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Assessment: Cuba
July 2008

Assessment: Cuba is published bi-monthly by PRIMA-News in Moscow in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C.

Pleasant Propaganda — Unpleasant Reality

    Europe’s over-inflated expectations of a democratic change in Cuba are based either on ignoring information about the real life in this country or on an obsessive wish to turn Raul Castro into a kind fabulist telling a sweet fairytale about forthcoming changes on the island.

    For European politicians, the unrestricted sale of microwaves and personal computers and the decision to open foreigners-only hotels to Cuban citizens point to a significant political shift in Cuba toward a better future. These measures were considered significant enough for members of the European Union to formally lift sanctions on communist Cuba.

    The opinion of politicians certainly deserves attention, but reports about the political reality in Cuba deserve more spotlight and attention. Since the situation on the island is not as rosy as the Cuban propaganda machine paints or that overzealous European political figures who are eager to encourage Raul Castro’s regime believe.

    In June, the EU sanctions were dropped. What came next in Cuba? The civil rights situation in Cuba can be judged by two things: protests by those who peacefully struggle for freedom, and the escape from Cuba of those who wouldn’t fight but still want to live free. In other words, by dissidents, illegal migrants, and defectors.

    Reforms instituted by Raul Castro have failed to curb the flow of illegal migrants. Thirteen Cubans fleeing their homeland in a boat spent an entire month on the open sea before being discovered by the crew of the Norwegian tanker Berge Danuta 235 nautical miles from the coast of Cuba (an American Coast Guard vessel from Florida came for them the next day). On July 1, Mexican police arrested eighteen men and two women as illegal immigrants from Cuba.

    Most important in gauging the human rights situation is how the government treats its opposition. In this regard, Cuban authorities suddenly arrested seventeen dissidents on Thursday July 3. The police stated that the United States is using these people to organize anti-government activities. MartiNoticias.com reported that the arrests were carried out to prevent the opposition group Agenda for Transition (Agenda para la Transición) from gathering. Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, also confirmed that the detentions were the result of the accusations made against the U.S. a day earlier by the Cuban Foreign Ministry. He later told journalists that 14 of the individuals were later released.

   Separately, the regime has engaged in widespread human rights violations:

    ● Police arrested opposition members Néstor and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina on Friday, July 11 at their home in the municipality of Baracoa, Guantanamo Province. The previous week Néstor had gone on hunger strike to protest restrictions on his freedom of movement and both brothers were detained briefly. He stopped the hunger strike after authorities stated that he would be able to move freely.

    ● Peaceful pro-democracy opposition member Jorge Ramírez was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of “disrespecting of authority” on July 10 in Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus Province. The trial was held behind closed doors and only four relatives were allowed in the courtroom.

    ● On July 14, five democracy activists were briefly arrested and sixteen others detained for questioning following memorial events held across the country on July 13 commemorating the 14th anniversary of the Marzo de 13 tugboat massacre in which 41 people died.

    ● On July 10, peaceful democracy activist Jorge Ramírez was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of “disrespecting authority.” The trial, held in Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus province, was held behind closed doors. Only four relatives of the defendant were allowed in the courtroom. Calderón is a representative of the 30th of November Democratic Party in Trinidad.

    The situation of political prisoners is worth special mention. What kind of change for democracy is there if nearly 200 political prisoners are still languishing in Cuban jails? Especially given the conditions:

    ● Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, a prisoner of conscience from the Group of 75, went on hunger strike and then, on July 21, stitched his lips together to protest the refusal of officials in Holguín provincial prison to protest the ongoing abuse of his rights and harassment by prison authorities. Three other oppositionists from the Group of 75 have joined his hunger strike to protest maltreatment in jail.

    ● Iván Hernández Carrillo, a prisoner of conscience from the Group of 75, reports that his life is at risk in Guamajal prison in Santa Clara, Villa Clara Province, having been threatened by a criminal cell mate. Prison guards didn’t intervene.  Iván Hernández Carrillo is serving a 26-year jail term.

    These are pictures of Cuban real political life taken during just one month, July 2008, one month after the European Union revoked its sanctions on Cuba in an attempt to encourage Raul Castro and his communist brothers-in-arms for a change to democracy on the island.

    Alexander Podrabinek
              Moscow, July 2008