Monthly Archives: September 2015

#PapaEnCuba [Pope in Cuba]: A Shout for Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto)

Danilo (El Sexto) painting one of the piglets for his planned performance.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 21 September 2015 — Today, Monday, September 21, makes 13 days since he has been on a hunger strike inside a solitary confinement and punishment cell. Separated from his family and from all human companionship, for the act and right as an artist of attempting to put on a performance that alluded, according to the political police, to the dictators when he applied two common names, Fidel and Raúl–names borne by many in this nation–on the bodies of two pigs.

He has spent nine months in captivity without due process and will not therefore have a fair trial from the judges. The lawyer I have met with assures me that her intention is to “help,” but that it is not in her power, “because she is a simple attorney, from whom the case file has been kept for several months.”

Danilo’s nights are long, extremely extensive. The dawn seems elusive, while he feels his body coming apart. His faculties are failing, and that mental deterioration which, at times, inserts ideas of desisting–along with the fear of dying, of not ever again seeing his mother and his little dauther, of losing his teeth, of ruining his kidneys, among so many fears–are the battles he fights secretly in solitary confinement.

“This too shall pass” — A Danilo made in prison.

These days we are being visited by Pope Francis, the merciful one who spreads peace for being the messenger of God and who, out of respect, those who say they revere him should interrupt their wicked actions, their pride and the abuse they inflict on the helpless, whose only intent is to be artists who fight for their beliefs.

But the dictators Fidel and Raúl only manipulate the Pope, the presidents, the UN and any international courts where they appear–as they have done throughout their more than half century in power, robbing destinies, destroying futures, extinguishing lives, undoing dreams–and consequently ignoring pleas for Danilo’s release, because always, with dictators, their commitment to evil and to assuring their totalitarian power comes first.

“Peace is a white (dove) knife that is placed in our hands.”

Danilo’s little daughter sobs for wanting to see her father. Danilo’s mother bravely endures the trance of pain not wishing to break down and say goodbye to her son and, at the same time, lives the contradiction of admiring him and respecting his ideas.

Danilo’s grandparents look on with that mixture of despair and sorrow, and one feels that they need to demand, to scream, for someone to show them where to find justice, and we can only respond with our heads bent low or look away so that they don’t see our tears.

The Ladies in White along with the members of the forum for Rights and Liberties, with the hashtag #todosmarchamos [We All March], march every Sunday, for the last 22 weekends, bearing Danilo’s photo along with those of other political prisoners through the streets of Miramar, demanding their release–even when on every one of those weekends, they are subjected to brutal beatings and arrests.

Danilo’s friends accompany his family, trying to give them support in the emptiness caused by his absence. We take it upon ourselves to demand his freedom, to go along on visits to the lawyer, or to deliver letters to the prosecutors’ offices regarding the violations to the law committed against him according to their own judicial laws, which they should respect and to which they should adhere.

The regime cannot, as it always does, arm wrestle with Danilo, and have it affect his health. Their duty, their obligation, must be to free him immediately before greater harm is done, and not add another international crime to their dictatorial records.

Freedom for Danilo Maldonado, Now!

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats,

Havana, 21 September, “free” on parole

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

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The Pope, So as Not to Say Anything, Said Nothing / Angel Santiesteban

The Inverted Pyramid

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 17 September 2015 — It always irritates me that it is accepted, ironically, for the Cuban dictatorship to ply its totalitarian propaganda and be visible in foreign countries, via the media and its “solidarity”committees, when not even Cubans themselves in their own country are not allowed to claim freedom of thought, association, and all  the rights contained in the magna carta of the United Nations. Is it just that a country that violates these rights by denying them to its own citizens be allowed the spaces to cover up, manipulate, and lie to international public opinion?

A front-page article in Granma newspaper, the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, reports “anti-blockade [embargo] tour begins in Washington,” which will include stops in other North American cities and various countries. It also announces a confirmed total of 44 visits to the Congress, 37 to congressional offices, and 7 visits to senators’ offices.

However, it is soon coming on six months since the Ladies in White, supported by members of the Forum for Rights and Liberties, as well as activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and other political groups who answer to the hashtag #todosmarchamos [“We all march”] have been subject every Sunday (22, to be exact), to brutal beatings and arrests. Just last Sunday it happened again, in the presence of members of the foreign press, who could see for themselves the peaceful way in which the opposition members carry out their demonstration–and in turn, the violent way they are treated, and the humiliation they suffer, upon being arrested.

The world seems to be turned on its head. President Barack Obama ignores the pleas of the dissidence clamoring for an end to the dictatorship’s violations of basic human rights. Pope Francis serves as mediator between the regime and the United States, and encourages the European Union to engage in and continue the steps taken by the United States, and so the first contacts and studies have begun to realize them in the near future.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Cuba’s top ecclesiastical representative, is more attached to the dictatorship than to his people, and so he publicly says that “in Cuba there are no political prisoners,” when he himself has met with some of them, and he has been given a list of who they are, and the details of the disgraceful legal proceedings to which they have been subjected.

