State reportedly kept independent candidates off the ballot in municipal elections
In the weeks leading up to the 26th November municipal elections, there were reports of independent candidates and activists being harassed or detained by authorities to keep them from participating in the election. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were at least 300 people temporarily held by security forces, seven incidents of violence, and at least 25 instances of activists being harassed in the month before the election. According to Manuel Cuesta Morúa, the director of Otro 18, one potential candidate was tricked into thinking a package was waiting for him at a nearby building. When he went to retrieve it, the police held him for several hours thus making him miss the candidate nomination meeting. Another candidate was placed under house arrest for allegedly stealing less than a dollar’s worth of corn. Diario de Cuba reported that dissident groups were unable to add any of their candidates to the ballots.
For eight consecutive Sundays, members of Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) were prevented and disrupted from participating in silent marches in cities across the country. The women activists, as reported on the Monitor, have been routinely denied access to churches; assaulted and detained by security forces; and fined before being released. In several recent instances, the authorities surrounded the group’s headquarters in Havana to intimidate the women from participating in their Sunday demonstrations.
Berta Soler, one of the group’s leaders, has been repeatedly beaten and arrested, often before the marches take place. On 30th October, for example, Soler was one of 59 women detained in Havana, Matanzas, Palma Soriano and other locations, after attending mass and attempting to march. Diario de Cuba reported that human rights activists Bartolo Castillo and Ángel Moya were also arrested during the same roundup.
In another example, at least 30 Ladies in White in different cities were prevented by security officers from attending mass on 10th December. Anticipating the women’s actions, security forces blocked them from entering the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Cárdenas.
Diario de Cuba reported in December 2017 that Adonis Milan, the director of the Persephone Theater in Havana and a member of Asociacion Hermanos Saiz, was called in for interrogation at the police station. Milan stated that he was approached by security agents with an offer to become an informant on artists in exchange for state-sponsored financial support. “They wanted me to inquire about their [the artists'] economic sources because they said that someone abroad produced these dissident activities, an entity that united the artists, activists and opponents against the Castro government,” Milan wrote on the 14YMedio website. Under duress, he reluctantly signed a document stating he would work for the security services.
On 9th December 2017, a reporter with Diario de Cuba was arrested and interrogated by police as he attempted to drive from Guantanamo province. Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez claims he was stopped at a checkpoint and taken to a detention center. "They took me," he said, "to a small room…after about 25 minutes a police officer came and told me I could go but I could not leave the province, and they told me that if I got caught again, the treatment would be different". Velázquez was arrested at the same checkpoint in September 2017.
Jesús Ernesto Álvarez Carcassés of Palenque Visión says he was interrogated about his work, had his phone and other possessions taken away, and was told to confess to the charge of “public disorder,” before being released on 29th November. He refused, telling them he was “doing journalism, which is not a crime,” but was still temporarily imprisoned for four days. This is not the first time Palenque Visión has been targeted by authorities. According to Diario de Cuba, the media organization has had at least 15 reporters and photographers arrested or harassed by security forces, and had “seven video cameras, nine laptops, five tripods, 11 smartphones, four microphones” seized. In December 2017, for example, two of their reporters were interrogated by security agents in separate incidents. Yaremis Buqueriget Sicías, detained in Guantánamo on December 10, said she and her family were indirectly threatened by security agents, that her phone and other work equipment taken, and that she was marked as “pre-criminal dangerous”. Another reporter, Yisel Aguilar Aguilera was also stopped in Guantánamo by security agents, interrogated, and was told not leave the area after being released.
On 6th November, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested in Old Havana before they could hold a press conference about the postponed Havana Biennial Art Show. Along with having his art studio raided by state security, Alcántara was accused of being in “illicit possession of construction materials”. The artists were attempting to promote an unofficial, grassroots art show because the official Biennial was postponed due to budgetary concerns following the damage caused by Hurricane Irma.