CubaBrief: Cubans march in NYC to protest Cuban dictator at UN. Over 2.2K sign petition to expel Cuba from the UN Human Rights Council. Diaz-Canel visits NY Church to celebrate Felix Varela

Photo montage by Betty Guerra Perdomo

This past week saw Cuban exiles mobilize in New York City to protest the arrival of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and his entourage to attend the United Nations General Assembly.  On September 19, 2023 the Center for a Free Cuba held a press conference after Díaz-Canel’s speech that was covered by Marti Noticias, Telemundo, the Miami Herald, and live interviews with Ninoska Perez Castellon.

The Center for a Free Cuba in the press conference highlighted that the petition to expel Cuba from the UN Human Rights Council, which is still available for signature, had crossed the 2,200 mark, and that a second petition was sent to the Biden Administration to apply Magnitsky sanctions to  Miguel Díaz-Canel for his actions during the July 11, 2021 protests when he issued an “order of combat” that led to nationwide violence, and unknown number of deaths perpetrated by regime agents.  

On Thursday, September 21st beginning at 2:00pm the Cuban Freedom March and CubaDecide carried out their protest through the streets of New York in the video above, and converged on the Cuban Mission to the UN, and the protest continued into the evening.

Later that same afternoon CubaDecide and the Human Rights Foundation hosted a panel discussion “The Cuban Regime: An International Threat” at The Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City.

On Saturday, September 23rd  President Miguel Díaz-Canel attended an event from five to six in the afternoon at the Church of the Transfiguration, located at 25 Mott Street in Chinatown, Manhattan, New York to celebrate the life of the Cuban patriot and priest Félix Varela. Former CFC executive director Frank Calzon wrote an OpEd that provided some context on Church-Regime relations, and requests made by Cuban exiles to the Church to petition the Cuban government for the release of political prisoners and for International Committee of the Red Cross to be able to visit Cuban prisons.

Regis Iglesias of the Christian Liberation Movement who had taken part in the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to petition the government to carry out human rights reforms, expressed outrage at the visit.

“Hypocrite, criminal, what do you know about what Father Varela taught Cubans if you gave the order to the Communists to beat and murder the people on July 11, 2021 when they civically demanded their rights? You are a traitor to Cuba and Varela’s teachings!”

On the door of the Church a protester left a quote by Father Felix Varela in protest: “Cuba “There is no country without virtue, nor virtue with impiety.”

Translating Cuba, September 23, 2023

Will Cuban President Diaz-Canel Pray in New York?

By Frank Calzon

The event, approved by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who visited Cuba in 2020, is by invitation only and will be covered by the ’National Catholic Register’. (Revolution Studies)

14ymedio, Frank Calzón, Miami, September 23, 2023 —  President Miguel Díaz-Canel, after giving a speech before the United Nations General Assembly this week, will be at a celebration event this Saturday from five to six in the afternoon at the Church of the Transfiguration, located at 25 Mott Street in Chinatown, Manhattan, New York.

The theme of the event is the life of the Cuban patriot and priest Félix Varela.

The event, approved by Cardinal Timothy Dolan himself, is by invitation only and will be covered by the National Catholic Register, a major religious publication.

When the news leaked, Cuban exiles protested to the US authorities, pointing out the serious limitations on religious freedom perpetrated by the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party. This office is in charge of supervising everything that has to do with the operations of the Church, from permits for processions to the purchase of materials to repair buildings, and passports for priests who wish to travel abroad.

Last year Cuban Cardinal Juan García tried to visit some dissidents in Central Havana but was intercepted by the police. Las Damas de Blanco [Ladies in White] who attempted to attend Sunday mass in the Cuban capital have frequently been beaten and detained.

In the midst of the 2021 protests, President Díaz-Canel declared that dissidents would have to “walk over our corpses,” and gave the order on television for Communist Party mobs to take to the streets to beat peaceful protesters.

Some twenty priests distributed a video in which, one after another, after identifying themselves and giving the name of their parish, they repeated a message: “Cuban, do not raise your hand against your brother.”

In addition, other Cuban exiles addressed Cardinal Dolan asking him to pray for the Cuban people, for peace and justice on the Island. In the letter that was released in New York a few hours ago they also asked him to ask Díaz- Canel to stop the harassment of priests, to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to enter Cuban prisons and the release of all political prisoners on the Island.

Miami Herald, September 22, 2023

Cubans march in New York to protest island leader’s presence at the United Nations 

By Nora Gámez Torres 

Updated September 22, 2023 12:03 PM

Dozens of Cubans marched in Manhattan on Thursday, shouting “Freedom for Cuba” and “Down with communism,” to protest the presence of the island’s handpicked president, Miguel Díaz Canel, in New York to attend the United Nations’ general assembly this week. 

“The Cuban people have no human rights, and the sad part of it is that a couple of blocks from here, at the United Nations, the international community is complicit,” said Alian Collazo, coordinator of Cuban Freedom March, one of the groups organizing the demonstration. 

“There are thousands of political prisoners, including children under 18, in political prison for doing what I am doing here,” he shouted into a megaphone.

