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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

From the Archives: Cuban dissidents gather in Rome before Pope John Paul II's historic trip to Cuba

23 years ago, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Ricardo Bofill, Father Miguel Angel Lauredo, Mario Chanes de Armas, Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez, Dariel Alarcon Ramirez (Benigno), Jorge Masseti, and John Suarez gathered in Rome on January 17, 1998 to discuss Cuba’s dissident movement in advance of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba. Below is a photo from the event, and link to the Associated Press story on the meeting.

Below is the poster that announced the event, and the list of speakers and moderator.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

Remembering Laura Pollán, Cuba's Lady in White ten years after her killing

“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011)

Ten years ago today, Cuban opposition leader and human rights defender Laura Pollán died under circumstances that Cuban dissident and medical doctor Oscar Elias Biscet described as "death by purposeful medical neglect."

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a courageous woman spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members. Laura was greatly admired both inside and outside of the island.

Today, the current leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, paid homage to her predecessor over FaceBook while calling out and holding responsible the Castro regime for Laura's death.
Tenth anniversary of the physical loss of Laura Pollan Toledo. The Fidel Castro regime murdered Laura Pollan, they thought to silence her, but they did not succeed, she remains high in our esteem and is among us present at every step of the Ladies in White, following her legacy. 
Example of a woman, loving, brave, intelligent, audacious, teacher, warrior, for that and much more we say: LAURA POLLAN LIVES Laura is in our hearts Ladies in White we pay tribute and homage to: Laura Pollan Toledo.
Let us remember that Laura put into action over eight years in Cuba nonviolent resistance to tyranny.
"They tried to silence 75 voices, but now there are more than 75 voices shouting to the world the injustices the government has committed." (2004) "We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005)
"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." (2010) "We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 2011)
"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story." (2011)
“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011)
"We are not going to stop. If you have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close." (October 2, 2011) 
"My life has changed a lot, now I have learned to love the country much more, the prisoners, the humanity. That's how I have so much work, that I don't have much time to think about myself, what really satisfies me, in short, I owe myself to other more important tasks. Now I understand much more, before I could not understand these things, you have to live and feel them to be able to dedicate soul heart and life to this beautiful cause." (2011)

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Fact Sheet on July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre

Reconciliation necessitates both truth and justice.

On July 13, 1994, a group of 72 Cubans, including children and women, tried to escape from the Island of Cuba aboard an old tugboat. State Security Forces, and four Coast Guard boats of the Havana regime intercepted the boat 7 miles off the coast of Cuba, with water jets from pressure hoses pulled people off the deck, tore the children from the arms of their mothers and sank the tugboat. 37 people were murdered, 11 of them children.  

Fact 1:  In the early morning hours of July 13, 1994, four boats belonging to the Cuban State and equipped with water hoses attacked an old tugboat that was fleeing Cuba with 72 people on board.  The incident occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast, opposite the port of Havana.  The complaint also indicates that the Cuban State boats attacked the runaway tug with their prows with the intention of sinking it, while at the same time spraying everyone on the deck of the boat, including women and children, with pressurized water.  The pleas of the women and children to stop the attack were in vain, and the old boat--named "13 de Marzo"--sank, with a toll of 41 deaths, including ten minors.  Thirty-one people survived the events of July 13, 1994.

Source:  IACHR REPORT Nº 47/96 CASE 11.436 VICTIMS OF THE TUGBOAT "13 DE MARZO" vs. CUBA     October 16, 1996

Fact 2: According to eyewitnesses who survived the disaster, no sooner had the tug "13 de Marzo" set off from the Cuban port than two boats from the same state enterprise began pursuing it.  About 45 minutes into the trip, when the tug was seven miles away from the Cuban coast--in a place known as "La Poceta"--two other boats belonging to said enterprise appeared, equipped with tanks and water hoses, proceeded to attack the old tug.  "Polargo 2," one of the boats belonging to the Cuban state enterprise, blocked the old tug "13 de Marzo" in the front, while the other, "Polargo 5," attacked from behind, splitting the stern.  The two other government boats positioned themselves on either side and sprayed everyone on deck with pressurized water, using their hoses.

