Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thinking of Cuba on International Human Rights' Day

Thinking of Cuba on International Human Rights' Day
By Cuba Archive Friday, December 10, 2010

Summit, New Jersey. December 10, 2010. Today marks the anniversary of
the United Nations' General Assembly's adoption of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. As the world celebrates the
primacy of human rights, Cuba ignores their most basic and universally
accepted standards. Among the long list of violations, countless
thousands languish in the tropical gulag for "crimes" unique to
totalitarian regimes. In Cuba, distributing the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights or trying to escape the country are punished with years of

Around 5,000 are believed to be in jail for pre-criminal "dangerousness"
to the socialist order. Many thousands are held for "crimes" related to
economic activities the government does not control—in other words,
pretty much everything. Meanwhile, Cuba refuses international
accountability or monitoring.

As we celebrate human rights and the holidays, Harold Alcalá Aramburo,
Age 30, Yoanny Thomas González, Age 31, Ramón Henry Grillo, Age 36, and
Maikel Delgado Aramburo, Age 36, are serving the eighth year of their
life sentences. Their crime? Hijacking a passenger ferry to try to flee
the island-prison; to the government this constitutes "very grave acts
of terrorism." Wilmer Ledea Pérez was only 19 when he participated in
the hastily planned escape; he still has 23 years to go of his 30-year

Three of the asylum-seeking group paid with their lives. On April 11th
2003, Enrique Copello Castillo, Age 23, Bárbaro Leodan Sevilla García,
Age 22, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, Age 40, were executed by firing
squad. We have recently been in touch with one of the mothers. Still
devastated by her loss, she decries the international community's
failure to hold Cuba accountable for such injustice and pleads that we
remember the four young men wasting away in Cuba's dungeons. She
relates how the sentences were delivered a mere five days after their
escape attempt was foiled. Two days later, without warning or allowing
farewells, they were taken from their cells the early morning hours and
executed. Their families received a 6AM call to go to the cemetery for
the funeral. When they arrived, they had already been buried. The
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights detailed the procedural abuses
lacking minimum guarantees of due process and denounced the "arbitrary
deprivation of life." Many governments, world leaders, and
international organizations strongly condemned this barbarity. Yet,
doing business with the dictatorship and engaging its leadership remains
the order of the day.

Article 215 of Cuba's Penal Code forbids citizens from leaving without
government permission. Even helping those planning to do so calls for
years of prison; if property is stolen in the process, this is
punishable with death. With no prospects for a decent life in Cuba, many
want to leave. Since all property is in state hands, vessels must be
taken to escape. Cuba Archive has documented 13 executions and 142
extrajudicial killings for exit attempts; many more are feared.
Thousands have died or disappeared at sea.

The 2003 executions coincided with the Black Spring crackdown. The world
distracted with a starting Iraq war, the Cuban government arrested 75
peaceful dissidents and sentenced them to up to 28 years of prison. Many
of these prisoners of conscience became internationally renowned and
have thankfully been recently released, though exiled. But, the regime's
most recent image makeover cannot silence their testimony. Many had
already been reporting from prison on the abhorrent conditions, the
abuses against prisoners, and the alarming rate of self-mutilation and
death among the excessively large prison population, the majority very
young. See some shocking accounts on the Committee to Protect
Journalists' page

Cuba Archive has documented 1,045 deaths in prison to date. This number
includes 138 deaths since 2003 –killings by guards, deaths from
medical negligence, and suicide- with reports coming from just around
20% of the total number of prisons on the island. Most of the courageous
men willing to risk these testimonies from inside the gulag are now in
exile. They have given us a small window into this horrendous and dark
world. Let us not forget the common humanity of its victims—not today,
not any day.

See for details on Cuba Archive's Truth and Memory
Project on deaths and disappearances resulting from the Cuban
Revolution. Search the electronic database of cases and please support
this work. For additional information, contact (973)701-0520.

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