[ Full article ]

Miami Herald, September 19, 2023

At U.N., Cuba’s leader hammers U.S.’s ‘cruel policies’, but stays silent on Russia 

By Nora Gámez Torres Updated September 19, 2023 5:27 PM

[ … ]

Cuba is running for reelection next month. 

But human rights activists said Tuesday they had collected 2,200 signatures of people calling for the expulsion of Cuba from the Human Rights Council. They also said they had asked the Biden administration to sanction Díaz-Canel for violating human rights on the island. 

“Thousands of people around the world are asking that Cuba not be a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, taking into account that repression has increased over the past four years on the island,” said John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. “The Cuban dictatorship and its representative Díaz-Canel are criminals who must be held accountable and not received at the United Nations.”

The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, September 18, 2023

Sweden’s Wake-Up Call on Cuba

By Logan Williams

On August 24, 2023, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström made some bold statements about the island nation of Cuba. In an official response to an interrogatory put forth by Swedish Parliamentarian Markus Wiechel, inquiring as to the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s existing efforts to advocate for the release of Cuban political prisoners, the Foreign Minister said, “Sweden always works for democratic values and human rights. Cuba is no exception. It can be stated that the situation in [Cuba], especially with regard to political prisoners, has not improved, despite the efforts of both Sweden and the European Union to promote democracy and human rights in the country.” 

As anyone with any experience studying the Cuban problem will tell you, what is remarkable about Cuba is its ability to resist change. Castroist ideology still underpins the Cuban regime today, nearly sixty-five years after the culmination of the 1959 Revolution and fifteen years after the end of Fidel Castro’s presidency.  

Across the Western world, the intellectual Left has popularized a push for engagement with the Cuban regime. This position has newfound life as of late due to the Wall Street Journal‘s revelations about China’s increasing presence on the island. However, the academics and politicians espousing their support for engagement are turning a blind eye to the costs that this strategy will have for the Cuban people.

This ignorance is why Billström’s words are crucial for policymakers around the world—especially within the United States, where this debate rages on with particular zeal—to internalize. The Swedish Foreign Minister is admitting that despite concerted efforts spanning three-and-a-half decades, the European Union (EU) has utterly failed to secure the slightest bit of change in Cuba.  

As of 2019, the EU was Cuba’s top trading partner for both imports and exports. It was also Cuba’s top development partner and source of foreign investment. In 2019, a quarter of all tourists visiting Cuba, which relies on its tourism sector for income, were from the EU. Despite this robust relationship, Cuba has stubbornly refused to liberalize. As the United States’ historical efforts to encourage liberalization in Cuba have demonstrated, engagement will not succeed when rogue states remain motivated by an ideology antithetical to the principles of liberalism. The EU’s fallibility on the Cuban issue offers further proof.

Billström also mentioned that in November 2023, a human rights discussion will take place between the EU’s Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, and members of the Cuban regime. However, the EU’s record on liberalization in Cuba is far from steadfast and doesn’t fill me—or the Cuban people—with much hope. 

In 2016, in a stunning example of appeasement of a despotic regime, the EU opted to end the “common position” policy on Cuba. This policy stated that the EU’s primary object regarding its engagement with Cuba was to encourage a nonviolent transition toward democratic governance on the island, liberal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and elevated economic and living conditions for the Cuban people. This “common position” also predicated “[the EU’s] full cooperation with Cuba” upon these “improvements in human rights and political freedom.” The EU’s abandonment of its human rights-centric Cuba policy sent a clear message to Cuba’s despots: European money will continue to flow across the Atlantic regardless of the human rights conditions on the island. 

Additionally, in May 2023, the EU’s High Representative, Josep Borrell, embarked on a four-day trip to Cuba. During this trip, Borrell committed the EU to a relationship of “mutual respect” with the Cuban dictatorship, and he stated in regards to future EU human rights missions to the island that the EU “has neither the capacity nor the will to impose changes in Cuba.” Borrell was quite interested, however, in the profitability of Cuba’s so-called “emerging enterprises.” Borrell’s disregard for the earnest cries of human rights organizations around the world in favor of growing business ties with the dictatorship has forever placed Josep Borrell and the EU on the “list of disappointments.”

Although Borrell did not use his May 2023 trip to Cuba to condition amicable Cuban-EU relations on Cuba respecting human rights, he did urge Cuba to take a more responsible position on the Russian war in Ukraine. He made this request in good faith due to the EU’s substantial relationship with Cuba, a relationship that is crucial to sustaining the island’s regime, and he justified this pressure by pointing to the enhanced leadership role that Cuba has attained as president of the G77.

It was the equivalent of whistling past the graveyard.

Since the inception of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Cuban regime has been engaged in simultaneous diplomatic and propaganda efforts to support Russian aggression.