Source:  IACHR REPORT Nº 47/96 CASE 11.436 VICTIMS OF THE TUGBOAT "13 DE MARZO" vs. CUBA     October 16, 1996

Fact 3: The pleas of the women and children on the deck of the tug "13 de Marzo" did nothing to stop the attack.  The boat sank, with a toll of 41 dead.  Many people perished because the jets of water directed at everyone on deck forced them to seek refuge in the engine room.  The survivors also affirmed that the crews of the four Cuban government boats were dressed in civilian clothes and that they did not help them when they were sinking.

Source:  IACHR REPORT Nº 47/96 CASE 11.436 VICTIMS OF THE TUGBOAT "13 DE MARZO" vs. CUBA     October 16, 1996

Fact 4: In  the  days  immediately  following  the  tragedy,  the  authorities  attempted  to  prevent  any protest or public demonstration of grief.    A mass for the victims had to be cancelled and people  wearing  black  armbands  as  a  sign  of  mourning  were  also  reportedly  detained briefly.    Relatives  of  the  victims were  also  reportedly  prevented  from  throwing  flowers into the sea on the grounds that that is only usually done for “martyrs of the Revolution”. On  23  July  1994 Aida  Rosa  Jiménezof  the Movimiento  de  Madres  Cubanas  Por  la Solidaridad,  Movement  of  Cuban  Mothers  for  Solidarity,  which  had  called  on  Cuba women to wear black or purple ribbons for three days as a sign of mourning, was arrested at her home and taken to State Security headquarters at Villa Marista. She was reportedly told by officials that it was because of her efforts to encourage people to attend a mass in commemoration of the victims of the tugboat sinking.

Source: Amnesty International "Human Rights Defenders and Activists  Cuba: The sinking of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat on 13 July 1994" 30 June 1997, Index number: AMR 25/013/1997 

Fact 5: In  1996,  in  his  report  to  the  52nd  Session  of  the  UN  Commission  on  Human Rights7, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions stated that he had transmitted allegations concerning the case to the Cuban Government in June 1995  and  expressed  deep  concern  that  he  had  not  received  a reply.  He  urged  that  the allegations  be properly investigated, the perpetrators brought to justice and the victims’ families compensated.    The UN Special Rapporteur on Cuba, in his interim report to the UN General Assembly dated 7 October 1996, also expressed serious concern “about the fact that an event of this magnitude, in which 37 people died, has not been investigated”. 

Source: Amnesty International "Human Rights Defenders and Activists  Cuba: The sinking of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat on 13 July 1994" 30 June 1997, Index number: AMR 25/013/1997  

Fact 6:  Despite consistent testimonies that four Transportation Ministry boats fired water cannons onto the decks of the tugboat and later rammed and sank it, President Castro denied a government role in the sinking.131 Although President Castro asserted that Cuba had fully investigated the incident, the commission noted that Cuba never recovered the bodies lost in the tugboat, nor the boat itself, and concluded that "there was no judicial investigation and the political organs directed by the Cuban Chief of State rushed to absolve of all responsibility the officials who went to meet the 13 de Marzo tugboat."132

Source: Human Rights Watch,Cuba's Repressive Machinery  (1999)

Fact 7:  The victims who died in the incident of July 13, 1994 are:  Leonardo Notario Góngora (27), Marta Tacoronte Vega (36), Caridad Leyva Tacoronte (36), Yausel Eugenio Pérez Tacoronte (11), Mayulis Méndez Tacoronte (17), Odalys Muñoz García (21), Pilar Almanza Romero (30), Yaser Perodín Almanza (11), Manuel Sánchez Callol (58), Juliana Enriquez Carrasana (23), Helen Martínez Enríquez (6 months), Reynaldo Marrero (45), Joel García Suárez (24), Juan Mario Gutiérrez García (10), Ernesto Alfonso Joureiro (25), Amado Gonzáles Raices (50), Lázaro Borges Priel (34), Liset Alvarez Guerra (24), Yisel Borges Alvarez (4), Guillermo Cruz Martínez (46), Fidelio Ramel Prieto-Hernández (51), Rosa María Alcalde Preig (47), Yaltamira Anaya Carrasco (22), José Carlos Nicole Anaya (3), María Carrasco Anaya (44), Julia Caridad Ruiz Blanco (35), Angel René Abreu Ruiz (3), Jorge Arquímides Lebrijio Flores (28), Eduardo Suárez Esquivel (39), Elicer Suárez Plascencia, Omar Rodríguez Suárez (33), Miralis Fernández Rodríguez (28), Cindy Rodríguez Fernández (2), José Gregorio Balmaceda Castillo (24), Rigoberto Feut Gonzáles (31), Midalis Sanabria Cabrera (19).

