Visiting activists share Cuba's human rights plight
April 20, 2013
By Jasmine Rogers (firstname.lastname@example.org) , The Marietta Times
Cuba is only 90 miles from the shores of the U.S., but many more miles
away in terms of human rights, a group of visiting activists shared with
more than 100 area college students during a visit to Marietta this week.
The group will share more during a forum at 8 p.m. Saturday at
Washington State Community College. The event is free and open to the
Activists John Suarez, Laido Carro and Anna Lee shared stories of
torture, suspicious deaths of those who questioned the government and
indoctrination beginning at birth for Cuban residents.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Human rights advocates Laida Carro, left, and John Suarez, center, speak
with Professor Tanya Wilder at Washington State Community College
Friday. Along with activist Anna Lee, not pictured, the group spoke with
college students Thursday and Friday about human rights violations
taking place in Cuba, just 90 miles off the U.S. coast.
Cuba has been under a totalitarian regime for more than 50 years, said
Carro, who left Cuba along with her family at the age of 12, shortly
after Fidel Castro took the reigns of government. His younger brother,
Raul, is now in power, and the government has long denied many of the
human rights violations of which it is accused.
The systematic indoctrination of the Cuban people begins incredibly
young, with government-paid school teachers manipulating children to
believe in the Castros, but not a god, said Carro.
"The government considers religion a threat to its power," she said.
If you go:
What: Cuba: A Forum on Human Rights; The Evergreen Arts and Humanities
Series sponsored by Washington State Community College continues its
discussion of Cuban human rights violations.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Washington State's Graham Auditorium.
Cost: Free and open to the public.
Details: Features John Suarez, the International Secretary for the Cuban
Democratic Directorate; Anna Lee, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide
advocacy officer for Latin America; and Laida Carro, president of the
Coalition of Cuban-American Women and a Cuban exile.
Laida painted a chilling picture of a teacher who asks her young
students to close their eyes and pray to god for candy. When they open
their eyes, there is no candy.
"Then she says, 'Now close your eyes and pray to (the Castros) for a
candy.' And she goes around and sits a candy on each desk, and when they
open them, what do they think? Isn't that horrendous to manipulate the
mind of a child in such a manner?" asked Carro, the president of the
Coalition of Cuban-American Women.
The group met with nearly 150 students from Washington State during four
discussion groups Thursday, said professor Tanya Wilder, chair of the
Evergreen Arts and Humanities series, which sponsored the discussions
and upcoming forum.
"Some of the students were psychology students and we talked about a
psychiatric hospital where 26 patients died of exposure because the
building had no windows and they did nothing to protect them from the
cold," said Suarez, the International Secretary of the Cuban Democratic
As the discussions continued Friday at Marietta College, Suarez told
students and community members in attendance that his group works to
raise awareness about the torture and suspicious deaths that often
befall Cubans considered rebellious, and keeps the lines of
communication open by broadcasting a radio program into Cuba.
"The government tries to jam us so we can't get our messages out, and we
keep having to find different frequencies," he told the 20 or so in
Marietta College junior Lilen Gil-Nicolas left Cuba at the age of 4 and
said she has often encountered people who have misconceptions about the
country of her birth.
"People will tell me it's such a great country. It's such a beautiful
country. But I don't feel that way about Cuba. I think about all the
human rights violations taking place," she said.
Lee spoke about what she believes is the extent of religious persecution
in the country. Only 2 percent of residents said they identified with a
religion in the 1960s, said Lee.
Now those numbers have increased, but the government has allowed only a
half dozen churches to be built in the past 50 years and restricts old
churches from doing any repair work, meaning that people are often
forced to form their own home churches, which is illegal, said Lee, the
Christian Solidarity Worldwide Advocacy officer for Latin America.
"After a lifetime of you and your family being threatened because you
practice a religion, what do you do? Do you stay and continue to put
those around you in danger or do you renounce your religion?" she asked
One group that refuses to renounce their religion are the Ladies in
White, a group of Cuban women who formed in 2003 when hundreds of their
husbands, sons and brothers were branded counter-revolutionists and
taken into custody, said Suarez.
They marched to church service dressed in white, raising enough
international press to pressure the Cuban government into releasing
their loved ones, and now they continue to march every Sunday demanding
that all political prisoners in Cuba are freed, he said.
But the Ladies in White withstand significant threats and beatings,
according to the activists. Founder Laura Pollan died suspiciously in
2011, with one doctor labeling her death as "purposeful medical
neglect," said Suarez.
One pastor, who attempted to file legal documents against the state for
persecution, was beaten until he had brain damage, added Lee.
But there are lots of ways people can get involved, she added. On her
group's website people can find out how to write letters to those in
Cuba, which gives them hope and also lets the Cuban government known
that they have allies and are being watched over, she said."