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Friday, March 15, 2013

Cuba's Black Spring: A Decade Later

Ten years later there is both cause for optimism and profound sorrow. 

On March 18, 2003 the regime in Cuba began a crackdown in which 75 Cuban human rights defenders would be sentenced in show trials of up to 28 years in prison. This combined with simultaneous arrest, summary trial and execution of three young Cuban black men in less than a week who had tried to flee the island became known as The Black Cuban Spring.

Many of the detained were also organizers of the Varela Project, a citizen initiative launched by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas that sought to reform the Cuban system and bring it into line with international human rights norms and under the present laws of the regime was legal. Despite that they were still condemned to prison.

This injustice led to the formation of the Ladies in White and a campaign of international solidarity for these prisoners of conscience never seen before in the Cuban context. 

If not for the Ladies in White, the international campaign, and the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo at least 57 would still be in prison today serving out unjust prison sentences. 

Nevertheless, we must remember that not all of the "Group of the 75" are still with us today, Miguel Valdez Tamayo was harassed by state security into an early grave on January 11, 2007 at age 50. 

Furthermore, that  two of the most high profile advocates for these prisoners of conscience, Ladies in White founding spokeswomen Laura Pollán and the Christian Liberation Movement's Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas both died under suspicious circumstances that demand an international and transparent investigation.

As we approach this dark anniversary we must remember what was accomplished and that much remains to be done in Cuba's long walk to freedom.

Filmmakers Carlos González and Pablo Rodríguez made The Cuban Spring with interviews with dissidents prior to the March 18 crackdown and with their relatives after their arrests and summary trials. It also features the late Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

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