CubaBrief: Representatives Wasserman Schultz, and Carlos Gimenez demand release of Cuban prisoners of conscience. Cuba to undergo Universal Periodic Review on November 15th

There are over 1,000 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons today. Members of Congress are highlighting their plight.

On November 7, 2023 Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, “ in a speech delivered in English and Spanish on the U.S. House floor in Washington on Tuesday, said she will partner with Freedom House and Amnesty International for the ‘immediate and unconditional release’ of Latin Grammy-winning rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, whom she called ‘a fierce advocate for free expression and human rights.’”  

 On March 7, 2023 “Congressman Carlos Gimenez (FL-28) launched a display demanding for the immediate release of Cuba’s political prisoners in the U.S. Capitol by displaying over 100 Cuban political prisoners and highlighting the cause of an imprisoned father and daughter, Fredy and Katya Beirut. The Beirut family was wrongfully sentenced for the alleged crime of sedition in the Castro regime’s kangaroo courts. Fredy and Katya Beirut are rotting in Castro’s gulags for simply exercising their fundamental Human Rights during the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, where they demanded freedom and better living conditions on the island.”

On November 15, 2023 at 9:00am Central European Standard Time Cuba will undergo its fourth Universal Periodic Review. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), as the name suggests, is a process that entails a periodic evaluation of all 193 UN Member States’ human rights records. It allows all states to disclose what efforts they have made to enhance human rights situations in their nations and reduce barriers to human rights enjoyment. The United Nations General Assembly established the Human Rights Council on March 15, 2006.

This gave the Council the mandate to “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States” . The ultimate purpose of UPR is to improve the human rights situation in every country, with far-reaching effects for people all around the world.

The Cuban dictatorship has undermined this process since 2009, using hundreds of front groups to subvert the process, and has already laid the groundwork to do it again this year. The Center for a Free Cuba submitted a report for the current review that focuses on extrajudicial killings, and threats of state sanctioned killing over the past five years which was referenced in the report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report ends on a sobering note.

“The facts, however, show that the government of Havana is not following the guidelines of the international system for the protection of human rights, and on the contrary, during the last four years there has been an increase in repression and direct violence with firearms, or boats, against defenseless citizens. The events that occurred during the popular protests from July 11 to 17, 2021 show the authorities are not only capable of reprimanding the right to express themselves freely and demonstrate discontent, but are also capable of forcing young recruits to repress their fellow citizens, to go to their homes to look for people identified through videos of the events that appeared on social networks, and shoot these citizens at point blank range. It is also capable of confining the detainees in subhuman conditions and using physical and psychological torture against them, threatening the relatives of the prisoners and of the people who are missing or who were killed in the streets of the Island, and manipulating the judicial processes eliminating any procedural guarantee.”

The brutality of the Cuban dictatorship extends beyond the bounds of the island of Cuba, and when they lose on the merits their agents, including diplomats, respond with violence.In 2004, when the Castro regime lost a vote in the UN Human Rights Commission, regime agents physically assaulted a human rights activist in front of hundreds  of eyewitnesses in the United Nations building where the Commission was based. Freedom House in a 2004 press release following the attack outlined what happened.

“After the United Nations Commission on Human Rights narrowly passed a resolution today critical of Cuba, members of Cuba’s governmental delegation attacked Frank Calzon, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba. The attack took place inside the United Nations building in Geneva. Witnesses said a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation. The attack occurred shortly after the Commission passed a resolution critical of Cuba’s human rights record. Calzon directed Freedom House’s Cuba programs for over ten years.”

WLRN, November 8, 2023

Americas

Wasserman Schultz, human rights groups fight to free artists jailed by Cuban regime

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Deed

WLRN 91.3 FM | By Sergio R. Bustos

Published November 8, 2023 at 3:58 PM EST

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, is joining with international human rights groups to demand the release of two Cuban artists who they say were wrongfully imprisoned by the Cuban government. 

Wasserman Schultz, in a speech delivered in English and Spanish on the U.S. House floor in Washington on Tuesday, said she will partner with Freedom House and Amnesty International for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Latin Grammy-winning rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, whom she called “a fierce advocate for free expression and human rights.” 

Wasserman Schultz said she will lobby President Biden and his administration to make the release of the two artists “a top priority in any present future engagement with Cuba.”

“I’m grateful the Biden Administration granted humanitarian parole to both Luis Manuel and Maykel, but for the Cuban regime, exiling these patriots isn’t enough. Their very existence is a threat,” said Wasserman Schultz.

“If we truly intend to live up to our nation’s values, we must work tirelessly to liberate those who continually sacrifice their freedom for others.” 

“Their work to spotlight human rights abuses in Cuba through their art deserves our attention now more than ever as they continue to languish in prison in deplorable conditions,” said Margaux Ewen, Director of Freedom House’s Political Prisoners Initiative, in a statement released by the congresswoman’s office. She said the Cuban government has more than 780 political prisoners behind bars.

READ MORE: Under Biden immigration program, a Cuban dissident finds poetry in building a new life in Miami

Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez is a Cuban rapper and artist who has won two Latin Grammy awards. He and other Cuban artists co-authored the song Patria y Vida, which became the anthem for the mass demonstrations in Cuba on July 2021. 

He was detained May 18, 2021. Thirteen months later, Cuban authorities sentenced him to nine years in prison.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a Black Cuban visual and performance artist and member of the anti-censorship San Isidro Movement.

He was arrested and imprisoned after posting a video online to announce he would be participating in the July 21 protests.