Source:  IACHR REPORT Nº 47/96 CASE 11.436 VICTIMS OF THE TUGBOAT "13 DE MARZO" vs. CUBA     October 16, 1996

Fact 8:  Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who was murdered on July 22, 2012 by state security agents, addressed the significance of this crime. "Behind the Christ of Havana, about seven miles from the coast, "volunteers" of the Communist regime committed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of our city and of Cuba." ... "Let the silenced bells toll. But let them toll for all the victims of terror that in reality is only one sole victim: the Cuban people that without distinctions, suffers the loss of each one of their children." 

Source: Human Rights Watch,Cuba's Repressive Machinery  (1999)

Fact 9:  One year after the massacre on July 13, 1995, Cuban exiles gathered together and set out in a flotilla that peacefully invaded Cuban national territory to travel to the spot where the "13 de Marzo" tugboat sank and where the human remains of the 37 victims still reside never returned to their families to this day to hold religious services for them. Ramón Saúl Sánchez organized and led the flotilla aboard the boat christened "Democracia". Upon entering Cuban waters the Castro regime sent their patrol boats, helicopters, and MiGs to surround and intimidate the flotilla, but it continued until the lead boat's hull was crushed by two patrol boats, and people onboard were hurt. 

Fact 10: Responding to the attack on the flotilla on July 13, 1995, Brothers to the Rescue planes overflew Havana dropping leaflets that read "Comrades No. Brothers" in Spanish. It was on that day that the Democracy Movement came into existence. It was also on that day that the Castro regime began planning its reprisal against Brothers to the Rescue, enlisting members of the WASP spy network to provide intelligence that led to the deaths of four innocents on February 24, 1996 in an act of state terrorism.


Friday, June 4, 2021

32nd Anniversary of June 4th: Against Enforced Amnesia

 “This is for the lost souls of June 4th.” - Liu Xiaobo, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

Remember the Ghosts of June 4th and demand justice

What happened?
Thirty two years ago today the Communist leadership of China opened fire on the Chinese people. The Pro-Democracy Movement that had taken to the streets in April of 1989 was violently crushed by the Chinese communist dictatorship beginning on the evening of June 3, 1989.

How many were killed?
By dawn on June 4, 1989 scores of demonstrators had been shot and killed or run over and crushed by tanks of the so-called People's Liberation Army. and the blood of students and workers splattered and flowed in the streets of Beijing.

The Chinese Red Cross had initially counted 2,600 dead when they were pressured to stop by Chinese officials and silenced on this matter. Following the massacre an additional 1,000 were sentenced to death and executed. Scores of Chinese who participated in the Tiananmen protests would spend years and decades in prison.

A 2017 declassified British diplomatic cable revealed that "at least 10,000 people were killed in the Chinese army's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989." 

Imprisoned Nobel laureate's connection to Tiananmen
Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace laureate, who is also a prisoner of conscience currently imprisoned for his continued non-violent activism had already served a prison sentence for his participation in the Tiananmen student protest in 1989. He was again jailed in 2008 for his human rights activism and sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 25, 2009 and died in custody on July 13, 2017.

