Five years after 11M in Cuba: LGBTI+ activism, stories of repression, jail, and forced exile

Five years after 11M in Cuba: LGBTI+ activism, stories of repression, jail, and forced exile

Washington D.C., May 10, 2024 – This Saturday, May 11, marks five years since a public demonstration in Havana, Cuba, that ended with dozens of LGBTI+ people detained and assaulted. 

On that day in 2019, also known as 11M, dozens of people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity were getting ready to participate in a conga (Cuban dance that is accompanied by drums) for the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which is commemorated worldwide every May 17; but the event was canceled at the last minute, generating indignation among those preparing to attend, who spontaneously continued with the plan to take to the streets to demand their rights, even though they did not have the approval of the official body that coordinates this activity, the Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (Cenesex).

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans and non-binary people gathered in Havana’s Central Park, and starting at 4 pm they began to march without a set course. They mobilized peacefully and held a besatón (the name given to the act in which several LGBTI+ people kiss in public as a sign of protest), until the Cuban authorities, including members of the State Security blocked the demonstration, assaulted and arbitrarily detained dozens of demonstrators who had attended thanks to a call made through social networks.

On this date, we spoke with activists from this country about the challenges that come with activism and the struggle for LGBTI+ rights.

“Washing and putting away the laundry”

This phrase is mentioned by Yennys Hernández, lesbian activist and reporter for the independent media Periodismo de Barrio, to explain how the activism of LGBTI+ people goes “between a rock and a hard place”. 

She has been a victim of harassment by Cuban authorities. More than a year ago, she watched in amazement as State Security showed up at her wedding celebration to take down the names of the human rights defenders who attended the wedding to put pressure on the dissident voices that had gathered at the event. 

Hernandez says that, as she and her wife did, in Cuba same-sex couples can marry and adopt; assisted reproduction is also legal, discrimination in the workplace and in education is prohibited, and people with diverse gender identities can change their names on their documents. However, in this country there is no gender identity law, and the macho violence that exists in all public and private spheres punishes, represses, and assaults lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans and non-binary people. 

LGBTI+ people who fight for their rights are also victims of repression and harassment by Cuban authorities, as are artists, independent journalists and, in general, dissident voices against the Cuban government. Most people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, according to Hernández, avoid reporting that they have been summoned for interrogation to avoid being excluded from the dialogues and processes that seek to advance the recognition of the rights of this population in Cuba. 

LGBTI+ people “wash and put away their clothes”, that is, they censor themselves to survive in this country, where there are no official records that address the gender-based violence suffered daily by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans and non-binary people.

Behind bars 

The story of Brenda Díaz García, a trans woman who remains in a male penitentiary center for participating in the peaceful protests of July 11, 2021 (known as 11J) in the municipality of Güira de Melena, in the province of Artemisa, demonstrates the discrimination and, in general, the violence suffered by trans people in Cuba. 

She was arrested because, according to Cuban authorities, she had “dressed as a woman to infiltrate” the demonstrations. And as soon as she arrived in prison, they cut her hair and did not recognize her chosen name, two symbolic aggressions that annulled her rights. 

Brenda Díaz was initially sentenced to more than 14 years in prison, but eight months ago her sentence was reduced to 7 years and nine months, according to Ana María García, her mother, who has repeatedly denounced that her daughter has been beaten and has been the victim of sexual violence inside the prison, where she remains for demanding changes in Cuba. 

Living in fear

“Doing activism in Cuba and being an LGBTI+ person is complicated because you know very well what happens inside the Island, and the fear that exists is a fear that they put inside your body; and, from here it is easier to do it because you feel free to be able to do it, because you are not watched,” says Nornardo Perea, a Cuban artivist exiled in Spain since 2019. 

The writer, photographer and documentary filmmaker participated in the 00 Havana Biennial in May 2018, which was organized by the San Isidro Movement (of which he is still part). As a result of this event where he openly exposed his political position and sexual orientation, Perea was threatened and interrogated three times by Cuban authorities.

“In the third interview they made me sign a paper with several slogans. In the end, they (the authorities) do with you whatever they want. There were five hours of interrogation in Marianao (municipality of Havana). They forced me to collaborate with them,” says the artivist, who after participating in March 2019 in a journalism workshop in Prague, Czech Republic, went into exile in Madrid, Spain, and still, he says, continues to adapt to that city and that country.  

