URGENT MEDIA ADVISORY: United Nations Council on Human Rights to review Cuba’s human rights record tomorrow

URGENT MEDIA ADVISORY: United Nations Council on Human Rights to review Cuba’s human rights record tomorrow as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review scheduled to take place in Geneva, Switzerland. The Center for a Free Cuba and other human rights organizations submitted reports to the Council last fall. The Center for a Free Cuba highlighted

  • the expulsion of teachers and students from universities due to their political beliefs

  • extrajudicial violence used by the Cuban authorities against dissidents, and

  • the misuse of psychiatry including internment in mental hospitals and the use of shock therapy and psychotic drugs against dissidents on the island. 

The Center for a Free Cuba is a non-governmental organizations that promotes human rights and civil liberties in Cuba. The Center has appealed to human rights organizations and democratic governments across the world asking them to help bring an end to the serious human rights violations occurring in Cuba. The report submitted by the Center follows.

Center for a Free Cuba, October 4, 2017

Center for a Free Cuba submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review

30th Session of the UPR Working Group, April-May 2018

Politicization of Cuban education. Teachers fired and students expelled from Cuban universities due to their political beliefs in violation of UNESCO’s agreements of which Cuba is a signatory.

l. Felix Yuniel Llerena Lopez, a 20 year-old student, was expelled from the Enrique Jose Varona Pedagogical University in Havana on May 8, 2017 after visiting to the United States where he attended workshops on democracy at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. Upon his return to Cuba the government confiscated a laptop, flash drives, books, a copy of the ” Information for NGO written submission for the Universal Periodic Review issues ” by Child Rights Connect, and copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He and his mother were summoned by police and threatened. His mother was told that the authorities could not protect him if Cubans angry with his counter revolutionary activities were to attack him with machetes. Felix Llerena is a regional coordinator of the Patmos Institute that defends religious freedoms and human rights and a promoter of the CubaDecide initiative, which seeks a Cuban plebiscite.

2. Eighteen year old journalism student, Karla Perez Gonzalez, was expelled from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for ” political reasons” on April 12, 2017. Her expulsion was ratified three days later. She is a member of Somos+ (We are more) , a moderate dissident youth movement. The government is particularly sensitive to journalism students. The government owns and controls all electronic and print media whose coverage is guided by the Office of Political Orientation.

3. Twenty four year old David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the University of Cienfuegos in February of 2017 after he honestly answered politically loaded questions in what was supposed to be a Spanish literature exam.

4. If you have a relative who is a dissident, although you are not, you can still be fired from your job. Teachers are at risk more than most. For many years, government policy was that practicing Catholics could not be teachers. Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the University of Las Villas was expelled from her job on May 9, 2017 because her father, Leonardo Rodriguez is a dissident. Expelling students and denying them an education for their political orientation has long been a practice of the Cuban government.

Religious repression

5. There is no religious freedom in Cuba . The Office of Attention for Religious Affairs [Oficina de Atención para los Asuntos Religiosos] (OAAR) is part of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Religious groups officially recognized by the Cuban government must request permission from OAAR to be able to hold meetings, import religious materials, receive foreigners, and build, buy or repair places of worship.

6. Pastor Alaín Toledano Valiente of the Apostolic Movement [Movimiento Apostólico] reports that ” there is no law in this country that allows the church to build a temple, it does not exist. All ministries that exist now in Cuba, since 1959 , none have the approval of the government.

… The policy that is being sold to international governments of the freedom [of religion] is a joke.” [l]

lnfant mortality rates

7. The government policy pressures women with problem pregnancies to abort as a way to achieve a low infant mortality rate and to reduce costs, although it boasts of what it calls excellent healthcare. Only pregnancies with fairly healthy babies are allowed to go to term. If doctors do not reach their statistical targets, and there is a spike in infant mortality in a certain area, they may be punished or fired. This creates an incentive to both falsify statistics and place pressure on the pregnant women to ensure the “best” outcome.

Extrajudicial violence: The case of Sirley Avila Leon

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8. Sirley Avila Leon was  a delegate  to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba since June 2005 for the rural area  of Limones, in the province of Las Tunas. The authorities removed her from that position  in 2012 because she had fought to reopen a school in her district. Her efforts were ignored by official channels, and responding to her constituents complaints, she reached out to international  media. Her son, Yoerlis Peña Avila, who had an 18 year career in the Cuban military, was  forced out when he refused to declare Sirley insane and commit his mother to a psychiatric facility. This is not the first case in which the government uses internment in psychiatric institution s and the misuse of psychotropic drugs against dissidents.

9. Ms Avila León joined UNPACU, a human rights organization which is denied the required registration and repression against her increased. On May 24, 2015 she was the victim of a machete attack carried out by Osmany Carrion, with the complicit assistance of his wife, that led to the loss of her left hand, right upper arm nearly severed and knees slashed into leaving her crippled. She did not receive adequate medical care and was told quietly by doctors that if she wanted to gee bener that she would need to leave the country.