The Miami Herald published an op-ed from Otero Alcántara, in which he denounced the Cuban dictatorship government, writing that “Today every young Cuban is a political prisoner.”

In July 2021, thousands of people filled Cuba’s streets and public squares in what was seen as the country’s largest outpouring of protest in decades.

Hundreds were arrested during the unrest last July. Some were sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

Critics of the government said the events showed Cubans fighting against oppression. The authorities portrayed it as a moment when Cuba avoided a “soft coup” fomented by the U.S.

On July 11 and 12, 2021, protesters took to the streets to vent their frustrations over shortages, long lines and a lack of political options. Some were drawn to the marches by calls on social media, while others joined in spontaneously when marchers passed by.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

https://www.wlrn.org/americas/2023-11-08/cuba-wasserman-schultz-human-rights-artist-patria-vida

Office of Congressman Carlos Gimenez, March 7, 2023

CONGRESSMAN GIMENEZ LAUNCHES DISPLAY DEMANDING THE IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF CUBA’S POLITICAL PRISONERS

March 7, 2023

100 of the over 1,000 political prisoners in Cuba today.

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Congressman Carlos Gimenez (FL-28) launched a display demanding for the immediate release of Cuba’s political prisoners in the U.S. Capitol by displaying over 100 Cuban political prisoners and highlighting the cause of an imprisoned father and daughter, Fredy and Katya Beirut. The Beirut family was wrongfully sentenced for the alleged crime of sedition in the Castro regime’s kangaroo courts. Fredy and Katya Beirut are rotting in Castro’s gulags for simply exercising their fundamental Human Rights during the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, where they demanded freedom and better living conditions on the island.

Katya and Fredy Beirut

Join me in demanding for the release of Katya and Fredy Beirut and the immediate release of all political prisoners in Communist China,” Congressman Gimenez said. 

There are currently thousands of political prisoners in Communist Cuba, many of whom have been arrested following the July 11, 2021 protests inspired by the “Patria Y Vida” Movement. This number is in addition to the hundreds of political prisoners who have been unjustly jailed for decades in Castro’s Cuba for expressing their discontent with the totalitarian dictatorship that oppresses the Cuban nation.

Congressman Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) is the only Cuban-born Member of the 118th Congress, having been forced from his homeland shortly after the Communist takeover of the island. Congressman Gimenez represents Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, boasting the nation’s largest Cuban exile community. He has long been advocate for sanctions against the brutal Castro dictatorship and a champion for Human Rights activists in Cuba.

https://gimenez.house.gov/2023/3/congressman-gimenez-launches-display-demanding-the-immediate-release-of-cuba-s-political-prisoners

From the archives

Freedom House, April 15, 2004

UN Must Condemn Cuba For Beating OF NGO Representative

New York

April 15, 2004

The beating by Cuban officials of a member of a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations in Geneva should be considered a criminal act for which the Cuban government must be censured, Freedom House said today.

After the United Nations Commission on Human Rights narrowly passed a resolution today critical of Cuba, members of Cuba’s governmental delegation attacked Frank Calzon, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba.

The attack took place inside the United Nations building in Geneva.

Witnesses said a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation. The attack occurred shortly after the Commission passed a resolution critical of Cuba’s human rights record.

Calzon directed Freedom House’s Cuba programs for over ten years.

Members of the Cuban delegation have also intimidated and threatened Freedom House representatives at recent meetings of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

“This type of behavior is not just a breach of diplomatic protocol, but is itself a human rights violation,” said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. “A brutal attack inside the very building where the Commission on Human Rights meets only underscores the deep crisis the Commission finds itself in today,” she said.

Countries like Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China, and Zimbabwe, enjoy membership on the Commission. They and other repressive regimes lobby aggressively to prevent passage of condemnatory resolutions.

“The climate of immunity and impunity that today prevails at the Human Rights Commission must end,” said Ms. Windsor. “The United Nations must make it abundantly clear to all delegations that intimidating and physically assaulting anyone on or off UN grounds is unacceptable and punishable, despite Cuba’s claims of diplomatic immunity. The credibility of the Commission and of the UN is on the line,” she said.

The 53-member Commission passed the resolution on Cuba by a vote of 22-21, with 10 abstentions. While critical of Cuba’s treatment of dissidents, the resolution does not call for the release of 75 peaceful reform advocates, jailed by the Cuban government one year ago, some for up to 28 years.

“It appears that the only way to pass a resolution against Cuba was to phrase it in mild and vague language,” said Ms. Windsor. “That a relatively weak resolution passed by only one vote is an additional item of concern.”

A Freedom House delegation recently returned from Geneva, where it presented its annual list of the “Most Repressive Societies” to the Commission on April 2. Five of the fifteen countries are members of the Commission.

The report, titled “The Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies, 2004,” includes detailed summations of the dire human rights situations in Burma, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Chechnya, Tibet, and Western Sahara are included as territories under Russian, Chinese, and Moroccan jurisdiction respectively.

The report is excerpted from Freedom House’s annual global survey, Freedom in the World 2004. The countries deemed the most repressive earn some of the worst numerical ratings according to the survey’s methodology.

Significantly, five of the fifteen most repressive governments — those of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan — are members of the Commission on Human Rights, representing nearly 10 percent of the total membership.

“The influence of this group of states on the Commission’s proceedings highlights the urgent need for the democratic member states of the UN body to finally band together and create a permanent democracy caucus that would work as an effective counter-bloc,” said Ms. Windsor.

https://web.archive.org/web/20140503074706/https://freedomhouse.org/article/un-must-condemn-cuba-beating-ngo-representative#.U2Se_7DP1qY