The stories revealed by Hernandez, Garcia, and Perea show how complex it is to be an activist and fight for LGBTI+ rights in Cuba, a country where advances such as equal marriage or adoption between same-sex couples have occurred, and at the same time lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans and non-binary people are prohibited from participating in marches independently and demanding their rights without participating in the actions organized by Cenesex. 

From the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) we commemorate 11M by recognizing the work of activists working for the recognition of the rights of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in this country. We also call on the State of Cuba to promote gender identity laws and laws against gender violence, and to refrain from repressing and harassing defenders of the rights of this population. 

Cuba and Nicaragua: countries where independent journalism is a crime

On World Press Freedom Day, we demand that Cuban and Nicaraguan authorities respect independent journalism, without resorting to violence and repression against those who practice this profession.

Washington D.C., May 3, 2024 – In the authoritarian regimes of Cuba and Nicaragua, independent journalism is punished with imprisonment, exile, arbitrary deprivation of nationality, confiscation of personal property, and media outlets. On World Press Freedom Day, commemorated today worldwide, and recognizing that freedom is an essential pillar for accountability and the proper functioning of public institutions, the Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights (Race and Equality) highlights the work of Cuban and Nicaraguan journalists, who tirelessly strive to bring visibility to the democratic and human rights crises in their countries and advocate for their people’s right to access truthful and diverse information.

Cuba: Arbitrary Detentions and Repression

In Cuba, “home arrests, summonses, and detentions of journalists and reporters continue to be one of the main tactics used by the government to intimidate them or as a way to inhibit independent and critical journalism,” according to Chapter IV.B of the 2023 annual report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

According to the report ‘Cuba: Resistance against Censorship,’ prepared by the organization Article 19, there were a total of 274 attacks against journalists and activists on the island last year. At least five journalists and reporters remain deprived of their liberty for political reasons, facing unjust charges for exercising their right to freedom of expression. These individuals are Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca, Jorge Armando Bello, José Antonio López Piña, Jorge Fernández Era, and Luis Ángel Cuza.

The authoritarian Cuban regime has also increased restrictions and obstacles for the entry and exit of independent journalists from the territory. As of April 2024, journalists Reinaldo Escobar, Camila Acosta, Anais Remón, and Henry Constantín were banned from leaving the country.

Additionally, Cuban authorities have imposed a series of regulations severely limiting the exercise of press freedom and journalistic work in Cuba. Among these measures are mandatory military service for women wishing to study journalism, Decree 370 which suppresses free expression on the Internet, and the Social Communication Law, which regulates media content on the island and disregards independent press as a legal entity.

This grim picture of Cuba forces independent journalists to work under precarious conditions, facing constant threats and reprisals; however, their determination to shed light on injustices and defend the human rights of this country is unwavering.

Nicaragua: Between Clandestinity, Exile, and Self-Censorship

In the 2023 Annual Report of the IACHR, the organization and the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression (RELE) warned that “censorship and repression reached alarming levels” in Nicaragua.

Since the beginning of the socio-political and human rights crisis in April 2018, more than 250 journalists have been forced into exile, 56 media outlets have been shut down and their buildings confiscated, 22 journalists have been stripped of their nationality and their properties seized, and the murder of journalist Angel Gahona, who covered the start of peaceful demonstrations six years ago, remains unresolved.

In the past year, the Ortega Murillo regime has extended arbitrary detention for political reasons to journalists who weren’t even covering political topics. Such as the case of Víctor Ticay, arrested while covering a religious procession and sentenced to 8 years in prison for unproven charges of ‘spreading false news and conspiring to undermine national integrity.’

There are also reports of five journalists who were accused of the same false charges and detained for a few hours, as well as cases of 22 female journalists who have been victims of sexual harassment by police forces.

It’s worth noting that agents of the National Police, both uniformed and in plain clothes, are the main aggressors against press freedom in the country. Additionally, the regime employs the Directorate of Migration and Foreigners and the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications for coercive purposes. The approval of repressive laws, such as the Special Law on Cybercrimes and the Sovereignty Law, has exacerbated the situation by granting the regime powers to prosecute and punish anyone who criticizes the government.

This repression has led to independent journalism being completely silenced in 5 out of Nicaragua’s 17 departments. However, Nicaraguan journalists work clandestinely and in exile, overcoming censorship and disseminating the truth about the crimes against humanity committed in Nicaragua.

