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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#CaptiveNationsWeek Recent Crimes of the Castro Regime: Sirley's Story

The violence and killings continue in Cuba

Sirley Ávila León following May 2015 machete attack
 The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation today premiered the Witness Testimony of Sirley Ávila León who was the victim of a Castro regime engineered machete attack in May of 2015 while observing Captive Nations Week. Last week the former regime official turned dissident testified before Congress. Below is the video made public today and an excerpt of the text of the Congressional testimony.

Congressional testimony posted on the Victims of Communism blog:
Because of my work and my demands in favor of reopening the school, I began to be accused of being a leader, and the families of the farmers in my area began to receive threats that their school-aged children would be taken away from them. I was threatened and repeatedly repressed by government officials, and in Havana I was even expelled from the Council of State and threatened with being accused of threatening State Security.

All this is what led me, on September 8, 2012, to denounce the regime’s human rights violations against the farmers and the people in general from the island itself, by means of the broadcaster Radio Martí. From that moment onwards, I was a victim of several attempts on my life, attempts to eliminate me physically, and other acts of vandalism against my farm, my animals and my property, all organized by the regime and its political police as part of its attempt to get rid of me. A young woman, Yudisleidy López Rodríguez, alerted me to the fact that the political police had offered highly dangerous common criminals rewards for murdering me. She was killed on September 26, 2014 for publicly decrying an attack on me in which my bed was set on fire during the early morning. Her murder was covered up as a crime of passion.

On May 24, 2015, I was attacked in my home by Osmani Carrión, who was sent by State Security to kill me. I am sure he was sent by the political police because I later discovered that he was a highly dangerous common prisoner who had been granted parole only days before attacking me. He attacked me with a machete, severing my left hand and mutilating my right arm and both knees. He did not cut off my head thanks to the presence of a child at the scene of the events and thanks to God who protected my life so that I could be here today and offer my testimony. In the days before the attack the regime had started a rumor that I had sold the farm and had left the area so that the neighbors would not be concerned about my physical disappearance.
23 year old murdered in 2014 after warning human rights defender

Friday, July 15, 2016

FCF organizes 13 minute silent vigils at FIU and at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC on July 13th

"State crimes are never an issue exclusive to the families of the victims." - Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo, protesting in front of the Cuban Interests Section on 7/10//14

Free Cuba Foundation members together with Rosa Maria Payá hold vigil at FIU
Once again on July 13th young activists gathered at 12 noon in silence for 13 minutes to remember and continue the demand for justice started 22 years ago at Florida International University.  In front of the Cuban embassy in Washington DC another group of activists gathered at 6:30pm for a 13 minute moment of silence.  On the same day activists in Cuba and the Democracy Movement at the Our Lady of Charity (La Ermita) in Miami held observances of this anniversary of a murderous and criminal act ordered by the Castro regime.

Cuban pro-democracy activists hold 13 minute vigil next to the Cuban Embassy in DC
 None have forgotten that on July 13, 1994 at three in the morning three extended Cuban families set out for a better life aboard the "13 de Marzo" tugboat from Havana, Cuba and were massacred in a heinous crime committed by the Castro regime. The most extensive international report on the the events that took place was prepared by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A Cuban women who lost 14 relatives, including her 10 year old son, Juan Mario Gutiérrez García described what she experienced.

