July 2021, when thousands of people took to the streets across the island to demand a change in living conditions in Cuba in a way that has not been witnessed in decades.

The Cuban authorities have refused to allow EU and member state diplomats, international media or human rights organizations to monitor the trials of those detained during the July 11 protests. Family members and detainees report various due process violations, while artists, intellectuals and others with alternative ideas are subjected to alarming levels of surveillance and restrictions on their freedom of movement. Peaceful protests as recently as in September and October 2022 are reported to have been met with police and military deployment to suppress them. Cuba has expanded internet access but as part of a government policy to continuously silence dissent, the authorities control and interrupt web access at politically sensitive times, regularly blocking messaging apps in contravention of international human rights law.

Three prominent activists, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara[2], Maykel ‘’Osorbo’’ Castillo Pérez and Jose Daniel Ferrer García [3], remain in jail in Cuba as of May 2023 solely as a result of their convictions and the peaceful exercise of their human rights. Justicia 11J, a group formed in response to the repression of protesters in July 2021, records 1,812 individuals arrested since the start of the protests, with 768 remaining in prison as of 11 May 2023.

Ahead of the Joint Council, Cuban civil society has likewise raised many of these concerns, including the situation of independent civil society, prisoners of conscience and others detained for political reasons, the respect of the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and movement – as well as both political participation in Cuba and the participation of independent civil society in EU-Cuba relations.

In March 2022, the EU responded to the “disproportionate sentences” of the July 2021 protesters, calling on the authorities to guarantee and protect the rights to express dissent and protest. The EU declaration on the first anniversary of the protests also expressed concern about due process and disproportionate sentences in response to the protests, urging the Cuban authorities to release all those detained solely on the grounds of exercising their rights and to dialogue with the Cuban people about their legitimate concerns both about deteriorating living conditions and about their human rights.

At the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in November 2022, the EU reiterated these calls, urging Cuba to grant its citizens all their rights, ratify the UN Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures and open spaces for a constructive and inclusive dialogue, without preconditions, with the whole spectrum of civil society actors on the island.

According to the 2016 Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) between the EU and Cuba, the Joint Council works to “oversee the fulfilment of the objectives of this Agreement and supervise its implementation”, including “respect for and the promotion of democratic principles, respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the core international human-rights instruments and their optional protocols which are applicable to the Parties, and respect for the rule of law constitute an essential element of this Agreement.” The crackdown on human rights in Cuba, and in particular the targeting of protesters and human rights defenders since July 2021, stand in clear contradiction to these stated commitments.

The magnitude of Cuba’s human rights crisis must be matched by a proportional response from the EU and its member states to address the scope and severity of the situation and to establish concrete human rights benchmarks in their relations with Cuba.

At the Joint Council, we urge you to lead the EU and its member states in robustly engaging the Cuban authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for exercising their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The EU and its member states should raise the cases of José Daniel Ferrer García, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Maykel ‘’Osorbo’’ Castillo Pérez, Aymara Nieto, Sissi Abascal Zamora, Donaida Pérez Paseiro and dissident artists Richard Zamora Brito “El Radikal”, Maria Cristina Garrido Rodriguez and Randy Arteaga-Rivera.

  • End the ongoing surveillance and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders, activists and journalists, including the use of house arrest against dissenting voices.

  • Cease the excessive use of force and arbitrary detentions during protests and refrain from internet interruptions that hinder the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and access to information. The authorities must pro-actively facilitate peaceful assemblies, protect peaceful protests, end all use of unlawful force against peaceful protesters and guarantee protesters’ safety.

  • Establish a national legislative framework to safeguard the right to protest; in parallel, repeal and amend repressive and/or vaguely worded offences in the new penal code, as well as laws that have been misused against human rights defenders, activists, protesters and members of independent civil society.

  • Prevent and combat discrimination of any kind and promote the respect, protection and guarantee of the human rights of all, including women, Afro-descendants and the LGBTIQ+ community.

  • Promptly establish a comprehensive law on gender-based violence defining protocols to prevent and address the growing problem of feminicides and violence against women and girls in Cuba, including an efficient, public and transparent institutional protection and security mechanism for survivors.

  • Ensure access to independent human rights organizations to monitor and report on the human rights situation, and likewise extend standing invitations to UN Special Rapporteurs, in particular those focusing on freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and human rights defenders, facilitating their visits as soon as possible.

  • Address the population’s need for greater access to food and medicine and act to fulfil the population’s economic, social, and cultural rights – human rights concerns that were at the core of the recent and ongoing protests. The EU and its member states should call on the Cuban authorities to increase their efforts to ensure these rights and support genuine efforts to do so.

  • Ratify the ICCPR, ICESCR and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights as soon as possible, using the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country’s human rights record as an opportunity to re-affirm Cuba’s commitments to all rights.

  • Use the opportunity of the forthcoming EU-CELAC summit in July to step-up engagement on human rights with Cuba and across Latin America and the Caribbean in line with calls from civil society in the region and in the EU.

  • Make sure that independent Cuban and European human rights and civil society organizations are fully consulted, and their participation proactively facilitated in all decision-making that affects them – including the civil society events connected to the EU-Cuba human rights dialogue, bilateral cooperation and the implementation of the PDCA.

  • Fully use the mechanisms defined in the PDCA to ensure that the Cuban government complies with its commitments to respect human rights.