For Race and Equality, World Press Freedom Day recalls the importance of the right to press freedom and expression in the functioning of a democratic society. We take this opportunity to call on the international community to defend these rights and work together to ensure that the voices of independent journalists are no longer silenced by the authoritarian regimes of Cuba and Nicaragua. We demand that the authorities of both states guarantee this right and allow for the development of independent journalism, without resorting to violence and repression against those involved in this profession.

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calls for “full release” of Cuban activist Yandier García Labrada

Washington D.C., April 5, 2024 – “February 27 (2024) was the last time I saw my brother. He was very thin,” says Iran Almaguer Labrada, brother of Cuban activist Yandier Garcia Labrada (39 years old), who appears in the Opinion 68/2023 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which was made public in mid-March. In the document, the United Nations mechanism requested the “full release” of the human rights defender, who is also a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL).

The Opinion, adopted in the framework of the 98th session of this Working Group, also asks the State of Cuba to compensate and make reparations to García Labrada; to investigate and punish those responsible for his detention; and to provide information on compliance with this “decision” within a period of six months after its publication, which is October 2024.

“On October 6, 2020, my brother was detained for claiming his rights in a queue (line to obtain food and basic necessities). A repressor pushed him and assaulted him, and then more State Security agents arrived and called the police. He was shouting ‘Down with the dictatorship’,” Almaguer says.

Yandier García Labrada is serving a five-year sentence for the crimes of contempt for authority and propagation of epidemics. Since the beginning of his imprisonment, he has been transferred to various prisons and has suffered isolation, transfers to punishment cells, denial of medical attention, and restrictions on communication with his family members. Since January 19, 2023, he has been held in the Guabineyón 8 correctional work center in the province of Las Tunas. The prison authorities have denied him the benefits of home visits and parole, even though he meets the regulatory requirements.

His brother Iran Almaguer, who suffers from a disease called retinitis pigmentosa which has led him to blindness, says that Yandier Garcia lived with his mother in the municipality of Manatí, in Las Tunas; and since he has been deprived of his freedom, she has suffered serious health problems. “She is hypertensive and has Alzheimer’s disease”.

From the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), the organization that referred the case of García Labrada to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, we demand that the State of Cuba comply with the request made by this United Nations mechanism, in its Opinion number 68/2023. We call for the immediate release of this Cuban activist, who has been unjustly deprived of his liberty for more than three years, as well as all those who remain imprisoned for demanding their rights in this country. We demand that Cuba respect, protect and guarantee the human rights of all its inhabitants, without discrimination of any kind.

We also call on the international community to follow up on compliance with this Opinion, and to continue to condemn the human rights violations occurring on the island.

Cuba violates human rights, we demand an end to repression!

Washington D.C., March 26, 2024. – On March 17 and 18, 2024, the social networks of international and civil society organizations that monitor the social, political and economic crisis in Cuba were flooded with images of the island, showing people from the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Matanzas, shouting: “Current and food”, “homeland and life”, “freedom”, “no to violence”, “down with Diaz-Canel”, among other phrases.

The demonstrations originated in response to blackouts, lack of food and, in general, to the complex situation in the country. As a result of these events, 10 people were arbitrarily detained, according to the organization Justicia 11J, which also documented Internet outages, and cases of violence and repression exercised by Cuban authorities against the people who came out to protest.

One week after these peaceful protests took place, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) reiterates that the Cuban government systematically violates the human rights of those who reside on the island.

After the massive demonstrations of July 11 and 12, 2021, also known as 11J, in which thousands of people took to the streets and were arbitrarily detained (and more than 700 are still deprived of their freedom, according to Justicia 11J), other protests have taken place, such as the one in August 2022 in Nuevitas, in the province of Camagüey, which left 14 men and women in prison; or the one in Caimanera, in Guantánamo, which left six people in jail.

“During the protests of 11J, in those of Nuevitas, Caimanera and now in those of March 17 and 18, 2024, the Cuban people have demanded the same things: full respect for civil rights, restoration of electricity, food and, in general, improvement of the political, social and economic situation in Cuba. However, Cuban authorities punish protesters with imprisonment, repress activists, artists and independent journalists, and limit the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association. We demand an end to violence against those calling for change in Cuba,” says Christina Fetterhoff, director of Race and Equality Programs.  

From the Institute we call on the Cuban authorities to recognize the human rights of those who participate in peaceful protests. We demand that the repression cease, and we ask the international community to follow up and continue to denounce the violations of rights that occur daily in this country.

