Nancy Alfaya has been targeted by the Cuban government for her work defending women’s rights

The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) denounces a series of human rights violations suffered by the Afro-Cuban activist and human rights defender Nancy Alfaya. Nancy is part of the Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration and coordinator of its partner organization Women’s Equality Network; a leader of the Writers and Artists’ Club of Cuba and the cultural group Puente a la Vista (Bridge to Perspective) and a co-founder of the internationally-recognized Damas de Blanco.

As a result of her activism fighting violence against women, Nancy has been targeted by the Cuban government. She and her husband recently returned to the country after spending 21 months living and studying in the U.S. Since her return, she has faced severe harassment and threats from the Cuban government and security forces. These abuses come in retaliation for her role in civil society organizations that seek respect for women’s rights on the island.

In recent weeks, Nancy has suffered constant harassment, threats and detentions at the hands of Cuba’s political police. On October 22, police officers waited outside the U.S. embassy to arrest Nancy and her husband as soon as they departed from an event. Nancy’s husband was released nearby, but Nancy was held arbitrarily for over 24 hours without being allowed to communicate with him.

“Upon arriving at the police station, they put me in a waiting room; when I told the police officer Alejandro, who had brought me to the station, that I needed to use the restroom, he accosted me harshly and yelled at me to sit back down. Two hours later, they brought me to the police station in La Regla, where they sat me in a hallway outside the cells. I was detained in a holding cell with only male prisoners for 25 hours. When they released me, they returned my confiscated cell phone, which was now broken,” testified Nancy.

Since her release, Nancy has not been able to leave her house without being closely tailed. “Jorge (Nancy’s husband) can go out without being surveilled or detained, but any time I try to leave the house, security agents appear and follow me,” says Nancy, who now is afraid to leave her home.

Nancy has been detained without any legal justification multiple times in the same week. At 1:30pm on November 21, she was detained outside her house by the same officer Alejandro. She was held for four hours and fined 150 pesos. At 9:30am the very next day, she was detained in the street as she made her way to a meeting at the U.S. embassy.

Nancy is currently on the Cuban government’s list of “regulated” individuals. Cuban authorities frequently use “regulation,” a policy allowing the government to restrict certain people’s free movement and travel, to prevent activists from leaving the county to participate in international fora where they could denounce human rights violations.

“I realized that I had been ‘regulated’ on November 7, 2018, when I tried to leave the country to participate in a women’s rights summit held by an organization in Peru. At the airport, they did not give me any explanation, but told me to go to the Immigration Office’s service department. There, they told me that I was under investigation and therefore could not leave the country,Nancy told Race and Equality.

Nancy has also been threatened with prosecution for “social dangerousness” on several occasions:

“On August 13, I went to the National Office of Immigration (part of the Ministry of the Interior) to request that they clear up my legal situation, since I had been under this investigation for nine months. The officials there offered to negotiate about my situation, proposing that they would lift my ‘regulation’ if I cooperated with the government, which I refused. This had repercussions the next day, August 14, when State Security and National Revolutionary Police officers surrounded a poetry event that we were holding at the Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration office. Alejandro detained me when I tried to enter the office and threated to charge me with ‘social dangerousness’ for not having a job or a small business “cuentapropista” license.”

We are highly concerned for Nancy Alfaya’s safety in light of the constant rights violations and threats that she is experiencing, and we demand that the Cuban government act to guarantee her fundamental rights. Efforts to defend and promote human rights, which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other treaties to which Cuba is a party, must never be criminalized. As the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has stated, “the defense of human rights can only be freely exercised when defenders are not subjected to threats or any type of physical, psychological, or moral aggression or other forms of harassment.”[1] Human rights defenders play a fundamental role in society, as the IACHR recognized in the case of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres: “rights defenders bring forth denunciations of violations, victims’ claims and community demands that contribute to the flourishing of the rule of law and democracy.”[2]

Race and Equality is committed to continuing our work supporting the efforts of Cuban activists to protect and promote the human rights enshrined the Universal Declaration. In recent years, Cuba has sought to criminalize human rights defenders by prosecuting them under criminal laws, taking advantage of vague statues in the Penal Code or continuing to apply laws that are known to violate civil and political rights.[3] The Cuban Observatory on Human Rights recorded at least 2,525 arbitrary detentions in 2018, in which at least 1,700 were of women.[4] In 2019, we have observed an increase in arbitrary detention and harassment by state security agents against human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and other figures in independent civil society.[5]

Women who work to defend human rights have been the most impacted by this new wave of repression. In September 2019, 14 people were placed under ‘regulation,’ of which 8 were women.[6] In an interview with the independent outlet Diario de Cuba, the activist Sara Cuba Delgado stated that “we are the most vulnerable actors, as you can see when looking at the issue of detentions.”[7] Women activists are prevented from leaving the country, live under threats of violence and are smeared as “bad mothers” for defending human rights and refusing to fit into the traditional roles for women in society.


[1] IACHR, Towards Effective Integral Protection Policies for Human Rights Defenders (2017), OEA/Ser.L/V/II, paragraph 13. Available at OAS.org.

[2] IACHR, Resolution 8/216, Precautionary Measures # 112/16, Members of COPINH and relatives of Berta Cáceres. 5 March 2016 (translated from original Spanish). IACHR, Resolution 46/2015, Precautionary Measures # 589/15, Members of the Better Life Association, 22 January 2014, paragraph 12. IACHR, Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders (2015), OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 49/15, paragraph 227. Available at OAS.org.

[3] IACHR, Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders (2015), paragraph 3. IACHR, Towards Effective Integral Protection Policies for Human Rights Defenders (2017), paragraph 89.

[4] Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos. 2018: Detenciones arbitraries. Available at ObservaCuba.org [Spanish].

[5] Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, Gobierno de Díaz-Canel casi duplica las detenciones arbitrarias en septiembre (2019). Available at: ObservaCuba.org [Spanish]. Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, Aumentaron detenciones arbitrarias y actos represivos en Cuba en julio, denuncia el Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos (2019). Available at: ObservaCuba.org [Spanish].

[6] Cubanet, “Esperaba que me recibieran así,” (2019). Available at: CubaNet.org [Spanish].

[7] Diario de Cuba, Doble violencia y cero amparo gubernamental: activistas cubanas por los derechos de la mujer (2019). Available at: DiarioDeCuba.com [Spanish].

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