Concerted crackdown on civil society in the wake of Castro's death
Since 18th December, Cuban authorities have raided the homes of 21 activists affiliated with civic group UNPACU (Patriotic Union of Cuba). In addition, an initial 12-day sentence imposed on UNPACU member Lisandra Rivera Rodriguez was extended to three months, allegedly because she refused to be “re-educated,” according to the group’s national coordinator, who said that re-education means “singing slogans in favor of the regime”.
According to the 2016 annual report by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, 9,351 arbitrary detentions took place last year, most of them related to human rights work. The report details that 138 UNPACU members were arbitrarily detained during the last week of the year alone.
On 4th January, government forces raided the home of Leticia Ramos, a member of the opposition group Damas de Blanco, and beat her son, brother and other family members. Ramos was not at home during the raid, but was later arrested and interrogated when she went to the prison to complain. “They threatened me that if I did not retire from the Ladies in White, they would take me to prison,” she reported.
Political opposition groups were prevented from gathering to protest to mark Human Rights Day on 10th December. Members of the organisation Damas de Blanco were not allowed to march and their office was placed under surveillance. Additionally, ten members of the group were arrested on 11th December in an effort to prevent them from resuming their regular anti-government marches which take place every Sunday. These form part of the campaign known as #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) that brings together 15 different opposition groups and movements.
Numerous members of Damas de Blanco were arrested in Havana and Matanzas on 2nd January as they traveled to attend the annual Mass for Peace, according to the group’s leader, Berta Soler. The arrestees, including Ramos, Soler and Soler’s husband Angel Moya, were charged with attempting to “participate in a provocation.” On the same day, however, thousands of troops and citizens marched in Havana’s Revolutionary Square to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the landing of the ship that brought the Castro brothers to Cuba. The march is usually held every five years on 2nd December, but this year it was postponed to 2nd January due to Fidel Castro’s death in November.
Más de 150 detenidos en Cuba en el día de los derechos humanos https://t.co/D0Ws6fc9wg— Human Rights in Cuba (@FHRCuba) December 27, 2016
On 26th November, Danilo Maldonaldo Machado, a prominent graffiti artist known as “El Sexto”, was arrested at his home several hours after a live broadcast following the death of Fidel Castro, during which he had shouted “Abajo Fidel! Abajo Raul!” (Down with Fidel! Down with Raul!). Although no charges have been filed and there is no official record of his detention, a plainclothes police officer reportedly told Machado’s mother that he was being taken to Villa Marista, a state security prison. He had been previously arrested in May 2015 after staging an art show that featured two live pigs with the words “Fidel” and “Raul” painted on them. Kimberley Motley, an American human rights lawyer representing Machado, was arrested upon her arrival in Havana on 16th December.
On 24th December independent journalist Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca was attacked in the street and his shoulder was broken. He was apparently targeted in retaliation for his work with the Forum for Rights and Freedoms and his participation in the campaign #TodosMarchamos. The attack was preceded by repeated text message threats directed at Valle Roca and his wife.
Over the past few months, members of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia have been subpoenaed, interrogated and threatened, according to the magazine’s director. In the latest incident, on 11th January, the magazine director Karina Galvez was arrested following a raid on her home, which also serves as the magazine’s headquarters.