One week prior to Borrell’s arrival in Cuba, a high-ranking Belarusian military official tweeted on May 18, 2023 that Cuban military personnel would carry out military training in Belarus. On May 24, 2023, Havana voted against the World Health Organization resolution condemning Russian attacks on Ukrainian health systems. It was one of nine “no” votes against the Europe-backed resolution. The other eight “no” votes were as follows: Algeria, Belarus, People’s Republic of China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos), Nicaragua, Russian Federation, and Syrian Arab Republic (Syria.) So, as they say, Cuba was in “good company,” voting in line with some of the world’s other serial human rights abusers. On the same day, Russian media reported that Cuban contract soldiers had joined Russian military units in their brutal war on Ukraine. 

Did the Cuban government change its tune following Borrell’s visit? Of course not.

On May 30, 2023, Cuban President Diaz-Canel appeared on the Spanish-language version of Russia Today, a Russian state-owned media network, to reiterate Cuba’s “unconditional” support for Russia and condemn NATO’s expansion. Diaz-Canel also advocated for a “move away from the dollar.” China, Russia, and other rogue states often use this policy prerogative as a method of frustrating the West’s attempts at levying economic sanctions against global bad-actors.

Ideally, Billström’s “discovery” that the Cuban regime is, indeed, ruthlessly tyrannical would catalyze the EU to reinvigorate a human rights-oriented Cuba policy. 

What would such a policy look like, you ask? It would begin with the West adopting a strict policy of containment of the Cuban regime. The first step would be levying sanctions against Venezuela – a shell-state that has been occupied by Cuba and which provides Cuba with a source of income through its fossil fuel revenues – for its many crimes against the global community, such as its participation in drug smuggling and its state sponsorship of terrorism. 

The next step would be for Western states to prevent their citizens from personally financing the torture and repression of a people crying out for freedom, by severing the regime’s ties to its two external monetary lifelines: tourism and remittances. The United States must enforce its existing policies against providing financial support to the Cuban dictatorship. The EU must follow the United States’ lead by reviving its own human rights-oriented “common position” policy, which would predicate the continuation of the EU’s financial engagement upon the Cuban regime demonstrating substantial progress towards real human rights reforms. Such an act which would demonstrate the West’s unwavering commitment to the ideals of liberalism, as well as to ensuring that human rights are protected around the globe.

Unfortunately, I am not holding out hope. I expect the West to continue paying lip service to the cause of liberalism while pursuing policies which are inimical to the furthering of human rights on the island. If I am correct, the Cuban people will continue to suffer from the West’s inaction., September 18, 2023

Father Felix Varela: Cause for Canonization Gains Momentum

Air date September 18, 2023

By Jessica Easthope

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros is the first to admit he didn’t know much about Felix Varela as a young man growing up in Cuba. 

But now he’s spearheading Varela’s cause for sainthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“He was a voice that spoke for the Church with kindness, with gentleness, but with forcefulness,” Bishop Cisneros said. Varela was a Cuban politician, scientist, musician, journalist, and priest. 

He represented Cuba in the Spanish parliament, but was outspoken on issues like ending slavery and freeing the Spanish colonies. He was eventually sentenced to death and exiled. 

He left his affluent upbringing and education behind and came to New York City in the 1820s to minister to mostly Irish immigrants who were living in poverty. 

Bishop Cisneros and Father Christopher Heanue, the coordinator of the Irish Apostolate in the Diocese of Brooklyn, held a gala to raise awareness for varela’s cause for sainthood. 

“He comes to New York and he faces the immigrant population, the poor, hungry, sick and he becomes the priest, the pastor, the shepherd to help the people of New York at that time,” Bishop Cisneros said. “He truly is an example for all of us in New York today.” 

“Does a parishioner at St. Mel’s know him? Does someone at the co-cathedral know him? You can’t make someone a saint without people praying for his intercession,” Father Heanue said. 

He was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI and now those with a devotion to Varela are waiting on a miracle to confirm his beatification. 

They’re hopeful because Varela unites Cuba, Ireland, and New York City under one Catholic Church.

“What unites him to all of those locations is the one holy and apostolic faith, which is the Catholic Church,” Father Heanue said. “So the fact that you can feel at home anywhere in the world as long as you’re participating in something larger and more noble than any country, state president, or king.” 

As New York City accommodates a surge of migrants, Bishop Cisneros and Father Heanue say Felix Varela’s legacy is a poignant reminder of what the newly arrived need most. 

“We need someone who will advocate for these newly arrived immigrants who will fight for them and treat them with dignity and respect,” Father Heanue said. “There’s been a call to recognize people’s dignity and humanity and advocate for the poor and needy is a great lesson learned.” 

This year marks 200 years since Varela arrived in New York City and Saturday, Sept. 23, is the 170th anniversary of his death. 

A miracle that would confirm Varela’s beatification is currently being investigated by the Congregation of Saints.

Father Varela has forever made his mark in the Diocese of Brooklyn. A new center named after the Cuban priest was dedicated on Friday. 

Bishop Cisneros blessed the food pantry and soup kitchen named after the possible future saint, as well as the workers who will be feeding the poor and the homeless every week at the soup kitchen and every month at the food pantry. 

The center was part of the feast celebration of the patron of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Corona, Queens.

The parish processed with an image of the blessed mother ahead of the opening. Afterward they attended Mass and then came back out on the street for a party.