María Victoria García Suarez and her son Juan Mario
 María Victoria García SuarezNo, they never told us to stop.  Then what they did was to shoot water at us.  Then the time came when we saw that we could not go on because it was going to be fatal and we stopped because the water was getting in.  Then we stopped and we told them:  "Look, we're turning back, we have already stopped, and they saw that we had stopped, and it was then that they split the side and turned the boat  around."  When they turned you around, what happened to you?  Those of  us on deck, we all went under and the boat sank immediately, but those of us in the water tried to get to the surface.  It was very deep.  I was carrying my son, I was holding him, I did not let go of him and then I pulled him up, but I don't know how to swim, then I came up but I went under again.  Then when I came up there was a woman who had drowned, she was floating beside me, then I grabbed her and carried my son--the waves were high--then  I could­n't... I couldn't, he had already drowned... 
This atrocity was not an aberration of the Cuban dictatorship but part of its totalitarian DNA. The men responsible for giving the orders and carrying them out 22 years later have still not had to answer for this crime.  On July 13, 2016 activists in Cuba, in Miami and Washington DC gathered in silent protest to remember those who were killed, their names and how many were just children and youth who never got to live out their lives. They remembered the words of Cuban martyr Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas from March 18, 2005 in  El Nuevo Herald:
“In Cuba there are missing and it is known who has disappeared them, the latter are heroes for the government"..."There are more than 20 murdered children waiting to be claimed and mothers and grandmothers who were not allowed to look for them when they were killed off the coast of Havana.”
On July 13, 2016 they remembered those who died, their names and how many were just children and youth who never got to live out their lives 22 long years ago. They also remembered that Oswaldo Payá who had spoken out for the "13 de marzo" tugboat massacre victims was himself murdered along with youth leader Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Why we protest

"To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn't prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death." -  Elie Wiesel

 The Obama Administration's embrace of the Castro regime is nothing new nor are the negative consequences. The Clinton Administration in the 1990s opened cash and carry trade with the dictatorship and joint military exercises with the Cuban military that coincided with a new Cuban exodus, heightened repression, massacres, the murder of U.S. citizens while engaged in search and rescue of Cuban rafters over international airspace.

Ten years ago on July 12, 2006 the Free Cuba Foundation held a panel discussion hosted by Neri Martinez with Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue and Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement reviewing two acts of state terrorism perpetrated by the Castro regime in the 1990s.

This is why on December 29, 2014 we declared our rejection of the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy understanding that it was a retread of the failed policies of the past beginning with the Carter Administration and continuing during the Clinton Administration.

Over the past 20 years we have nonviolently and silently protested the crimes of the Castro regime and refuse to be complicit therefore we now protest a U.S. policy that we view at best as counterproductive.

This is also why on July 31, 2015 we protested against Hillary Clinton at Florida International University because she has reaffirmed this failed Cuba policy and promises to continue it under her administration should she be elected president.

This is also why on July 13, 2016 at 12 noon we will gather in silent protest at the main fountain at Florida International University and demand justice for the victims of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre that claimed 37 lives on July 13, 1994 and for new victims of the regime Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante killed on July 22, 2012.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ten things Cubans are not allowed to do in Cuba

Prepared by People in Need - Human Rights and Democracy

10 Things Cubans Cannot Do

Many international media have been full of articles about how Cuba is changing. While this is true and there have been some changes that bring Cuba closer to its Latin American neighbors, Cubans still miss on many things that are quite normal in the rest of the region. Ten things that most Cuban’s still cannot do include:

1. Earn Fair Wage
The salaries in the last decade have risen by about 50%. However as the percentage of salaries rose the list of the things Cubans can get on their ration card got shorter and it currently offers food worth only about $2 a month. According to Cuban Statistical office the average salary of Cuban in 2014 was $22 dollars a month. It is hard to survive on this salary even taking into account that education and healthcare are free on the island.

2. Access the Internet
Only top Cuban elite has slow 56kbp telephone modems at home and it was only in June of last year that the government opened first public wifi spots around the country that support acceptable speeds of 1Mbit per user. However  less than 50 hotspots around the country are certainly not sufficient for the population of more than 11 million and the cost of $2 dollars per hour keeps internet out of reach of majority of the population.

3. Read Free Press
While a lot has been written about Cuban bloggers, due to the low penetration their impact inside Cuba remains limited. Very little has changed on the media market where all dailies, radios and tv stations are owned by the state and controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba. Not only access to printing press is limited, but business quality printers are hard to come by and one of the first independent newspapers is blocked on the Cuban internet.