In Cuba, 8M is lived between gender violence and repression

Washington, March 8, 2024 – In Cuba, March 8 (8M), International Women’s Day, is lived between gender violence and repression. During 2023, 89 women were victims of femicide in Cuba, and so far in 2024, 12 cases have already been documented, according to the platform Yo sí te creo en Cuba and the Gender Observatory of Alas Tensas magazine. Last year, more than 60% of the documented arbitrary detentions (626 out of a total of 936 people) were against Cuban women, according to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights; and 78 women are currently deprived of liberty for political reasons on the Island, according to figures from the organization Justicia 11J.

“Cuba is a country that has violated the fundamental rights of women since the very beginning of the so-called revolution, and there are plenty of examples of courageous women who were imprisoned, expelled from their workplaces, and confined to exile. One of these was the case of ‘Las Plantadas’ (women who in 1960 were imprisoned for being dissident voices to the Cuban State), and in more recent times there are the Ladies in White and all those who were imprisoned on July 11, 2021, such as Lisandra Góngora, who is the mother of five children and remains in prison for participating in the protests,” says Katia Hernández, director of the Federación Latinoamericana de Mujeres Rurales (Flamur).

On the island, where all kinds of public demonstrations organized by independent civil society are prohibited, the women’s collective Damas de Blanco went from 243 members in 2013, to 50 members in recent years, as a result of arbitrary detentions, short-term disappearances, fines, threats, and internet cuts. “Currently five Damas de Blanco are deprived of their liberty along with dangerous common female prisoners. Their names are: Aymara Nieto, Sayli Navarro, Sissi Abascal, Tania Echevarría, and Jacqueline Heredia,” states Berta Soler, leader of this organization.

On 8M, activists and representatives of independent organizations recall that in November 2022, a campaign was launched to demand that Cuban authorities create a comprehensive law to protect women, regardless of their political position, sexual orientation and gender identity, religious beliefs, race or age. However, this petition was not included in the legislative schedule for 2024, even though that in 2023, Cuba was the Latin American country where femicide rates increased the most. “They increased by 150% with respect to 2022,” says Yanelys Núñez, coordinator of the Gender Observatory of Alas Tensas magazine, during her testimony at the thematic hearing ‘Cuba: Right to freedom of association’, which took place on February 29, 2024 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Persecution

“The institutional and vicarious gender violence exercised by the Cuban state, especially against mothers and caregivers involved in activism, has manifested itself in an alarming way through coercion, intimidation, defamation campaigns, banishments, cuts in communications, and threats to take away custody of their children. This type of violence, which can be considered a form of torture, constitutes a serious violation of human rights, and seeks to inhibit activism and silence the voices of civil society,” adds Núñez.

In the midst of this difficult panorama, women with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities also suffer discrimination exercised by the authorities of this country; as is the case of Brenda Díaz, a young trans woman who remains in a male penitentiary, where she is serving a sentence of 14 years and seven months for having participated in the protests of July 11, 2021. “She has been prevented from wearing women’s clothing and from wearing her hair long,” says Camila Rodriguez, director of Justicia 11J, during her participation in the thematic hearing held before the IACHR.

“As a result of my daughter’s imprisonment I have been persecuted and threatened by state security. They have told me that they are going to give her more time, that they are going to take her to another province, but I am not afraid of any of these threats because in the end she will always be my daughter, and wherever they put her I will continue to see her,” says Ana María García, Brenda’s mother. Her words show the situation experienced by hundreds of Cuban women, who have their loved ones in prison for demanding changes in Cuba and for being human rights defenders on the island.

In this country, there are plenty of testimonies of Cuban women who denounce gender violence and persecution on a daily basis, as well as resilient voices, such as that of Dunia Medina Moreno, from the Red Femenina de Cuba, who says she will continue working to “achieve the true freedom” that women in Cuba desire, even if that means being harassed by authorities.

The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) commemorates 8M by remembering Cuban women, especially those who work for the recognition of women’s rights, those who remain deprived of their freedom for political reasons, and the mothers, daughters, sisters, and partners of those imprisoned for demanding their fundamental rights. We also demand that the Cuban authorities create a comprehensive law against gender violence, which prevents GBV, improves care, and guarantees the human rights of women on the island, regardless of their political position, sexual orientation and gender identity, religious beliefs, race, or age.

