In a post-Castro era with a new president, what has changed for Cuban activists and opposition?

A new, post-Castro era begins

As reported on the Monitor, on 11th March 2018 Cubans voted for their representatives in the National Assembly who then elected Miguel Diaz-Canel as the country's new president on 19th April. After almost six decades of Castro family rule, the country will now be led by someone not related to the Castros.

Association 

Travel bans to silence critics

In this new political era, activists, journalists, artists and other Cubans are still routinely prevented from traveling outside of the country. On 27th April, for example, author Ángel Santiesteban was detained while boarding a flight at José Martí International Airport. The writer was attempting to participate in a literary event at Sergio Arboleda University in Colombia but was told by State Security forces that he was being “regulated” and thus not permitted to travel.

In a similar case, three activists invited to participate in the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Cuba in Geneva, Switzerland were prevented from leaving the country. Juan Antonio Madrazo and Marthadela Tamayo (Committee for Racial Integration), and Dora Leonor Mesa (Cuban Association for Early Childhood Education) were stopped while preparing to leave the country on 12th April. Madrazo told 14ymedio that he had been informed by the Immigration Citizenship Office that his “regulation” period had already ended, so he did not understand why there was an ongoing travel ban. After learning he would not be permitted to board the plane, he gave his computer and notes to his colleague Tamayo, who then had her passport seized by agents and was told that she also could not leave the country. It has also been reported that government agents also prevented Daisy Artiles, with the organisation Damas de Blanco, from traveling to Geneva to speak at the same UN event.

On 23rd April, journalist Boris González and attorney Wilfredo Vallín, president of the Legal Association of Cuba, were traveling to Mexico to attend a meeting of the Democratic Action Unit Table but were stopped by security at the airport. One day later, Jorge Luis García Pérez, a prominent leader of the National Front of Civic Resistance Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was prevented from traveling to Norway to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum. He told Martí Noticias that “high-level political police officers showed up at my home to tell me that State Security had decided to forbid my participation”.

Petitioning and striking against the travel bans

In response to the government’s widespread use of a travel bans to silence critics, two activists filed a formal complaint with the General Prosecutor’s Office on 23rd May. The complaint, which included the list of all the activists who have been unable to leave the country, was filed by Moisés Leonardo Rodríguez and Iliana Hernández, director of Lente Cubano. According to 14ymedio, the complaint must be answered within 60 days according to the country’s constitution which dictates that “every citizen has the right to address complaints and petitions to the authorities and receive attention or pertinent answers”.

On 23rd May, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) was arrested after declaring a hunger strike at the Frank País Airport in Holguín to bring attention to the use of travel bans as to silence critics. In a recording, José Daniel Ferrer García explained that he was "protesting the constant violation of the right to travel, to leave and freely enter the country”. He also expressed frustration with the government preventing eight other members of UNPACU from traveling overseas. Ferrer, who was trying to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum, was released later that day.

Harsh punishment for dissidents 

The government has suspended family visits to Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) leader Eduardo Cardet, who has been in jail since November 2016. According to the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, he has been denied visits because the government claims that his family is "spreading false news" about the case. "This is a new arbitrariness against Eduardo and I seriously fear for his physical integrity," said his wife. Cardet has been targeted for his promotion of the project 'A Cuban, a vote' for a new electoral law, which the MCL activists themselves were personally delivering to deputies in the National Assembly.

In advance of May Day celebrations, media reported that the government rounded up several dissidents in Havana and Santiago de Cuba to ensure they could not disrupt the state-sponsored parades. This included Eliezer Llorente, the son of the man who was arrested for waving a USA flag during last year’s parade. Llorente told 14ymedio, “I was detained for two days and the first 24 hours I refused to eat, but on Monday after seeing the police investigator, and when I knew they were going to release me early Tuesday, I had lunch,” he said. His father, Daniel Llorente, was also released a week after May Day. His wife told 14ymedio that her husband had begun a hunger strike after hearing that his son had been arrested. Daniel Llorente described his ordeal to the media and thanked everyone who had supported him while he was in detention.

Peaceful Assembly

Las Damas de Blanco continue to be attacked and arrested by state security agents for their silent marches in support of political prisoners. Former political prisoner Ángel Moya, husband of the group’s leader Berta Soler, reported that agents had surrounded the group’s headquarters in Havana and the homes of several of the group's members, including María Cristina Labrada, Deysi Artiles and Cecilia Guerra, and that they have suspended the #TodosMarchamos campaign until all members have been released. Soler, a frequent target of the government, was also arrested on 22nd May but was released after being detained for ten hours.

On 12th May, Cuba’s LGBTI community and its supporters marched in Havana against homophobia. Thousands attended the event, one of many that took place to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro and director of the country’s National Sexual Education Centre, participated in the parade.

Expression

On 18th May, state security agents arrested two reporters who were near the site of an Air Cuba plane crash. Independent journalists Augusto César San Martín and Rudy Cabrera say they had come to see the crash site and were not there in an official capacity, but that did not stop security from confiscating their phones and cameras and fining each of  them for "transgressing the security limits”.

On 7th May, a collection of young filmmakers, actors, photographers, and other film-related artists issued a statement criticising the state’s censorship of a movie and other challenges that Cuban filmmakers regularly face. Posted online, the statement, says artists on the island do not accept "zones of silence" and that making films is a “positive gesture” for the people of Cuba. According to 14ymedio, the statement seeks “a Record of the Audiovisual Creator and the Development Fund, in addition to the legalization of independent producers, the enactment of a Film Law or the updating of the curricula and cloisters of teachers of the national system of artistic education”. Nearly 300 established movie directors and other film insiders showed solidarity with their colleagues by signing onto the statement.

On 20th May, a prominent activist was arrested outside her home in Cojímar after she posted an online message. Iliana Hernández, the director Lente Cubano, told 14ymedio that police surrounded her house and arrested her when she left for a hair appointment. The police reportedly tried to take her cell phone, but her mother took it before it was seized. 

On 30th May, the home of independent journalists Amarilis Cortina Rey and José Antonio Fornaris, which also serves as the headquarters of the free press association -  Pro Libertad de Prensa Association (APLP) - was raided and several work-related items were seized by state security agents. Among the items taken were two computers, two external hard drives, twelve USB memory sticks, three printers and dozens of documents. Fornaris was also taken in for questioning by authorities. The two reporters have been frequent targets of the authorities after traveling to Geneva last November to participate in the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba. The APLP is an independent organisation that helps promote freedom of the press and expression on the island.