How Henry Kissinger's downplayed the Beijing Massacre in the United States
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger persuaded the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath to downplay the human rights considerations surrounding the Beijing Massacre and to focus on the economic and strategic relationship.  Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published a October 1, 1989 article revealing Kissinger's direct business ties to Communist China and his defense of the regime and justification of the massacre. FAIR reported how on August 1, 1989 this business consultant who also heads "China Ventures" [that engages China's state bank in joint ventures] wrote a column that appeared in a Washington Post/L.A. Times ("The Caricature of Deng as a Tyrant Is Unfair", 8/1/89). In it Kissinger argued against sanctions:

"China remains too important for America's national security to risk the relationship on the emotions of the moment." He asserted: "No government in the world would have tolerated having the main square of its capital occupied for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators."  

Kissinger's reputation according to Umair Khan who reviewed his 2011 book, On China, describes him as a man whose "reputation is based on his career as a diplomat turned business consultant." This business relationship was not mentioned back in 1989 by those publishing the former Secretary of State's case against sanctions on China.

Kissinger proved wrong by events in Eastern Europe
 Incidentally over the course of six weeks in 1989 beginning on November 17, the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia although engaging in acts of repression did not commit a huge massacre against tens of thousands of demonstrators in the main square of its capital. The demonstrations grew to Tiananmen Square levels of 200,000 and 500,000 demonstrators in Prague.  The end result was the Velvet Revolution and 25 years of peace and prosperity. Kissinger's argument did not hold up under the light of events.

Consequences of looking the other way

 Unfortunately, the downplaying of the human rights situation in China has had consequences over the long term. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dictum "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" has special resonance. In 2011 Muammar Gaddafi believed that he could get away with mass murder because the world looked the other way in June of 1989 in Beijing and said it plainly: 

"The unity of China was more important than those people on Tiananmen Square."
Its not the first time impunity in one bloody deed has encouraged another. Between 1915 and 1917 the Ottoman Turks murdered more than 1.5 million Armenians and like the Chinese communists in 1989 got away with it. This inspired Adolph Hitler to carry out his own holocaust stating in 1939
"Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel has denounced indifference and silence before injustice stating that: "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."

For the next 24 hours will be sharing information over social media provided by Chinese pro-democracy activists on the events that took place 32 years ago in Beijing.

The Free Cuba Foundation since its founding recognized that being "victims of totalitarianism we share a bond with other captive peoples past and present who are our brothers and sisters in this struggle for freedom."

Please share videos of documentaries on the  Tiananmen Square protests, the crackdown and massacre, and the aftermath. For example, Tiananmen Mothers, a group of family members of those killed during the violent crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement produced a short documentary: "Portraits of Loss and the Quest for Justice"in which the stories of six victims are told by their family members, and two survivors provide their own testimony. It can be viewed online here.  We also ask all people of good will to light a candle tonight at 8pm and share the stories of the unforgotten.

Message from Human Rights in China requesting solidarity:
In mainland China, the Chinese authorities have never allowed public commemorations of the victims of the June Fourth crackdown of the 1989 Democracy Movement. Up until 2020, the people of Hong Kong had been able to hold annual candlelight vigils—for large-scale public remembrance and to press for official accountability. In 2021, for the 2nd year in a row, the Hong Kong authorities are banning the vigil. HRIC urges the international community to stand up against enforced amnesia of June Fourth: by lighting a candle at 8 p.m. on June 4 wherever you are, reading the stories of the UNFORGOTTEN (, and sending solidarity messages to the Tiananmen Mothers (



Friday, April 30, 2021

Open letter to those who believe Black Lives Matter

Do Black Lives Matter in Cuba? Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara on sixth day of hunger and thirst strike protesting harassment, destruction of artwork, and home invasions by police is about to die if you do not help.

Dear Friend of the Cuban government,

This is addressed to you, who travel to Cuba on official tours, received by officials, and are sympathetic to the existing system. You have influence, leverage with those in power who desire your continued friendship.

Revolutionary National Police in Cuba are killing black men, and they are about to claim another life through their constant harassment, home invasions, and destruction and theft of art work. These patterns of constant and escalating repression have led Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara to initiate on April 25, 2021 a hunger and thirst strike that is now on its sixth day, and it is feared that he will not last much longer. Please reach out to Cuban officials and explain to them why continuing down this path that will lead to his untimely death, will harm regime interests internationally.

