Two leading Cuban dissidents have been threatened and attacked, “by people they took to be intelligence agents in separate incidents on the same day,” AP reports:
Elizardo Sanchez said two plainclothes officials stopped him near his Havana home on Tuesday, shouting physical threats and using crude language. That night, dissident Guillermo Farinas was allegedly attacked by a man with a wooden stick elsewhere in Havana, resulting in light injuries.
The regime is keeping rights activists under intense pressure, with more than 5,600 dissidents, journalists and rights activists arrested or detained between January and the end of October this year, writes Ivette Martinez:
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation recorded 520 detentions in October alone. For the year, the group says it has documented 5,625 cases, which is “consistent with the high level of political repression in Cuba over recent years.”
The Communist authorities yesterday sentenced a labor union activist to two years in prison for his independent organizing activities.
According to Cuba Sindical, González Moreno is 45 years old and was detained on November 15, 2012 at his home located in Concordia # 414 apartment 2 in Central Havana by two plain clothes state security agents who identified themselves as members of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). The following day when his wife went to where her husband was being detained she was told that he would be tried for “Peligrosidad Social” (Social Dangerousness), which indicates that the activist has a predilection to in a possible future commit a crime against the regime. This law has been used to persecute nonviolent activists.
Swept up in the recent wave of journalistic arrests in Cuba, former political prisoner of conscience Iván Hernández features in a must-see film (above) shot undercover by Al Jazeera, using hidden cameras to portray the experience of Berta Soler, Angel Moya, Antonio Rodiles, Elizardo Sanchez and other leading dissidents.
The film features moving footage from the funeral of Oswaldo Paya and shocking scenes of police attacks on the mourners. It also highlights the work of Rodiles (left), recently interviewed by Ivette Leyva Martinez in Cafe Fuerte, after spending 19 days in detention.
CF: What do you take away from this experience?
AR: I say to my friends and others with whom I have spoken, that my main experience is that at this moment in Cuba there are a great many people who understand that the country has to change, and that people thinking differently, that people having different views of things, political, ideological, is not a reason for people to hate them or to not respect them but, sadly, there is a group of people who up to now have demonstrated that they have carte blanche to use violence, who are committed to creating situations like this one and I think, what’s more, they are committed to creating even more critical situations.
I think it’s very important that all national and international public opinion support civil society activists because these people are not the preponderance of the people in this country.
Following the 2011 economic reforms announced by the Cuban government for the 52nd anniversary of the country’s revolution, there was widespread speculation about the possibility of comparable political reforms that would end the persecution of dissidents and the Communist Party’s grip on power.
But it took a courageous Cuban journalist to make an insightful current affairs programme about it, writes Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter. Today, that journalist, Ivan Hernandez, is in hiding. My first ever attempt to meet up with Ivan in a Havana bar, back in September 2011, failed for fear of being arrested by the political police on his tail. I was on a tourist visa and aware that any encounter with political dissidents could mean immediate expulsion from the country and a permanent ban from returning. To Fidel Castro, Ivan is a “counter-revolutionary” working for the American right-wing Cuban lobby. In reality, Ivan is just an independent freelance journalist, albeit one with a very critical view of the Cuban Revolution.
But in 2003, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring against the government and publishing “false information”. He was sent to a high security compound, isolated in an individual cell and deprived of contact with anyone other than his guards for months on end. His crime was merely to write reports about how difficult life was for the ordinary Cuban.
I was impressed by Ivan’s determination. I thought that following him undercover as we contacted other political dissidents and victims of state-sponsored violence could illustrate what it is like to be critical of Fidel Castro in Cuba today. Ivan liked the idea and we worked out a way to make it happen without being arrested. …..
From the start, Ivan warned me that one-out-of-every-five Cubans is suspected of being a police informer and that few people can be absolutely trusted. He said we needed to film with mini hidden cameras and concoct a plausible cover story for me, the foreigner in the team. We established a security protocol by which if the dissident with the camera did not report back to one of us within a specified period of time, we had to assume that he had been detained. We had a network of pre-determined “safe houses” and arrangements to call each other using public phones at a given time.
I taught Ivan some counter-surveillance techniques learned by covering other conflicts but he was well used to this himself.
Filming with Berta Soller, the leader of the Ladies in White protest movement, was one of our first tasks. Aware that her apartment was under constant surveillance we used a key-fob camera to get shots as we walked up to her building, although as it turned out, our work was made easier by the fact that too many policemen and “local informers” could be persuaded to look the other way for $5.
Then we took the decision to meet Antonio Rodiles, a 40-year-old with a degree in Physics who had left Cuba for work and had chosen to return to defy the government’s censorship from within. In 2010, Antonio founded Estado de SATS, or State of SATS. “SATS” is a Scandinavian word that refers to the instant just before the actor has to face the audience or the runner hears the bang. The moment of greatest concentration, the adrenaline rush that precedes an explosion. State of SATS is “an initiative of young artists, intellectuals and professionals in search of a better reality”. The best known work of SATS are the film-debates, produced in Antonio’s own home, that circulate with great success on Cuba’s alternative information networks.
But Antonio’s home was surrounded by CCTV cameras. Once inside the house, we went to check the backyard, which overlooks the sea, and as we were unpacking Antonio pointed out the CCTV cameras that could possibly be filming us. Ivan continued filming on his own until July 22.
That day, Oswaldo Paya, one of the most prominent dissidents, was killed in a car crash that his daughter claimed was “not an accident”. Ivan and I met. He wanted to film the funeral. He said it could turn into a demonstration. Knowing that I was now suspected we realised that if I went there after what happened, we risked losing everything we had filmed. So Ivan volunteered.
Two weeks later, I got the footage from a colleague who had gone to Cuba as a tourist to pick it up. I emailed Ivan to confirm that I had received it. But he did not reply. His phone was permanently “out of range”. I can only assume he is still in hiding. Then on November 8, Antonio Rodiles, one of our main interviewees, was arrested and detained.
This film, which will probably go to air as Antonio is in a cell for daring to speak his mind, will no doubt confirm the government’s suspicions of him – but like all the dissidents we spoke to in our film, he would not have had it any other way. Only by speaking out, they say, will Cubans bring change to their country.