3 political prisoners start hunger strikes

Three Cuban political prisoners — all members of the Group of 75 — started hunger strikes last week after officials at the Canaleta prison blocked one of them from receiving magazines, newspapers and other materials that had been delivered for him.
The publications, including copies of two Spanish newspapers, magazine published by the Cuban Catholic Church and spiritual writings by St. Augustine, had been intended for imprisoned journalist Adolfo Fernández Sainz.
Fernández, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence handed down in 2003, responded by starting a hunger strike until prison officials give to him the publications.
Joining him in the protests were Pedro Argüelles Morán and Antonio Ramón Díaz Sánchez.
Fernández’s niece, the blogger Yoani Sanchez, offers her perspective on her uncle’s latest tribulation:

His co-defendants and fellow inmates, Pedro Argüelles Morán and Antonio Ramón Díaz Sánchez, have been united in exerting pressure in the only way they can: Rejecting the meager sustenance put on their trays. As long as they refuse to pass on the sustenance of words, they will refuse the tasteless ration that keeps them alive.

(H/T to Penultimos Días)
(Cross-posted at Uncommon Sense.)

Cuban student leader arrested (UPDATED)

Néstor Rodríguez has been released. See update below.

It has been a long, hot summer for Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, president of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy. In July, he went on a hunger strike after the authorities blocked him from traveling from Baracoa in far eastern Cuba to Havana. Additionally, the dictatorship unleashed goons from its “rapid response brigades” to harass and threaten Rodríguez and other activists. Officials finally relented and said Rodríguez could travel, for whatever that was worth.

Apparently, it wasn’t worth much. Reports — here (in Spanish) and here (in English) — are that Rodríguez was arrested Aug. 20 after one of the thugs who harassed him last month accused Rodríguez of “threatening” him, as if government opponents in Cuba have any such ability.

The day after Rodríguez’s arrest, his brother, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, said the real reason Nestor was arrested is that he had carried out a protest in front of his apartment building in Baracoa.

“He yelled anti-government slogans like ‘Down with Fidel and Raúl,'” Rolando said, according to a report from human rights activist Juan Carlos González Leiva.

As of late last week, there was no word on Nestor Rodríguez’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile, about 20 members of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy on Aug. 22 marched in Guantanamo to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which crushed the “Prague Spring” softening of communist rule.

In the town of Banes, police arrested three activists who had participated in a similar demonstration. One of the protesters, Ángel Luis Santiesteban Rodés, remained in custody as of last week, according to Cuban Democratic Directorate.

(Cross-posted at Uncommon Sense.)

UPDATED, Aug. 25, 2008

Néstor Rodríguez was released on Aug. 23, but not before police fined him 1,000 pesos.

For what, as is common under the communist “justice” system, was not clear. Independent journalist Tania Maceda Guerra reports that despite the fine, Rodríguez was released with no charges being filed. Of course, in Cuba that is only a technicality, as the dictatorship always reserves for itself the whens, wheres and whys of how it metes out “justice.”

What is known is that Rodríguez, who has been imprisoned on three separate occasions for a total of 10 years, is not in the clear.

Female dissident to stand trial on Wednesday

On Wednesday, please remember in your prayers Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, the wife of former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez.”

Perez, 38, is set to stand trial on a charge of “contempt of the proper authorities,” arising from an Aug. 6 incident during which she tried to block Cuban police officers from beating a young Cuban named Melquíades Hernández in Placetas, in Villa Clara province. According to a statement her husband gave the Cuban Democratic Directorate, “officers flung her against a police vehicle calling her a ‘fucking black,’ a ‘black monkey’ and later telling her that what they needed was ‘an order to kill all these ‘fucking blacks who stick their noses into everything.'”

Fuck the police, indeed.

Say what you want about the castro dictatorship but to call it a gang of misogynistic and racist fucks, from the castro brothers on down, would be unfair to misogynistic, racist fucks elsewhere.

It is a special kind of evil that those thugs showed Iris Perez. The only proper response is our solidarity with this brave woman and her family, and our continued vigilance in exposing and denouncing the criminal castro regime.

