Appeal for end to repression in Cuba and release of all Cuban political prisoners

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Since 1989 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been permitted to inspect conditions in Cuban prisons, although between 2002 and the present the ICRC visited detainees over 100 times at the United States Guantanamo Naval Base prison in eastern Cuba. Cuba is the only country in the Americas that Amnesty International, and other independent human rights monitors, cannot visit, and where independent human rights groups are considered illegal.

This reality takes on a new urgency following the July 11, 2021 national non-violent protests, and the intensification of the crackdown on November 15, 2021 that marks a worsening period of repression.  Father José Castor Alvarez Devesa, a Cuban Catholic priest, who was present at the 11J protests to bear witness was beaten up, detained, and after international press attention was brought to his plight, released. Father Castor is facing criminal charges and has been banned from traveling pending his trial.

On July 16, 2021 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated, “I am very concerned at the alleged use of excessive force against demonstrators in Cuba and the arrest of a large number of people, including several journalists.” … “It is particularly worrying that these include individuals allegedly held incommunicado and people whose whereabouts are unknown. All those detained for exercising their rights must be promptly released.” … “I deeply regret the death of one protester in the context of protests in Havana – it is important that there be an independent, transparent, effective investigation, and that those responsible are held accountable.” … “I urge the Government to address the protesters’ grievances through dialogue, and to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to peaceful assembly and to freedom of opinion and expression.”

Cuba’s response has been to worsen the conditions of the prisoners. Over 5,000 were detained during and after the July 11th protests. Only 1,227 detained Cubans, related to the protests that began on July 11th, have been identified, and another 80 detained around the November 15th Civic March. Twenty-one of the detainees are minors. The majority remain jailed with trials underway that fall far short of international norms; for example, peaceful protestors are being given prison terms in excess of 20 years.

In August 2021 Decree Law 35 was passed further censoring speech on the internet, and threatening fines and imprisonment for speaking critically of the Cuban government in social media and on cyber networks.

The situation today requires your urgent attention.

Prisoners of conscience such as Maykel Castillo Pérez, Franco Benítez, Esteban Rodríguez, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Yandier García Labrada, José Daniel Ferrer García, Felix Navarro Rodriguez, Virgilio Mantilla Arango, Roberto Pérez Fonseca, Eloy Bárbaro Cardoso Pedroso, are in a precarious condition in facilities where COVID-19, Hepatitis, and other diseases run rampant with zero outside oversight.  

Cuban officials have provided their supporters with clubs and assault weapons and urged them to show up in Cuban public spaces to conduct acts of intimidation. The government published over social media explicit threats of violence heading up to the November 15th civic marches. Officials claim Archipelago, which advocates non-violence is linked to “subversive organizations” with the “open intention of changing the political system in Cuba.”

A group of Catholic priests released a public letter calling on the regime to not  repress the nonviolent protests and to Cubans “not to raise your hand against another Cuban.” Cuban bishops also issued a statement calling for a national dialogue, the release of those still detained for the events of this past summer, and a rejection of violence.

We reaffirm our support of human rights in Cuba and call on democracies to stand together to condemn the regime’s attempt to suppress and oppress civil society in order to perpetuate its rule, and prevent a rebirth of democracy. Inaction is not an option.

We call on the Cuban dictatorship to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.

  • Immediately restore uncensored Internet and all forms of communications.

  • Eliminate restrictions on the distribution of humanitarian aid from international organizations and from Cubans in the diaspora to Cubans in need on the island;

  • Permit visits of the International Committee of the Red Cross to Cuba’s prisons.

  • Permit visits of international human rights organizations to the island.

In addition, we urge that democracies:

  • Denounce the crackdown on pro-democracy activists, and advise Cuban officials of further sanctions due to ongoing repression.

  • Call on the UN Security Council to respond to the situation by sending a delegation to Cuba, and by establishing a humanitarian corridor for direct emergency assistance to needy Cubans without regime participation, and a referral of the situation in Cuba to the International Criminal Court.