Lesbian Rebellions: advances and setbacks in the rights of lesbians

Washington, 13 October 2023.- The Day of Lesbian Feminist Rebellions in Latin America and the Caribbean is not a day created by the United Nations. Born in 2007, following an accord adopted at the 7th Meeting of Lesbian Feminists of Latin America and the Caribbean (ELFLAC), in which around 200 lesbian feminists from across the region participated, delegates chose October 13th to commemorate the first Regional Meeting of Lesbian Feminists of 1987 in Mexico, the first lesbian assembly with a public presence. [1]

Since then, several countries in the region have developed different political and cultural actions promoted by lesbian feminists in favor of visibility and against discrimination. Their advocacy has also brought about legislative and regulatory advances in human rights; however, there has been more progress in some countries than in others.

For example, in Nicaragua there are no laws that protect the LGBTI+ population, much less lesbians specifically. “It is difficult to think of setbacks with respect to lesbian rights in a country where there has almost never been progress,” says Nicaraguan activist Tania Irías, of the Grupo Lésbico Feminista Artemisa, a collective that has been providing spaces for reflection, acceptance, and non-discrimination to young lesbian women in Nicaragua since 2006.

For Irías, the greatest setbacks in the lesbian struggle are linked to the organizational disarticulation caused by “state repression and the establishment of a dictatorship that, as a repressive strategy, has undermined the process of articulation, demand, and visibility of lesbians as political bodies with rights”.

However, in this context of dictatorship, in the “allied” spaces, the struggle for lesbian rights is also usually relegated. “We are not a priority, and we are always being asked to leave the visible struggle to others,” explains Irías, who also assures that as a movement they are clear about the need to continue to occupy their spaces of visibility and to continue joining “with those who join us and making efforts, because it will be difficult for us we don’t,” Irías emphasizes.

In contrast, other countries have made significant progress in the recognition of LGBTI+ rights. In Cuba, for example, with the approval of the Family Code in 2022, several rights that favor lesbian couples were included, such as equal marriage, assisted reproduction, and adoption. On September 28 of this year, Decree 96, an action protocol that prevents and addresses harassment and discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation, gender identity, among others, in the workplace, also came into force. Despite this, in real life the changes are not so evident. “In Cuba, sexist and patriarchal thoughts and attitudes continue to hold sway, which is why lesbian women continue to be victims of hatred and discrimination. We are frowned upon in the street, we are offended and insulted,” says Irina León Valladares, Cuban activist and member of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR).

In the same vein, Annery Rivera Velasco, independent journalist, and Cuban activist mentioned that “the setbacks –that are more like the normal state of affairs—are social characteristics, as it is part of our sexist and patriarchal society.” Additionally, she said that in Cuba a lesbian movement does not exist due to disarticulation, since Cuban authorities criminalize people who work for the defense of human rights.

Colombia also has broad legal protections for lesbians. Its Constitutional Court has granted transcendental protections, one of them being the historic recognition of LGBTI+ people in the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Likewise, the Constitutional Court ruled in 2016 in favor of same-sex marriage.

However, there is still much work to be done so that norms are translated into actions, especially “in relation to reproductive rights, the right to life due to the rise in corrective rape and lesbofeminicide. In addition, discrimination and/or harassment at work due to lesbian sexual orientation,” said Sami Arizabaleta, activist, and director of the Afrodescendent Foundation for Social and Sexual Diversities (Somos Identidad).

“As a lesbian movement we are politically influencing the updating of the LGBTQI policy, with recognition of intersectional lesbian contexts. The strategies are diverse from the regional and social contexts, but in general terms we are advancing in organizational strengthening, political advocacy from the enforceability of rights, denunciations, and dialogue for the adoption of measures,” shares Sami.

In the case of Peru, a country mired in a deep political, social, and institutional crisis, the illegitimacy of the government and the Congress of the Republic prevails. According to the last poll by the Institute of Peruvian Statistics (IEP), around 80% of the population demands the resignation of the president of the Republic, Dina Boluarte, the closure of Congress and new elections.

Both the legislative and executive branches of government have promoted initiatives against the rights of lesbians, LGBTI+ people, women, children, and adolescents. In addition, several congressional members have presented various bills seeking Peru’s withdrawal from the Pact of San José. “The rights of lesbians have been completely ignored by the current government of Dina Boluarte and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP),” says Gabriela Zavaleta, lesbian feminist activist and advocacy coordinator of Más Igualdad.

