Cuban dissidents out of prison but not entirely free

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 14, 2015

  • President Obama announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that the U.S. will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, ending a half-century of Cold War estrangement with the Communist nation. This was the result of 18 months of secret talks between the two nations. The sudden and shocking change in policy was announced simultaneously by Obama in Washington and Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana after a phone call between the two leaders and the release of an American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for five years.
  • As part of the policy shift, Obama is easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, including for family visits, official government business and educational activities, and he is seeking to expand economic ties. But normal tourist travel remains banned.
  • It all represents an undertaking by Obama without Congress’ authorization as he begins the final years of his presidency.
  • The U.S., he said, will establish an embassy in Havana, where the old one was shuttered in January 1961 after the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power on Jan. 1, 1959.
  • After Obama’s 2012 reelection, he met with advisers and asked them to “think big” about a second-term agenda, including the possibilities of new starts with longstanding U.S. foes such as Iran and Cuba, The Associated Press reported.
  • But the announcement was greeted with skepticism and disdain by those opposing liberalized contact with communist Cuba.  Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also denounced the rapprochement. “Today’s policy announcement is misguided and fails to understand the nature of the regime in Cuba that has exerted its authoritarian power over the Cuban people for 55 years,” said Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants. (from nydailynews)

haydee.gallardo.cuba

Haydee Guallardo, a member of Ladies in White group, who had been imprisoned as a political prisoner, talks following her release from prison in Cuba.

(by Daniel Trotta and Rosa Tania Valdes, Reuters) Havana — Most of the 53 Cuban political prisoners released from jail under a controversial U.S.-Cuba accord remain bound to the communist “justice” system under conditions that could easily return them to prison, dissident leaders say.

While they doubt Cuba’s communist government would risk its rapprochement with the United States by putting former prisoners back behind bars, they say the 53 released are not entirely free.

“It was done with the sword of Damocles hanging over them,” said Rafael Molina, a leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the country’s largest dissident organization.

About one-third of the 38 people released last week are subject to “conditional release,” meaning they must periodically report to the courts supervising their cases, said the dissident Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Another third were released on parole, requiring them to serve out their terms outside prison but unable to leave the country, it said.

Others were simply freed pending trial, with charges still intact, or had their sentences altered.

Virtually all can be returned to jail for minor offenses and some say they were told to stay away from opposition politics.

“None of them have unconditional freedom. None of them,” said Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the commission, although he added he did not believe the government would harass them.

Haydee Gallardo, 51, and her husband were among those released last week and she took part in a protest march organized by the Ladies in White group over the weekend.

Though she believes she is one of the few to have no conditions set on her release, she says she worries her husband Angel Figueredo, 53, could be returned to jail.

“I don’t think the repression will stop considering that they continue to keep watch over us,” Gallardo told Reuters. “I’m afraid the repression will result in him getting locked up again.”

Figueredo said he was never told what he could or could not do outside of prison, but that he has received more subtle messages. After leaving the Ladies in White march, he said he saw a state security officer whom he recognized, watching from his car. …

Interior Ministry officials historically have told those on parole not to engage in politics, but many have defied the order without consequence, presuming they are protected by their high profiles.

As part of the deal to restore diplomatic relations after five decades of hostility, the U.S. government negotiated the release of 53 people it considered political prisoners.

Cuba had already released 17 of them by the time the deal was announced on Dec. 17 and has since set free the other 36, plus at least two more who were not on the U.S. list.

Cuba’s communist officials have said little but they deny the dissidents qualify as political prisoners, instead dismissing them as a tiny minority of mercenaries working for the United States. …

David Bustamante, 23, was arrested in May after climbing onto his roof and shouting slogans, demanding that Cuba feed its people. He was arrested and held for six months before being convicted of public disorder and disrespecting Cuban authorities. One of the 53 on the U.S. list, he was freed on Dec. 9 on conditional release.

Now, he says, he is subject to a curfew and has been warned not to resume political activism.

“I don’t feel free,” Bustamante told Reuters by telephone. “This is a mockery and it shows they are mocking us. They are snatching our freedom every day because we don’t have freedom of expression.”

Martha Beatriz Roque, 69, has lived under what Cuba calls “extra-penal license,” or parole, for 10 years. She is out of prison but unable to leave Cuba and presumes she is closely watched by communist state security.

“There are a lot of things you can’t do and other things you don’t know whether you can do or not,” Roque told Reuters. “Those under extra-penal license depend on a judge, to whom you have to report regularly. Those on conditional release are constantly responding to the justice system, any time the system decides.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Rosa Tania Valdés; Editing by Kieran Murray)

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Thomson Reuters. Visit the website at Reuters .com.

Questions

1. How many of the thousands of political prisoners held in communist Cuba’s jails were to be released in a secret deal President Obama made with Raul Castro to normalize relations with Cuba?

2. What types of release did the various Cubans imprisoned for opposing Castro’s communist government receive? Be specific.

3. Why was one of the released prisoners, David Bustamante, imprisoned by the government?

4. What does Mr. Bustamante say about his release?

5. What is an extra-penal license?

6. a) Define dissident and political prisoner.
b) Why aren’t Americans ever ‘dissidents’ or ‘political prisoners’?

7. a) Ask a parent to tell you what he/she thinks of President Obama’s decision to go around Congress to normalize relations with Cuba’s communist government.
b) Ask a grandparent to tell you what he/she thinks of President Obama’s decision to go around Congress to normalize relations with Cuba’s communist government.


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Background

cuba map_worldatlasIn 2003, the communist Cuban government arrested, tried, and sentenced 75 individual human rights defenders, librarians, and independent journalists to prison sentences up to 28 years. After this happened, relatives and wives of the imprisoned people decided to form the Cuban Ladies in White organization. Their protest against the Cuban government is always peaceful. They have sent letters to foreign governments as well as Cuban officials, appealing on behalf of their loved ones unfairly sentenced to prison. The Cuban Ladies in White ask for the release of all political prisoners. Though threatened daily, these women have stood strong against the Cuban government and opposition. They remain committed to peaceful advocacy but refuse to back down or give in.

Berta Soler, leader of “The Ladies in White,”Cuba’s biggest dissident group said, “Sadly, President Obama made the wrong decision. The freedom and democracy of the Cuban people will not be achieved through these benefits that he’s giving — not to the Cuban people — but to the Cuban government. The Cuban government will only take advantage to strengthen its repressive machinery, to repress civil society, its people and remain in power.” (read more at: fhrcuba.org)

For more on the Cuban perspective on the release of the political prisoners, visit: