Havana, Cuba (PanAm) – While President Barack Obama reviews options to ease the trade and financial embargo on Cuba, the Cuban police are busy arresting dissidents for political reasons almost daily.
Since August 14, when the US flag was raised over the Havana embassy once again, Cuban security forces have conducted 1,403 “arbitrary arrests,” according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami.
The ICCAS report released on November 6 claims that Cuban authorities made 647 political arrests in July, 768 in August, and 882 in September.
Police detained these activists for various reasons, including holding pro-freedom events on Fidel Castro’s birthday, protesting the opening of the US embassy, attending mass, and calling for human rights with messages written on a bed sheet.
The report, which draws on monthly data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), identifies the city where each arrest took place, the names of the arrested activists, the alleged crime, and the name of the source.
Among the thousands targeted, the document claims that police harassed Wilberto Parada Milán of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) on August 14, and warned him not to leave his house in Havana to protest against the opening of the US embassy.
It further alleges that Cuban intelligence agents, dressed up as civilians, beat up Marcelino Abreu Bonora of the Civic Action Front, and told him they had orders to do it again if he approached Plaza Ernesto Guevara.
Others included independent journalists Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and Yasel Rivero Boni, who spent five hours in jail for taking pictures of a fallen wall. Police also detained Javier Joss Varona of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) for two days, because they suspected he could “illegally” travel out of the country.
The report lists other reasons activists were arrested, including trying to attend Pope Francis’s mass, denouncing the living conditions of a mother of three at the Communist Party’s provincial office, and being married to a dissident woman.
Torture Center for Dissidents
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White dissident group, tells the PanAm Post that Cuban police can detain citizens for hours for almost any reason.
“In Cuba, you can get arrested if they catch you talking about human rights with someone, or if they see you handing out anti-government flyers,” she says.
The Ladies in White group was among several other dissident organizations that Cuban police prevented from attending the pope’s mass in late September.
Soler spends time in jail almost every Sunday, along with her fellow Ladies in White, for taking part in the We All March campaign, calling for an end to arbitrary detentions, the release of all political prisoners, and free and plural elections.
The dissident leader has no doubt that the state’s repression of activists has escalated since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations last December: “In September, there were hundreds of dissidents arrested who wanted to attend the pope’s mass.”
The crackdown has been so intense that some Ladies in White activists have had to make frequent trips to the hospital to treat injuries suffered at the hands of police, she explains.
Soler claims that Cuban agents have also transformed a police-training building into a detention and torture center for Ladies in White members. “How is this possible? These detentions are so arbitrary,” she concludes.
Tension with the United States
The rise in suppression by the Cuban regime has not gone unnoticed with US officials, even if it muddies the outlook of the shift towards diplomacy. On Saturday, November 14, US blogger and human-rights advocate Bob Satawake spoke in Santo Domingo, and he shared his disappointment with the development.
The husband of the US ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Satawake addressed human rights in the Caribbean before an audience of the International Federation of Liberal Youth, and he noted that he won’t give his money to or visit countries that violate specific human rights.
Satake was unsure as to why the “extraordinarily frustrating” suppression had been on the rise in Cuba, but he still described the past lack of diplomatic relations as a “horribly failed policy for 50 years.” Furthermore, he saw glimpses of improvements in other areas and said that “nothing happens overnight.”
Fergus Hodgson contributed to this article.