4. Start a Business
There is a new investment law in Cuba, but ironically it might be easier for a foreign investor to open a business in Cuba that it is for Cubans. Although many Cubans can now open their homes to tourists for accommodation or open a tiny restaurant, the list of activities where private enterprise is permitted is very limited  and even activities such as sale of used clothes is not included not to mention import, export, tourism and other possibly lucrative business where state wants to keep its monopoly.

5. Organize
In every single Latin American country some sort of independent civil society exists and is recognized by the state. Not so in Cuba where –with the exception of some Church groups– not a single Cuban independent non-governmental organization obtained a registration. There are hundreds of these groups, but they have no access to office space or funds as they would have anywhere else in the region.

6. Strike
In Cuba the right to strike is not outlawed, but the law does not guarantee the right to strike either. In spite of the fact that number of independent trade unions exist, they are all illegal and the only trade union allowed to function is the Federation of Cuban Workers directly controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba.

7. Travel Freely
In 2013 the Cuban government lifted the need to obtain an exit visa and since then in theory any Cuban can travel abroad. In practice this is out of reach for majority of Cubans who would have to save number of years of average salary to be able to afford a plane ticket, and more importantly, many of them face interrogations and harassment by the authorities upon their return.

8. Protest in the Streets
Street protests are regular occurrence all over Latin America and, although Cuban government often supports these protesters and their demands around the world, it does not permit any visible protest anywhere in Cuba. Known trouble makers are preventively put in jail or in house arrest even before they have a chance to organize especially before high profile public events. Small groups that, in spite of  constant  government vigilance succeed in marching in the street, are promptly arrested or beaten.

9. Get a Fair Trial
Neither Cubans or foreign nationals can be assured that their trial in Cuba will be fair. Judges are directly controlled by the government, there are no independent legal firms and all attorneys have to be employees of the state. While there are groups of Cuban independent lawyers, they are not allowed to practice independently or represent anyone in court. Many detainees spend years in jail waiting for sentence that is never handed down.

10. Vote Freely
While elections take place regularly these are neither free or fair. The Communist Party is the only legal political party in Cuba, even though parties across the political spectrum requested registration, it was never granted to them. In addition, no independent candidate has a chance to be elected for a meaningful post in the current electoral system.


10 cosas que los cubanos no pueden hacer

Muchos medios internacionales han dedicado artículos completos acerca de cómo Cuba está cambiando. Cuando en efecto existen algunos cambios que acercan a Cuba a sus vecinos Latinoamericanos, los cubanos siguen perdiéndose de muchas cosas que son bastante normales en el resto de la región. Diez cosas que los cubanos aún no pueden hacer incluyen:

1. Ganar un salario justo
Los salario en la última década han subido al menos un 50%. Sin embargo, así como el porcentaje de salarios subió, la lista de artículos que los cubanos pueden obtener en su libreta de ración disminuyó y actualmente ofrece alimentos con un valor equivalente a $2 al mes. De acuerdo con la Oficina de Estadística de Cuba, la base salarial de los cubanos en el 2014 era de $22 dólares al mes. Es difícil sobrevivir con este salario aun tomando en cuenta que la educación y los servicios de salud son gratuitos en la isla.

2. Acceder a Internet
Sólo la élite cubana tiene en casa módems telefónicos que proveen un Internet lento de 56kb. Fue solo en junio del año pasado cuando el gobierno abrió sus primeros puntos de conexión wifi alrededor del país que soportan velocidades aceptables de 1Mbit por usuario. No obstante, menos de 50 puntos de conexión no son suficientes para una población de más de 11 millones y el costo de $2 dólares por hora mantiene el Internet fuera del alcance de la mayoría de la población.

3. Leer prensa libre
Mientras que mucho se ha escrito sobre los blogueros cubanos, debido a la baja penetración, su impacto en Cuba se mantiene limitado. Muy poco ha cambiado en el mercado mediático donde todos los diarios, radios y televisoras son propiedad del Estado y están controladas por el Partido Comunista de Cuba. No sólo el acceso a la prensa impresa es limitada, pero las impresoras de calidad son difíciles de conseguir y uno de los primeros periódicos independientes,, está bloqueado del Internet cubano.