10.  On March 8, 2016 she arrived in Miami and began medical treatments over the next six months during which she was able to walk again, although still limited due to her injuries. She returned to Cuba on September 7, 20 I 6 to find her home occupied by strangers and her attacker, Osmany Carrion, free and bragging that he “would finish the job.” She moved in with her mother and within a short time a camera and microphone were set up across from her mother’s home on a post by the authorities. Threats against her life intensified leading her to flee to the United States and request asylum on October 28, 2016.

ll. Sirley’s son, Yoerlis Pena Avila on March 15, 2017 was working when a man he did not know told him “that it was better that the legal demand not be continued because you did not know the risk in which you were exposing me and my grandmother.” The threat is in response to Sirley Avila Leon’s legal demand presented to recover 126,000 Cuban pesos ($4754) in damages resulting from the May 24, 2015 machete attack.

Physical abuse, beatings and arbitrary detentions for Cubans exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

12. Cubans who have exercised their right to peaceful association and assembly are subjected to politically motivated arbitrary detentions.

Between January I, 2013 and September 30, 2017 there have been 37,838 arbitrary detentions. ln 2013 there were 6,424 arbitrary detentions, in 2014

8,899, in 2015 8,616, in 2016 9,940 and in the first nine months of 2017 there were 3,959 politically motivated detentions.

13. These detentions are often violent and meant to intimidate. On September 27, 2015 Lady in White Daisy Cuello Basulto reported that her 21 year old daughter was arrested, violently stripped and told to urinate in front of police officers in a police station in Cotorro in Cuba. The 21 year old was arrested along with her mom and other relatives while attending a Sunday march of the Ladies in White to attend Catholic mass. “She was humiliated,” although she refused to urinate in from of the agents, who constantly jeered at her, her mother said. The young woman was locked in a cell with a strong smell of hydrochloric acid and afterwards suffered from a sore throat, according to her mother who added: “She has a fever and feels very bad.” (2]

Old and New political prisoners

14. There are over 114 identified Cuban political prisoners. (3] The case of a Cuban medical doctor and dissident serving a three year prison sentence for speaking critically of Fidel Castro, following the Cuban leader’s death is reviewed below.

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15. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Holguin, Cuba, October 25, 196 8) is a physician and national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL). He joined the MCL, then headed by Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, in the early 2000s. After the death of Paya on July 22, 2012, the Christian Liberation Movement restructured its leadership. Cardet was appointed national coordinator in November of 2014.

16. Prior to becoming MCL National Coordinator, Cardet was a member of the movement’s coordinating council, he was and remains also a Vice -President of the Christian Democratic Organization of America (ODCA). He had previously been active in various MCL initiatives (The Varela Project, The Heredia Project, The Peoples Path and One Cuban, one vote) aimed at achieving a nonviolent transition in Cuba to democracy.

17. Cardet, married and a father of two, worked as a family doctor at the Health Center in the town of Velasco (Holguin). In 2013 he was expelled from his work in retaliation for his opposition activity as a member of the movimiento Christiano Liberación (MCL). Protests over his punishment resulted in his being readmitted to his job.

18. Dr. Cardet was traveling abroad when Fidel Castro died on November  25, 2016 and gave a frank assessment of the old tyrant’s legacy in Cuba published in La Gaceta and ACl Prensa. [4]l 5l  He was taken prisoner by the police when he returned to Cuba on November 30, 2016 and was badly beaten up, in front of his family, by the government agents. The beatings continued in the detention center.  On December 10 , 2016 the wife of Eduardo Cardet, Yaimaris Vecino after her first visit to the prison denounced that “the consequences of the beating are still visible” … “Eduardo was severely beaten in prison, while he was in handcuffs.” [6]

19. On March 20, 2017 D r. Eduardo Cardet Concepcion was sentenced to a three year prison sentence. He remains in the Provisional prison of Holguin as of October 4, 2017.

Dissident arrested and sent to psychiatric facility as punishment

20. On May I , 2017 the incident was captured by the world’s  cameras. Daniel  Llorente  Miranda ran down the path  of a parade about  to start, waving an American flag. He was tackled down by State Security and jailed. He was charged with “public disorder .” He was initially held at the Technical Department  of Investigations of the Police in 100 and Aldabó in Havana. Weeks later he was transferred to the Comandante Dr. Bernabe Ordaz Duc un ge Psychiatric Hospital better known by its pre-revolutionary name Mazorra. The use of psychiatric facilities to mistreat dissidents is a practice that originated in the Soviet Union but was adopted early on by the government’s intelligence services. ln 2010 several patients died from exposure to the elements and neglect by hospital staff at this facility. Daniel Llorente has spent the past five month s in the psychiatric hospital and remains there as of October 4, 20 l7.