The authorities attempted to fine Perez 500 pesos — about two months salary — but instead, she went on a hunger strike for more than 10 days. She has since called off the protest so as to gather strength for her trial.

(Cross-posted at Uncommon Sense.)

Bienvenido a los Estados Unidos, Sr. Montes de Oca Martija

I don’t live in Miami, so I don’t know how big a deal this is. But it ought to be:

René Montes de Oca Martija, one of Cuba’s leading human rights activists, last week reluctantly went into exile in Miami in order to receive treatment for a variety of medical ailments, no doubt aggravated by stints in the Castro gulag and the general disregard of the dictatorship for the health care needs of those who oppose.

“In Cuba, René is missed by his followers for he has won the love and admiration of the people for his tireless struggle in the defense of human rights,” wrote Cuban independent journalist Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez.

Montes de Oca Martija is secretary-general of the Samuel Martínez Lara Memorial Pro-Human Rights Party. Considering what happened last week to another one of the group’s activists, Montes de Oca Martija may have gotten out of Cuba just in time.

For more on Montes de Oca Martija, read Jay Nordlinger’s 2003 article.

Make some noise for hunger-striking Cuban prisoners

Four Cuban political prisoners — Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Alfredo Dominguez Batista, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Luis Mariano Deliz Utria — are currently on hunger strike at the Holguín Provincial Prison, demanding better living conditions and greater respect for their human rights. Herrera is near death, and the others are in not much better shape. The dictatorship ignores their demands, and has even moved to crush any public acts of solidarity with those who traveled to Holguín to show their support.

The citizens of Santa Clara, however, refused to remain silent. One night last week, in different parts of town, residents opened their windows and began banging pots to show their support for their imprisoned brothers.

How much noise are you willing to make?

Hunger-striking Cuban prisoners in critical condition

Four Cuban political prisoners on hunger strike at the Holguín Provincial Prison are critically ill, but the dictatorship continues to refuse to give into their demands for better living conditions and greater respect for their human rights, according to a report posted at Payo Libre this morning.

The prisoners are suffering from fever, hypoglycemia and low blood pressure, brought on by not eating for more than a week now. Also, prisoner Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta — who began his protest on July 18, and a few days later sewed his mouth shut to show his resolve — has contracted infections near his mouth.

The other three prisoners — Alfredo Domínguez Batista, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Luis Mariano Deliz Utria — joined Herrera in protest on July 21.

Despite the refusals by prison officials to give into the prisoners’ demands, family members of the prisoners continue to try to develop a formula that would save their lives, according to the Payo Libre report.

(Cross-posted at Uncommon Sense.)

Cuban men with balls

No one has the right to question the courage of the Cuban people, for it is not in doubt. Those who would question the testicular fortitude of the Cuban people, specifically, its men, are wrong on two points.

First, the doubters of Cuban manhood ignore the bravery it takes to just survive the daily tortures — the economic deprivation, the political repression, etc. — of life during dictatorship. I know I cannot imagine it, and I expect the same holds true for most of the people reading this. I sometimes share the frustration of those waiting for a mass uprising, for ultimately, it is the Cuban people’s fight. But it borders on the immoral to suggest that they are not deserving of liberty because they choose not to carry out an uprising or other suicide mission. Honestly, if I lived in a police state as brutal and effective as Cuba’s, I might stay at home, too.

And secondly, the doubters of Cuban manhood ignore that there are plenty of Cubans who have chosen not to stay at home. They work as journalists and librarians and human rights and democracy activists, battling against tremendous odds to challenge the dictatorship and to testify to its brutality. Their spirit is strong, and their courage is unmatched. The respect they are due is not lessened just because they choose to fight and live.

In fact, it is their responsibility to live for it is they who one day will lead a free Cuba.

Few Cubans on the island are braver than those prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners locked away in the castro gulag. They fight with courage and dignity against the worst of a dictatorship committed to extinguishing the light of good that each one of them represents.