She also mentions that the Working Group for the Promotion of Lesbian Rights of the MIMP has been deactivated and that for more than 5 years the approval of the investigation on the situation of lesbian rights in Peru has been postponed. “Only civil society organizations are resisting this situation, promoting the national and international articulation of lesbian organizations, carrying out advocacy actions before the CEDAW Committee for a general recommendation on lesbian rights, systematizing the proposals and demands of the organizations, and making efforts to unite lesbian organizations in a regional agenda that serves as a tool for advocacy with the different States and relevant institutions”, she indicates.

In general, various countries in Latin America have achieved significant legislative advances in the recognition of LGBTI+ rights. However, much work remains to guarantee that these rights are fully recognized and respected.

In light of this, Race and Equality highlights some recommendations for States in order to protect the rights of lesbians.

  • Guarantee the right to family and civil rights for lesbians through legal recognition of lesbian mothers and diverse families.
  • Guarantee access to equal marriage and keep unrestricted respect for rights acquired abroad.
  • Develop mechanisms to avoid the criminalization of lesbian mothers in child custody proceedings.
  • Strengthen training programs for State officials in order to guarantee the dignified treatment of lesbians in public services.
  • Implement Comprehensive Sexual Education policies that guarantee respect for sexual diversity.
  • Record, document, and analyze violence against lesbians to formulate policies that respond to their needs.
  • Guarantee access to justice andnvestigate and punish discrimination and crimes committed against lesbians.
  • Promote the access of lesbians to political spaces and positions of power in order to guarantee the right to political participation without violence and the representation of identities.
  • Implement programs of attention and containment for cases of violence due to prejudice inside and outside the home.

[1] Ochy Curiel (2007). Un encuentro trascendente e histórico. Available at: https://rebelion.org/un-encuentro-trascendente-e-historico/

The Strategies Employed by Cuba’s Authoritarian Regime to Restrict Mobility and Silence Dissident Voices

Washington, DC, October 11, 2023 – In 2019, five activists out of the six interviewed for this article were banned from leaving the island by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The coordinator of the Red de Líderes y Lideresas de Cuba (RELLIC), María Elena Mir Marrero, was prevented from boarding a plane under the argument that she was regulated. The vice-president of the Consejo para la Transición Democrática en Cuba, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, was also prevented from flying to Belgium that same year. Osvaldo Navarro, member of the Comité Ciudadanos por la Integración Racial (CIR), was informed, before his flight date, that he was regulated. Marthadela Tamayo, also a member of CIR, was not allowed to board, being told that she had been fined and had to pay up before traveling abroad. And the National Coordinator of the CIR, Juan Antonio Madrazo, was not allowed to leave Cuba at that time either, because he was one of the regulated persons. They were trying to leave the country to denounce the serious social, political, economic, and rights crisis in this country, which has worsened in recent years.

But that has not been the only time that María Elena, Manuel, Osvaldo, Marthadela, and Juan Antonio have tried to travel outside the island to participate in academic spaces, assemblies, and dialogues, where human rights violations recorded in this country are addressed. After 2019 they have tried again and have been detained inside their homes or upon arrival at the airport. All with the aim of preventing them from boarding their flights. They have also been repeatedly told that they are regulated and are prohibited from traveling to another country, unless they want to leave and never return to the island.

In July of this year, the coordinator of the Centro de Estudio, Liderazgo y Desarrollo (Celide), Fernando Palacio, tried to travel to Trinidad and Tobago, and while inside the airport the Cuban authorities informed him that he was not regulated, but he could not leave the country because the commemoration of the Assault on the Moncada Barracks, an armed action carried out on July 26, 1953 by a group of young people led by Fidel Castro, to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, was approaching. Fernando is the other human rights defender interviewed for this article.

“The term regulation is a euphemism that the regime uses to prevent activists from leaving the country,” says Marthadela, who also maintains that it is an arbitrary measure. “As a human being you feel powerless, you feel fragile before a state that has all the power to decide when you leave, when you enter, when they put you in prison, when they take you out of prison…”, reflects Osvaldo. That, he says, is what he has felt every time he is notified that he is regulated.

A report released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which reveals that more than 220 people and 25 organizations around the world suffered reprisals for cooperating with the United Nations, mentions the human rights violations suffered by Juan Antonio and Marthadela. The document points out that in the last year Cuban authorities prevented the two from leaving the country, and this has hindered their engagement with the UN, “including the current preparations for the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba, scheduled to take place in November 2023,” the report states.