General Recommendations

21. We would like to make several recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and governments concerned. We call on Members of the United Nations to help those around the world who are denied basic human rights and are targeted by abuse and repression.

Specific Recommendations

22. For the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send to Cuba a fact finding delegation after the Universal end to the bullying and harassment of children, as early as their elementary school years.

23. For the European  Union to take into account the UN’s Universal Periodic Review  in the context of European relations.

24. The High Commissioner should do everything possible to interview the students and teachers expelled from Cuban universities whose cases have been submitted here.

25. The High Commissioner and the Council should request Cuba to address the cases of Felix Yuniel Llerena Lopez, Karla Perez  Gonzalez, David Mauri Cardoso, Dalila Rodriguez. Cuba should be asked to explain the expulsion of students and the firing of teachers in the context of UNESCO’ s agreement prohibiting punishment of students and teachers for their political views.

26. The High Commissioner, the Council, and governments concerned should ask Cuban to reinstate teachers and students to their universities .

27. While visiting Cuba the High Commissioner and the Council should conduct a seminar held at the United Nations’ office in Havana to educate human rights organizations on the island about their rights and the UN mechanisms available to them..

28. There is no religious freedom in Cuba. We recommend that the Commissioner. the Council and Member States appeal to Cuba to close the Office of Attention for Religious Affairs v.hich is not officially a government department. but an entity under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. ln 1998 when Pope John Paul IT journeyed to Cuba he public!} asked the Cuban government to open Cuba to the world and the world to open itself to Cuba. The Pontiff also asked Cuba to close what was then called the Office of Religion and Cults.

29. We urge the Council, the Commissioner and Member States to ask Cuba to allow registration of Cuban churches of whatever denomination and not use the denial of registration to punish religious believers who do not adhere to the government’s political orthodoxy. We hope that a request be made to the Cuban authorities to put an end to the bullying and harassment of children, as early as their elementary school years who are religious believers; The cases of the Jehovah’s Witness and evangelical denominations require special attention.

30. We urge the Council, Commissioner, and Member States to look into Cuban government practices disregarding women and family rights. Infant mortality rates continue to be manipulated by pressuring women with problem pregnancies to abort. We recommend the High Commissioner interview some of the Cuban medical professionals currently outside the is land to get a truthful assessment. The plight of those doctors should also be of concern, since they are little more than slave labor rented out by the government. Rather than a humanitarian effort, Cuba’ s medical missions are an important source of hard currency whereby foreign governments pay a substantial amount while the Cuban government pays a very small percentage to the doctors. Doctors’ families are left back in Cuba to prevent doctors from defecting.

31. We recommend that the Commissioner, the Council and foreign governments meet with Sirley Avila Leon to hear her dramatic story and that Cuba be asked to provide compensation for the government-encouraged machete attack that left her disabled.

32. The existence of Cuban political prisoners is undeniable. The Council, and the Commissioner should ask Cuba to free all of them without delay. The plight of Eduardo Cardet Concepcion and Daniel Llorente Miranda should not be ignored . Cuba should be asked to free immediately both Eduardo Cardet Concepcion and Daniel Llorente Miranda as well as  elderly and ill political prisoners

33. The Council, the Commissioner , and UN Member States should ask Cuba to stop the misuse of psychiatry against political dissidents , and to the extent possible the High Commissioner should interview Cubans who have been victims of this abuse.

[1] Interview with the pastor on August 15, 2017 https://av.martinoticias.com/flash/clips/CU/2017/0 8/15/addd873c-e00l-4e70-b3a6-4025e51f9848_hq.mp3?download=l

[2] Daisy Cuello Basulto denuncia que la policía cubana abusa y desnuda a su hija https://youtu.be/mkHHplmmVGM

[3] List of political prisoners from Directorio Democratico Cubano http://directorio.org/cubanpoliticalprisoners

[4] Denuncia Eduardo Cardet: ‘Lo que se respira en Cuba es un duelo impuesto’ La Gaceta. 1 Diciembre, 2016 https://gaceta.es/noticias /respira­ cuba-duelo- impuesto-01 122016-1440/ (Spain)

[5] “La historia esfumara el mito sobre Fidel Castro, asegura lider del MCL en Cuba” Por Eduardo Berdejo ACI Prensa. 29 de noviembre de2017 https: //www.aciprensa.com/noticias/la­-historia-esfumara-el-mito-sobre-fidel-castro­-asegura-lider-del-mcl-en-cuba-8 4230

[6] Statement by Yaimaris Vecino, the wife of Eduardo Cardet, after the first visit to the prison 12/10/16 http://www.oswaldopaya.org/es/up/2016 1210-yaimaris-vecino1.mp31.mp3 •