 We thank you in advance for your action to ensure the respect and fulfillment of all human rights for all in Cuba at this crucial time.

Amnesty International

Civil Rights Defenders

FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Human Rights Watch

People in Need

Race and Equality

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


[1] Amnesty International, Cuba: Open Letter to President Miguel Díaz Canel on Human Rights of Prisoners of Conscience, 18 May 2023; Amnesty International, Cuba: Escalated repression: Amnesty International: Submission to the 44th session of the UPR working group, 5 November 2023, 30 March 2023; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2023: Cuba, 12 January 2023; Human Rights Watch, Report, Prison or Exile: Cuba’s Systematic Repression of July 2021 Demonstrators, 11 July 2022; Human Rights Watch, Report, Cuba: Peaceful Protesters Systematically Detained, Abused, 19 October 2021; Race and Equality, Cuba: How to Understand July 11 and November 15, 2021 in Light of International Human Rights Standards – An Intersectional Focus, March 2022.

[2] See Cuba: Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP Plenary, 8 June 2021.

[3] See Cuba: Statement by the Spokesperson on the case of José Daniel Ferrer, 27 February 2020; European Parliament on Cuba, the case of José Daniel Ferrer, 28 November 2019.

From the Archives

14ymedio, May 25, 2022

Fidel Castro Ordered the ‘Water Shut Off’ to Pedro Luis Boitel, Says His Former Cellmate

Ambassador Armando Valladares

EFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 26 May 2022 — Pedro Luis Boitel was forced to go thirsty during a hunger strike in prison, because “Castro gave the order that they cut off his water until he died,” according to what his cellmate, the human rights Armando Valladares, told Efe.

“You cannot write the history of political prison in Cuba without naming Pedro Luis,” says Valladares, a painter, poet and former US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, in an interview with Efe.

“Fidel Castro expressly hated Pedro Luis, a leader of the 26th of July Movement and exiled (by Fulgencio Batista) in Venezuela,” Valladares comments shortly before participating in a colloquium in Miami on Wednesday for the 50th anniversary of Boitel’s death.

“He was well known and the candidate with the most possibilities to win the elections (for president) of the FEU (University Student Federation)” before the Revolution, he adds about his companion in cell 64, of circular building number 4 in the Isle of Pines prison, now in disuse and from which they both fled.

In 1961 Boitel was arrested and charged with conspiracy against the state. He was sentenced in a trial to ten years in prison, a sentence that was later extended with other charges.

A kind of maximum security Alacatraz, found in a small island in the south of Cuba, the Isle of Pines was considered “impossible” to break out of, recalls Valladares, who turns 85 next Friday.

Valladares, imprisoned at the age of 21 for refusing to hang a plaque that read “I am with Fidel” and who spent 22 years in prison, during which he suffered torture and punishment of all kinds and went on eleven hunger strikes, met Boitel at the La Cabaña prison in Havana.

“When they finished my interrogations in the political police, they sent me to galley 12 in La Cabaña. At the door was Pedro Luis, thin and with very large glasses. Then we were together for years and years and years,” he recalls.

“When we escaped on October 21, 1961 – I remember it because I was released on the same day 20-odd years later – there was a guard who walked around at sunset with a dog and a rifle,” he relates about this installation, in which Fidel Castro was also imprisoned before being amnestied by the Government of Fulgencio Batista.

“We went inside the barracks dressed as soldiers, greeting the guards. They captured us on the third day because the people who were supposed to pick us up on the coast did not come, they thought it was impossible for us to escape,” adds Valladares.

“We were the only ones who managed to get out of the cordon of the prison, it will remain in history, I don’t know why there is a tendency to eliminate this heroic and almost novelistic act from the interviews,” he laments, and clarifies that the idea of the escape was Boitel’s.

Upon being captured, they were taken to the punishment cell where they remained “almost a year,” says Valladares. “We went on strike to get us out of there, which was the first,” recapitulates the author of the book Against All Hope, where he recounted his memories after 22 years in prison.

According to the activist’s account, Boitel was taken to the Military Hospital (in Havana), where he was one of the first to be given civilian clothes. “He was making strikes until the last one in (the prison of) the Castillo del Príncipe.

It was a hunger strike, not a thirst strike. Fidel Castro gave the order that the water be cut off until he died,” says Valladares.

Boitel died at the age of 41 on a hunger strike on May 25, 1972 in the Castillo del Príncipe prison in Havana.

The organizers of the tribute to Boitel, among which are the “Plantados hasta la Libertad de Cuba” [Resisters until Cuba is Free], the Institute of Cuban Historical Memory against Totalitarianism and the PEN Club of Cuban Writers in exile, yesterday brought a floral offering to the tomb of the Boitel’s mother, Clara Abraham de Boitel, at Miami’s Flagler Memorial Cemetery.

In the afternoon, the documentary Boitel: Murienda a plazos, directed by Daniel Urdanivia and produced by Pedro Corzo, was screened at the Tower Theater in Little Havana, where Valladares spoke to the audience.

Next to him was “another great friend of Pedro Luis”, Richard Heredia, also an anti-communist and who was with Boitel “underground.”

“It is a well-deserved tribute. Pedro Luis is a legend for all political prisoners like me. Fortunately, we have groups within Cuba that have even adopted his name,” he stressed.