From One Province to Another

The six human rights defenders who were consulted also say that state authorities have prohibited them from moving from one province to another. In 2008, Fernando was banned for two years from visiting Holguín. He was notified of the measure after being detained and held incommunicado for almost a week. Marthadela cannot go to that same region, even though she is a native of that part of the country. María Elena and Juan Antonio have been arbitrarily detained every time they go to Santiago de Cuba, while the authorities do not allow Manuel to travel to Villa Clara.

The Cuban state has restricted the mobility of this group of activists, who were also expelled from their jobs for being dissident voices against Cuba’s political system. All in order to silence them and prohibit them from continuing their struggle for a “free country”.

“I dream of a real Cuba, where we as mothers can raise our children, see them grow and develop. I dream of a Cuba full of freedoms, where the population is not oppressed, where each and every one of the laws that the country itself regulates is complied with. I dream of a free Cuba”, says María Elena, who has not seen her son for more than a year, nor her grandson or daughter-in-law. All three left the country because of the serious situation on the island.  

From the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) we reject the strategies of unjustified restrictions on mobility implemented by the Cuban State, whose sole purpose is to silence activists, human rights defenders, artists, independent journalists, jurists, and, in general, all dissident voices. We also urge the international community to follow up on the denunciations of Cubans who have suffered repression and harassment on the island, and to condemn these tactics carried out by the authoritarian regime of Cuba.

Five years after the UPR, Cuban activists demand the release of people deprived of liberty for political reasons

Geneva, September 1, 2022 – “I urge the Cuban authorities to release all persons deprived of their liberty for political reasons, freedom for Luis Manuel Otero, freedom for Maykel Osorbo, freedom for Brenda Diaz, the only trans woman detained for participating in the protests of July 2021!”. With these words, Cuban visual artist and activist Nonardo Perea, ended his speech at the ‘Cuba: five years after the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)’ conference on August 30, which brought together representatives of the island’s independent civil society and international organizations to denounce human rights violations in the country. 

The event, which took place in Geneva (Switzerland), was held in the framework of the UPR pre-session, a space where representatives of civil society organizations provide information on the countries that will be evaluated in the Universal Periodic Review. This year, Cuba will be reviewed in November, five years after its last evaluation in 2018.

The discussion addressed issues such as violence against women. The director of the NGO Cubalex, Laritza Diversent, recommended the Cuban State to immediately enact a Comprehensive Law against Gender Violence, to address the more than 50 cases of femicide documented this year in Cuba.  

The dialogue ‘Cuba: five years after the UPR’ served as a prelude to denounce human rights violations in this country, such as the lack of freedom of expression. According to Claudia Ordoñez, the officer of the Central America and Caribbean Program of the organization Article 19, “Cuban authorities have deployed efforts to impose censorship, and to silence voices critical of the government”. 

“Unfortunately, in a totalitarian system such as the one on the island, with a closed civic space, that is, where there are no conditions or guarantees to exercise and enjoy human rights, any act of protest is condemned to be repressed without being heard,” added Ordoñez.

These words were echoed by Cuban journalist Mario Luis Reyes, who recalled that independent journalism in this country is in a very delicate position, thanks to the new Penal Code and the Law of Social Communication. Both laws punish freedom of the press in Cuba. 

Labor and union rights were other issues addressed in the discussion. The director of Strategy of the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, Yaxys Cires, said that having a position critical of the government is one of the main reasons for not entering the labor field. “There are no fair salaries or decent jobs. More than 80% of the Cuban population lives in conditions of poverty,” she said. 

Finally, the lawyer and consultant of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Livia Lemus, affirmed that this organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), has identified several repressive practices by the Cuban State, which constitute serious human rights violations on the Island. The IACHR representative said that since 1985 Cuba has been uninterruptedly included in Chapter 4B of its annual report, a section that reflects the complex situation of this country, where there are restrictions to political rights, absence of judicial independence, arbitrary detentions, Internet cuts, and other restrictive measures.

During the discussion, activists demanded that Cuban authorities eliminate all repressive practices that have forced human rights defenders, independent journalists, jurists, artists, and voices critical of the Cuban state into exile. 

The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) stresses the importance of providing these spaces to denounce human rights violations in Cuba, and we call on international and regional human rights mechanisms and State representatives to listen to the requests of independent civil society organizations in Cuba and to condemn the repression, harassment, and different forms of violence that are documented daily in this country.

In the Framework of the UPR Pre-Session in Geneva, Activists will Denounce Human Rights Violations in Cuba

Geneva, August 28, 2023.- This Wednesday, August 30, representatives of Cuba’s independent civil society in Cuba and international organizations working for the defense of human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean will gather in Geneva, Switzerland, to denounce human rights violations on the island. 

