New York. October 16th 2018. Cuban officials disrupted the launch of the campaign “Jailed for What?” organized by the United States Mission to the United Nations and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the United States Department of State. During the event, which took place at the United Nations building in New York, a large group supporting the Cuban regimen constantly interrupted the speakers by banging on tables, stomping their hands and feet, and yelling statements such as “Cuba Sí, bloqueo no” (Cuba Yes, embargo no) and “Fuera de la ONU” (Get out of UN). Although the noise prevents the speakers from being heard properly in the camera, the disrupt did not prevent your message from being heard.
The purpose of the event was to present the human rights situation of political prisoners in Cuba, as well as describe the systematic acts of repression used by the Cuban government to silence the voices of dissidents. Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, U.S. Representative in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, gave opening remarks over the shouts of the Cuban officials noting that “Cuba’s political prisoners are a clear and unambiguous sign of the repressive nature of the regime. Their imprisonment represents a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, in spite of the disturbances caused by the Cuban officials, denounced the government’s use of prison sentences for political and unjustified reasons against those who speak out against its policies and politics.
Additionally, he described how Cuba has exported its repressive tactics throughout Latin American, referring to the cases of Nicaragua and Venezuela. These countries have progressively dismantled democracy within their borders, with Cuban support. Secretary General Almagro also described how activists are incarcerated as a means to keep them quiet and prevent the world from knowing about the difficult circumstances that political prisoners face, pointing out that Latin America is saying the price for not timely addressing these situations that put human rights at risk.
Ambassador Michael Kozak from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor sarcastically thanked the demonstrators for giving an unequivocal showing of Cuba’s respect for freedom of expression and invited the audience to reflect on the worrying situation faced by oppressed Cubans: “You can imagine what it’s like in Cuba – if this is the way the government of Cuba behaves in the chambers of the United Nations, with security present…you can imagine what it would be like to be an individual Cuban citizen trying to speak their mind.”
Against the wishes of the demonstrators, the event was able to continue with the remarks of Carlos Quesada of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), who described how the Cuban governments uses various aspects of its domestic law to criminalize human rights defenders, journalists, and another who expresses opinions against the government. He also expressed that Cuba should respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression and free the 139 political prisoners that are currently suffering in poor conditions and are subject to long hours of forced labor as well punishments that violate fundamental human rights.
Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, a former Cuban political prisoner, described his experience during his time in prison and called for solidarity with current political prisoners. He also indicated the need to urge the Cuban government to allow international human rights organizations to enter the country to monitor the difficult situation. Finally, Miriam Cardet Concepcion, sister of political prisoner Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepcion, presented remarks via a video. She was unable to speak at the event in person because the Cuban government would not let her leave the island.
Race and Equality firmly rejects the acts of intolerance demonstrated today in the ECOSOC Chamber of the United Nations and strongly condemns the constant violations of the rights to freedom of expression, press, movement, and assembly that Cubans are constantly submitted to, especially activists, journalists, and human rights defenders. Additionally, we demand that the Cuban state free the 139 political prisoners that are victims of multiple offenses against their personal integrity. We insist on the need for Cuba to reform its Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Law to eliminate the criminalization of expression and ensure that the right to due process of all Cubans is respected.
We urge the international community to increase efforts to defend and recognize the rights of all Cubans. We reaffirm our commitment to the defense of the rights of every citizen in Cuba and our will to continue fighting for the freedom of all political prisoners.