Tonight, please remember political prisoners Alfredo Rodolfo Domínguez Batista, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Luis Mariano Delís Utria and Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta who are on hunger strike at the Holguín Provincial Prison to demand better living conditions and greater respect for human rights in Cuban prisons. Herrera has even sewn his mouth shut to demonstrate his resolve.

Without question, they are Cuban men with balls.

(Cross-posted at Uncommon Sense.)

This Bud is not for murdering commie bastards …

… or for those who do business with them.

Reuters reports:

Anheuser-Busch Cos on Monday raised the political and emotional stakes in its fight against an unwanted $46.3 billion takeover bid by highlighting its foreign suitor’s ties to Cuba.

Belgium-based InBev wants to buy Anheuser-Busch to create the world’s largest beer brewer, but its overtures have been rejected repeatedly by the St. Louis-based brewer of Budweiser. InBev on Monday moved ahead with plans to try to replace Anheuser-Busch’s board with its own nominees.

In rejecting InBev’s offer as too low and uncertain, Anheuser-Busch on Monday also called attention to InBev’s operations in Cuba.

InBev, through a subsidiary, has a partnership with the government of Cuba to produce and distribute products in Cuba, Anheuser-Busch said.

“InBev has not commented on how that would impact business with Anheuser-Busch’s customers, nor on its ability to complete an acquisition under U.S. laws that affect acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign companies,” Anheuser-Busch said.

U.S. companies are barred from doing business with Cuba under most circumstances.

“It’s actually a brilliant but desperate move,” said Anthony Sabino, Professor of Law and Business at St. John’s University in New York.

“This won’t win Anheuser-Busch’s case in defending against the deal, but it’s another obstacle to toss out there for InBev to jump over and keep InBev distracted.”

Show your support for Anheuser-Busch, or at least make any deal that much more expensive for InBev, by cracking open a cold Bud tonight.

Cuban human rights leader remains missing

I’ve posted at Uncommon Sense the latest available information on Cuban human rights leader Leonardo Miguel Bruzón Ávila, who was arrested during a crackdown on Cuban dissidents last week. Of the three dozen or so dissidents who were arrested, harassed, threatened, deported from Havana, etc., he is the only one who remains missing, according to several sources.

Bruzón, who has been arrested numerous times before, heads the 24th of February Movement. He was imprisoned in the Cuban gulag from February 2002 to June 2004, with no formal charges ever being filed against him.

Crackdown (UPDATED)

Update below

The castro secret police was especially busy this week rounding up anti-government activists, chiefs and Indians alike:

Miami. Directorio Democrático Cubano. 3 July 2008. Numerous pro-democracy and human rights activists from different regions of Cuba have been arrested in an operation launched by the Castro regime beginning on the night of Wednesday July, 2.

The activists, including former political prisoners like Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and former Amnesty International Prisoners of Conscience like Francisco Chaviano González, René Montes de Oca Martijas and Leonardo Bruzón Ávila are under arrest and their whereabouts are unknown, or are being held under house arrest, according to reports by Cuban activists Juan Carlos González Leiva from the Cuban Human Rights Rapporteur Council and Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello from Agenda for the Transition.

These instances of repression are taking place after the publication of a communique from the regime’s Foreign Ministry announcing punitive measures against peaceful opposition activists under the pretext of the activists’ contacts with United States diplomats in Havana.

I guess we should pay closer attention when the dictatorship starts ranting and raving.

Cuban Democratic Directorate has a list of names of those arrested or otherwise being harrassed by the secret police.

UPDATED, July 5, 2008

There’s still no word
on the status of some of those arrested and/or reportedly deported from Havana to their home provinces. Most prominent among those missing is former political prisoner Leonardo Bruzón Ávila.

José Daniel Ferrer ends hunger strike

Political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer García has abandoned his 8-day-long hunger strike, after officials at the “El Tipico” prison in Las Tunas returned his personal belongings and promised he would be treated better, according to a news release from the Christian Liberation Movement. Ferrer, an activist with the MCL, started his protest after he was transferred to El Tipico from a prison in Guantánamo.