The event entitled ‘Cuba: Five Years After the Universal Periodic Review (UPR),’ will commence at 1:30 p.m. (Geneva time) at Rue de Varembé 1 (5th floor). This meeting is being held within the framework of the UPR pre-session, taking place from August 29 to September 1 in Geneva, where representatives of civil society organizations from 14 countries, including Cuba, will address the human rights situation in each of these territories.

The panel discussion will feature the lawyer and consultant to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Livia Lemus; the Director of Cubalex, Laritza Diversent; the Director of Strategy at the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, Yaxys Cires; the officer of the Central America and the Caribbean Program of Article 19, Claudia Ordoñez; independent journalist Mario Luis Reyes, and Cuban artist Nonardo Perea.

The panelists will discuss labor and trade union rights, individuals deprived of liberty for political reasons, independent journalism, and freedom of expression on the island. The aim is to raise awareness before international and regional human rights mechanisms, as well as representatives of the states, about the human rights reality experienced in this country prior to the IV UPR cycle, where Cuba will be evaluated in November of this year. 

In 2018, the Cuban state was last reviewed during the III UPR cycle. At that time, Cuba received 339 recommendations, of which it accepted 226, took note of 83, and rejected 30. To monitor the implementation of these recommendations, several independent civil society organizations submitted alternative reports to be considered in the new UPR cycle.

The panel discussion on Wednesday, August 30, will allow attendees to gain more information about what has transpired on the island five years after its last UPR evaluation. 

From Race and Equality, we emphasized the importance of creating such spaces to denounce human rights violations taking place in Cuba. We call upon international and regional human rights mechanisms, as well as state representatives, to listen to the  appeals of independent civil society organizations in Cuba and condemn the repression, harassment, and various forms of violence documented daily in this country.

“We are searching for another Cuba”, art exhibition in commemoration of the 11J protests

Miami, June 29, 2023 – This Thursday, July 6, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) commemorates in Miami (United States) two years since the peaceful protests of July 2021 (11J) in Cuba, the most massive that have been recorded on the island in recent years. It will do so through ‘We are searching for another Cuba’, the name of the art exhibition held in conjunction with Civil Rights Defenders and Cuban producer Anyelo Troya, which reflects the struggles of those who have been victims of repression and violence exercised by the State.

The exhibition, which begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be held at the Hodler Gallery (257 NW 24th St, Miami, FL 33127), is an X-ray of daily life in Cuba, the demonstrations, the cases of harassment, the stories of people deprived of their freedom for political reasons and their families, and the stories of Cubans who dream of a different country, the same people who seek a free island. Those who wish to participate may do so by registering at this link.

“‘We are searching for another Cuba’ comes from the name of a poem written by a person imprisoned for marching in the protests of 11J. In it, the word ‘Freedom’ is the slogan of those who remain in prison for demanding their rights in Cuba,” says Carlos Quesada, executive director of Race and Equality..

The art exhibit will open with a panel discussion, which will feature the president of the San Isidro Movement in the United States, Cuban actress and activist Iris Ruiz; academic and activist Joanna Columbié; and the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, Jorge Duany, who will reflect on the historic demonstrations, what has happened after two years have passed, and the future of the island.

The protests of July 11 and 12, 2021 spread throughout Cuba, thanks to social networks that allowed the news to spread that a group of people in San Antonio de los Baños, a municipality in the province of Artemisa, had taken to the streets to demonstrate against the State, in response to the serious economic, social and political crisis, which still affects the Cuban citizenry.

The demonstrations, which were then brutally repressed by the authorities of this country, left a balance of 1555 people arbitrarily detained, of which 681 remain imprisoned, according to a report published in early June 2023 by the organization Justicia 11J[1].

Race and Equality invites people living in or visiting Miami to attend the art exhibition ‘We are searching for another Cuba’, with which we commemorate the two years of the 11J protests, and we will demand the Cuban State to release those deprived of their freedom for political reasons. We will also call for an end to repression and all forms of violence against dissident voices. We will remember those who exercised their legitimate right to demonstrate in 2021, those who dream of a country in freedom.

***

[1] Political detentions – Justice 11J. Published on June 7, 2023. Available: https://us17.campaign-archive.com/?u=4bd0b7d67e3a80c4ad07b3deb&id=59f5d969cf

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