  • Establish a global arms embargo on Cuba.

  • Suspend economic and military cooperation agreements with the Cuban dictatorship, such as the EU-Cuba cooperation agreement.

  • Apply Magnitsky Sanctions to regime repressors.

  • Carry out a public diplomacy campaign on the internal blockade officials impose on Cubans, which results in hunger and suffering in Cuba and the imprisonment of Cuban farmers who dare to sell their chicken and vegetables directly to the population.

Finally, we call on Catholic bishops across the world to:

  • Issue statements backing their Cuban counterparts’ call for the release of Cubans jailed for the events of July 2021 and before, and a rejection of violence by the regime.

  • Include the freedom of Cuba’s political prisoners, justice for the victims of repression, and national reconciliation for Cuba in prayers said at Mass.

We hope that in this critical time democracies will implement the above recommended measures, and side with the Cuban people rather than the dictatorship that oppresses them.

We would be remiss if at a time when the Summit of Democracy is being held we did not also call on democracies to also do everything possible to help victims of repression in North Korea, Burma (Myanmar), China, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Russia, and Belarus.

Partial list of signatories,

Guillermo Marmol, businessman and Chairman, Center for a Free Cuba

Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, President, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Paquito D’Rivera, Grammy-winning musician and composer

Ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis, Member of Parliament, Lithuania

Ambassador Otto J. Reich, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela; President, Center for a Free Cuba

Aaron Rhodes, President of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and former director, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Regis Iglesias Ramirez, spokesman, Movimiento Cristiano Liberación.

Jorge Olivera Castillo, journalist, poet, and dissident.

Mary Curtis Horowitz, Chair, Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy

Martin Lessenthin, Spokesman of the Board, ISHR – International Society for Human Rights German Section

Ambassador Everett Ellis Briggs, Cuba-born, member of the U.S. Foreign Service, retired

Carlos Eire, Professor of History and Religious Studies, Yale University

Amalia Dache, Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Yang Jianli, President, Citizen Power Initiatives for China

Sebastián Arcos, human rights activist, assistant director, Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute

Carlos Ponce, Senior Fellow and Director of Latin American Programs, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Sirley Ávila León, human rights activist and and victim of regime orchestrated machete attack in 2015.

Rosa María Payá, founder and director, CubaDecide and Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana

Dr. Eduardo Zayas-Bazán, Professor Emeritus East Tennessee State University

Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, presbyter, founder and coordinator, Patmos Institute

Anna Lee Stangl, CSW Head of Advocacy

Ileana Fuentes, author, translator, feminist, human rights and democracy advocate

Roland A. Alum, Anthropologist

Achy Obejas, novelist, journalist

Frank Calzón, political scientist, human rights advocate, and author

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Cuban writer, PhD at Washington University in Saint Louis, MO.

Victor J. Pujals, Engineer

Josefina Vento, DDS, dentist

Janisset Rivero, writer and human rights activist

John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba

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This appeal was sent to democratic governments, human rights organizations, Catholic bishops and international figures on December 9, 2021 including:

President of the Republic of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda

President of Uruguay Luis Lacalle Pou,

President of the Republic of China Tsai Ing-wen

President of the United States of America Joe Biden

Prime Minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern

President of Slovakia Zuzana Čaputová

President of the Republic of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Senator Bernie Sanders,

Senator Patrick Leahy,

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro,

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet,

His Holiness Pope Francis

ArchBishop Thomas Gerard Wenski

Agnès S. Callamard, Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression; Special Adviser to the President

Dr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, President and CEO, International Peace

Jose Miguel Vivanco and Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch,

Michael Schifter of the InterAmerican Dialogue,

Robert Mardini, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),

Nestor Forster Jr., Brazilian Ambassador to the United States,

Šimon Pánek – CEO People in Need

This appeal will be resent in early 2022 with new signatures gathered and added.

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