In a previous post, I lamented how Cuban political prisoners get very little attention, even when they put their lives at risk by going on hunger strike. But at least in this case, international attention is getting some of the credit for forcing Cuban prison authorities to loosen its oppression of Ferrer.

The MCL news release states:

The Christian Liberation Movement wishes to thank news agencies, other media, politicians, institutions and the general population for the immediate dissemination of and solidarity they have shown with the situation of our brother Jose Daniel, as they often do with other prisoners of conscience unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

We are certain that this solidarity sooner or later reaches even to those in the most obscure of the punishment cells and becomes the encouragement that allows them to survive.

H/T Carlos Payá, via e-mail.

(Cross-posted at Uncommon Sense.)

Suicidal tendencies

José Daniel Ferrer García

I confess to mixed feelings about perhaps the only form of protest available to Cuba’s political prisoners: the hunger strike. Protest-by-suicide is never acceptable, and a future free Cuba cannot afford to have these men die. It needs their courage and their leadership.

On the other hand, what else can they do? The dictatorship warehouses them like animals, and with “animals” convicted of murder and other violent crimes, in a vicious attempt to break their spirit, minds and bodies. It serves them shit that barely passes as food, and it denies them the most basic of medical attention.

How else can they protest on behalf of their country, and their own dignity?

I am convinced men like the political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer García do not want to die, if only because they know that that is what the dictatorship wants. While the tactic of a hunger strike is a bad one because of its possible consequence, its use by Ferrer and other political prisoners reveals a courage and a strength of purpose that are invaluable weapons in the struggle against tyranny.

The dictatorship responds in the only way it knows how — as a dictatorship — providing even more legitimacy for the protest against it.

Ferrer, a member of the Group of 75 imprisoned during the “black spring” of 2003, started a hunger strike last week after he was transferred from a prison in Guantánamo — the dictatorship has prisons there, too — to another in Las Tunas. He and other political prisoners were dispersed to other jails across the country after a protest at the Guantánamo prison.

Before his arrest, Ferrer worked as an independent journalist and as an activist for the Christian Liberation Movement’s Varela Project. On Monday, MCL president Oswaldo Payá warned that Ferrer’s life is in danger, and not just because of his hunger strike:

On his arrival to the “El Típico” prison, guards informed him that we would be jailed in a room with very dangerous inmates so he would be accosted and badly treated. At that point, he began his hunger strike and was sent to a cell where his life is in danger.

A large part of my misgivings about the use of hunger strikes is that previous protests have failed to elevate the profile of the struggle in Cuba, much less alter the behavior of the dictatorship. It is tempting to conclude that the prisoners who refuse to eat are just wasting their lives away for now reason.

Ferrer’s protest has generated some wider publicity, but Cuba is far from another Northern Ireland. Every time I read about another hunger strike by a Cuban political prisoners, I recall the 1980-81 hunger strikes by Irish Republicans held in British prisons. It is a potentially shaky comparison, as at least some of the Irish prisoners had been convicted of violent crimes and might quite accurately be described as “terrorists.” The worst the Castros have been able to say about Ferrer and others arrested during the “black spring” is that they are American “mercenaries.”

But the protests are similar. The Cubans, like the Irish before them, are seeking status as something much more than a common criminal, and the rights and recognition that come with that. They don’t want to wear prison uniforms, and they don’t want to be cut off from other political prisoners. They don’t want to be treated as animals.

I was barely a teenager, but I recall how the Irish protests generated worldwide attention, and pressure on the British government to submit to the protesters’ demands. And this was long before the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle could have turned them into celebrities.

The luck of the Irish — especially the Irish-Americans holding the levels of political and media influence in the United States — indeed.

Ten men eventually died, but it can be argued the cause of Irish Republicanism scored a political and propaganda victory over the British.

Today, similar protests in Cuba, against a tyranny far worse than anything the British ever did, gets barely a whimper of attention.

Hopefully, it will not take Ferrer’s death or that of any other Cuban political prisoner, to change that.

(Cross-posted at Uncommon Sense.)