Others have died on hunger strike in Cuba, in recent years, two of them black men: Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 and Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros in 2020. Unarmed black men shot in the back by Revolutionary National Police, a recent high profile case is that Hansel E. Hernández.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Heberto Padilla Stalinist self-criticism 50 years ago and Improper Conduct

"Cuban poets no longer dream (not even at night)."  - Heberto Padilla

Heberto Padilla

Heberto Padilla, a Cuban poet, who like many had been an enthusiastic supporter of Fidel Castro ousting Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, became disillusioned when the Castro regime's dictatorial nature became clear, and reflected it in his writings.

One: be an optimist.
Two: be discreet, correct, obedient.
(Do well at sports - all of them.)
And, most of all, move
like all the other members:
one step forward, and one (or two) steps back:
but never stop cheering.

In 1968, however, Cuban judges in the national poetry contest awarded their "Julian del Casal" poetry prize to Padilla's collection, Fuera del Juego (Out of the Game), which contained critical lines such as:

"The poet! Kick him out!
He has no business here.
He doesn't play the game.
He never gets excited
Or speaks out clearly.
He never even sees the miracles ..."

The book was published but an addendum was added that criticized the work as counterrevolutionary, and Heberto Padilla was placed under house arrest. On March 20, 1971 he was arrested together with his wife,Belkiz Cuza Malé, after armed state security agents burst into their home. She was released a short time later. He was interrogated for over a month, then released, and on April 27, 1971 forced to confess before the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, UNEAC).  
The New York Times on May 26, 1971 described what had gone on and printed an excerpt of the confession in an editorial. Padilla's wife Belkis has also written about their arrest in March 1971 and the knock on the door, and the search of their home by the secret police.

Half a century later on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, a choral reading of Heberto Padilla’s confession will be streamed via social media over 24 hours.

Twenty Cuban intellectuals from the island and the diaspora, directed by Cuban American artist Coco Fusco, are participating in the project organized by the San Isidro International Movement and 27N

Heberto Padilla would suffer ostracism, and harassment until 1979 when he went into exile, and continued his criticism of the Castro regime, and in 1984 appeared in the film "Improper Conduct" where his case was highlighted, and he discussed Raul's Castro visit to Bulgaria and saw that the streets were very clean, without anti-social elements, especially the homosexuals, and was told by the Bulgarian communists that they had been placed in camps. Raul Castro returned to Cuba and instituted the practice with his brother, Fidel's approval in the 1960s. Below is a clip, but FCF members will be viewing the full film online tonight at 8:00pm EST here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

10 years ago FCF screened Andy Garcia's "The Lost City" at FIU: Join our 2021 virtual screeing

 Havana, Cuba in the late 1950's, a Cuban family is caught in the violent transition from the oppressive authoritarian regime of Batista to the oppressive Marxist regime of Fidel Castro.

Ten years ago, Magnolia pictures gave approval for the Free Cuba Foundation to show "The Lost City," Andy Garcia's 2005 exploration of Cuba in the turbulent 1950s. 
The screening took place on July 6, 2011 at 8:00pm at Florida International University at Graham Center 283A at what was then called the University Park campus . We co-hosted the event with FIU Students for a Free Tibet, and we thank them for their solidarity.
The film stars Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Millie Perkins and Ines Sastre.  Millie Perkins starred as Anne Frank in the original film adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959.
Helen Castro and Mitsu Vastey at 2011 screening
Now a decade later the movie is available online, and in this time of COVID-19 we are inviting FCF members past, and present and all interested parties to join us in a virtual viewing of this important film directed by Andy Garcia on March 29 at 8pm.
Our community is experiencing the new film Plantados, on the plight of Cuban political prisoners in the first years of the Communist Revolution, and The Lost City is the film that provides the back story to the Cuba that existed before 1959, and how Castro and his revolutionaries destroyed it. 

Below is the The Lost City trailer.

Interview with Andy Garcia about The Lost City at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival below:

Additional information will be posted shortly.