To top it off, during a televised interview, he didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge the courageous Ladies in White and their current struggle–or for that matter, the abuses they suffer every weekend very near to his Santa Rita church–and he refers to them in past tense, without calling them by name, but merely as “those women who dressed in white.”

The Pope, just hours before his arrival in Havana, for the first time had the opportunity to address the Cuban people, but so as not to say anything, he said nothing. Those of us who awaited a message of salvation for a long suffering nation–one where his children launch themselves desperately on the sea without the least guarantee of survival, who need the encouragement of hope, the least glimmer of light to assure us that off in the distance an oasis awaits us–we were not granted it. He did not mention the families of this dispersed, and therefore divided, people, nor did he even speak of the pain that for more than half a century of dictatorship, we have suffered in our deepest flesh.

Hopefully once the Pope has visited our nation we may say with certainty that His Holiness visited with us, and not that he passed through this land like one more tourist.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, 17 September, “free” on parole

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Reporters Without Borders to John Kerry: Isn’t it time for all Cuban voices to be heard’ / Angel Santiesteban

Photo taken from the internet

Open letter to John Kerry: “Isn’t it time for all Cuban voices to be heard?”

Published Thursday, August 13, 2015.

On Friday August 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba to strengthen the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He is the first U.S. Secretary of State to make an official visit to the island since 1945. This is a unique opportunity to address the catastrophic situation for freedom of press and information in Cuba. RSF sent an open letter to John Kerry addressing these fundamental issues.

Paris, August 13, 2015

Dear Secretary Kerry,

On the occasion of your historic visit to Cuba this August 14th, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asks that during your meetings with Cuban authorities you address the problem of freedom of press and information. As the first high-level American politician to visit Cuba since 1959, you have the duty, and the power, to positively influence Cuban policies.

Cuba ranks 169th among 180 countries in the World Ranking of Press Freedom published by Reporters Without Borders in 2015. The Cuban government maintains a monopoly on information and does not tolerate any independent voices: it prohibits the existence of free media. Only official media are authorized (and the list of them is very short). The media that do not have state authorization are deemed illegal and are censored. Moreover, Cuba is considered one of the countries with the least access to the Internet worldwide.

Cuba’s control of information and censorship do not affect only the local media; Foreign journalists are also subjected to these restrictions. Press credentials are awarded selectively. And if the regime considers news stories by foreign journalists “too negative,” they are deported.

In addition to censorship, Cuba has a long history of violence and harassment towards journalists. Many journalists working for independent media have received violent threats from the government. Roberto de Jesus Guerra, editor of Hablemos Press, the independent news agency and free-speech NGO, was physically attacked by agents of the Internal Security Department in June 2014. Another correspondent from the same publication was run down by a car that same month. In July of this year, many activists and journalists were arrested at a protest organized by the Ladies in White opposition movement. Unfortunately, these are only several examples of a widespread problem. These events served as a sad reminder of 2003’s Black Spring, when 27* journalists were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Prominent journalists have recently been arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences for merely doing their job. Writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on trumped-up charges of “domestic violation and injuries.” These charges were used as pretexts to punish him for his outspoken criticism of the government. He was released on parole on July 17, 2015, after serving more than two years of his prison sentence. According to his website editor, during his time in prison he was repeatedly mistreated and tortured. Amid these reports, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted a formal request last September urging the Cuban government to guarantee Santiesteban-Prats’ physical safety. Now that he has been released, the journalist is calling for a retrial. He sees his release as an attempt by the Cuban government to silence him, since he was able to write and express himself from inside his prison cell. But he has no intention of remaining silent and has already published a book entitled “Last Symphony,” a collection of short stories about violence in Cuba, which he began writing in prison.

While Reporters Without Borders welcomes his release, we cannot forget two journalists still imprisoned in Cuba, in troubling and dangerous conditions. Yoeni de Jesús Guerra García, an independent blogger from the agency Yayabo Press, was sentenced to 7 years in prison in March 2014 on charges of “illegally slaughtering cattle.” He maintains that the charges were fabricated to put a stop to his reporting activities. Yoeni has repeatedly been the victim of violence and torture inflicted by prison staff. José Antonio Torres, former correspondent for Granma, was sentenced to 14 years prison in 2012 for the crime of esponiage, a questionable accusation.

In this new era beginning for Cuba, barriers to press freedom must be broken. The United States has the opportunity and the responsibility to facilitate this change through diplomacy. Now is the time for releasing jailed journalists, and allowing independent media to operate without fear of violence or arrest. Now is the time to make sure that all of Cuba’s many voices are heard.

I thank you in advance, Secretary Kerry, for the attention you give to this letter.

Sincerely,

Christophe Deloire

Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders

Published in RSF

*Translator’s note: The total Black Spring arrests, which included other types of human rights activists, were 75.

Translated by Tomás A.