4. Empezar un negocio
Hay una nueva ley de inversiones en Cuba, pero irónicamente puede ser más fácil para un inversionista internacional abrir un negocio en Cuba que para los cubanos. A pesar de que muchos cubanos pueden abrir sus casas para los turistas para brindar hospedaje o abrir un pequeño restaurante, la lista de actividades donde la empresa privada está permitida es muy limitada y aun actividades como venta de ropa de segunda mano no está incluida, sin mencionar la importación, exportación, turismo y otras posibles actividades comerciales lucrativas donde el Estado quiere mantener su monopolio.

5. Organizarse

En cada país Latinoamericano existe algún grado de sociedad civil independiente y es reconocida por el Estado. En Cuba  -con la excepción de algunos grupos de la iglesia- ninguna organización no gubernamental puede ser inscrita. Hay cientos de estos grupos, pero no tienen acceso a espacios de oficina o fondos como podrían en cualquier otra parte de la región.

6. Hacer Huelga
En Cuba el derecho a la huelga no está prohibido, pero la ley tampoco lo garantiza. A pesar del hecho de que numerosas organizaciones sindicales existen, son ilegales y el único sindicato permitido para operar es la Federación de Trabajadores Cubanos que está directamente controlado por el Partido Comunista de Cuba.

7. Viajar libremente
En 2013 el gobierno cubano levantó las limitaciones para obtener una visa de salida del país y desde eso en teoría cualquier cubano puede viajar al exterior. En la práctica esto está fuera del alcance de la mayoría de los cubanos que tendrían que ahorrar su salario base durante varios años para poder pagar un tiquete de avión y más importante resulta que muchos sufren interrogatorios y acoso de las autoridades al retorno a Cuba.

8. Protestar en las calles
La protesta ciudadana es recurrente en toda Latinoamérica y a pesar de que el gobierno cubano a menudo apoya a estos protestantes y sus demandas alrededor del mundo, no permite ninguna protesta visible en Cuba. Conocidos “busca problemas” son puestos en prisión preventiva o en arresto domiciliario antes de que tengan la oportunidad de organizarse, especialmente ante eventos públicos de alto perfil. Los pequeños grupos que pese a estar bajo constante vigilancia del gobierno tienen éxito marchando en las calles son rápidamente arrestados o reprimidos con violencia física. 

9. Tener un juicio justo
Ni los cubanos o los extranjeros tienen un juicio justo asegurado en Cuba. Los jueces están directamente controlados por el gobierno, no hay bufetes legales y los abogados deben ser empleados del Estado. Mientras existen diversos grupos de abogados independientes en Cuba, no tienen permitido ejercer independientemente o representar a ninguna persona en los tribunales. Muchos pasan años detenidos esperando una sentencia que nunca es dictada.

10. Votar libremente
Pese a que las elecciones se llevan a cabo regularmente, estas no son libres o justas. El Partido Comunista es el único partido político legal en Cuba, pese a que muchos partidos de todo el espectro político solicitaron ser inscritos, nunca les fue concedido. Adicionalmente, ningún candidato independiente ha tenido la oportunidad de ser electo para un puesto significativo en el sistema electoral actual.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

13 minute silent vigil for July's Cuban martyrs on July 13 at FIU's main fountain at 12 noon

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986*

July 13, 1994 at three in the morning three extended Cuban families set out for a better life aboard the "13 de Marzo" tugboat from Havana, Cuba and were massacred in a heinous crime committed by agents of the Cuban government. The most extensive international report on the the events that took place was prepared by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1996. Four years later on 1998 on the eve of Pope John Paul the Second's visit to Cuba Ted Koppel had a segment on the tugboat massacre interviewing survivor's and family members.  Fifteen years later human rights champion Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas reflected on what had happened:

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. In the morning, a group of seventy people in all, fled on a tugboat, led by the ship's own crew; none was kidnapped, or there against their will. They came out of the mouth of the Bay of Havana. They were pursued by other similar ships. When the runaway ship and its occupants stopped to surrender, the ships that had been chasing them started ramming to sink it. Meanwhile, on the deck, women with children in their arms begging for mercy, but the answer of their captors was to project high pressure water cannons against them. Some saw their children fall overboard under the murderous jets of water amid shrieks of horror. They behaved brutally until their perverse mission was fulfilled: Sink the fleeing ship and annihilate many of its occupants.
Four years ago on July 22, 2012 on a stretch of road in Eastern Cuba, State Security agents rammed the car Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were traveling in. Both bodies appeared later that same day. The man who denounced the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre in 2009 would himself become a martyr of the same dictatorship along with Harold, a youth leader from the Christian Liberation Movement three years later in 2012 in the same month.
On July 13 at 12 noon at Florida International University the Free Cuba Foundation will hold a 13 minute silent vigil in memory of July's Cuban martyrs. This tradition has been underway at Florida International University for twenty years with one change. In the first year a one minute moment of silence was held and as each year passed without justice a minute was added. On the 20th anniversary we held a 20 minute moment of silence and after that we decided to set the minutes to 13 and in addition to remembering the 37 victims of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat sinking we would also remember Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. We began this new practice last year. We ask to join us in continuing this tradition again this year at FIU and continue to make a silent demand for justice. Other activities have been organized by others to remember these crimes over the years.
What:   13 Minute Silent Vigil
When:  Wednesday, July 13 at 12 noon
Where: Main Fountain at Florida International University
             [Between Library, and Charles Perry (PC) building]
Why:    Remember and Demand Justice for the Dead

July 22, 2012 Extrajudicial Killings

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas. Age: 60
Harold Cepero Escalante. Age: 32

July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre Victims

Hellen Martínez Enriquez. Age: 5 Months 
Xicdy Rodríguez Fernández. Age: 2 
Angel René Abreu Ruíz. Age: 3 
José Carlos Niclas Anaya. Age: 3 
Giselle Borges Alvarez. Age: 4 
Caridad Leyva Tacoronte. Age: 5 
Juan Mario Gutiérrez García. Age: 10 
Yousell Eugenio Pérez Tacoronte. Age: 11 
Yasser Perodín Almanza. Age: 11 
Eliécer Suárez Plasencia. Age: 12 
Mayulis Méndez Tacoronte. Age: 17 
Miladys Sanabria Leal. Age: 19 
Joel García Suárez. Age: 20 
Odalys Muñoz García. Age: 21 
Yalta Mila Anaya Carrasco. Age: 22 
Luliana Enríquez Carrazana. Age: 22 
Jorge Gregorio Balmaseda Castillo. Age: 24 
Lissett María Alvarez Guerra. Age: 24 
Ernesto Alfonso Loureiro. Age: 25 
María Miralis Fernández Rodríguez. Age: 27 
Leonardo Notario Góngora. Age: 28 
Jorge Arquímedes Levrígido Flores. Age: 28 
Pilar Almanza Romero. Age: 31 
Rigoberto Feu González. Age: 31 
Omar Rodríguez Suárez. Age: 33 
Lázaro Enrique Borges Briel. Age: 34 
Julia Caridad Ruíz Blanco. Age: 35 
Martha Caridad Tacoronte Vega. Age: 35 
Eduardo Suárez Esquivel. Age: 38 
Martha Mirella Carrasco Sanabria. Age: 45 
Augusto Guillermo Guerra Martínez. Age: 45 
Rosa María Alcalde Puig. Age: 47 
Estrella Suárez Esquivel. Age: 48 
Reynaldo Joaquín Marrero Alamo. Age: 48 
Amado González Raices. Age: 50 
Fidencio Ramel Prieto Hernández. Age: 51 
Manuel Cayol. Age: 56 

 *We pray for Elie Wiesel and thank him bearing witness for victims of oppression and injustice