STORIES OF ELIAN’S CUBA, PART I
These individual stories extracted from information sent from Cuba at great risk by independent Cuban journalists living there, paint a much more accurate picture of Elian’s Cuba than the incomplete and misleading reports of foreign journalists accredited by the Castro regime. All who are acquainted with Castro’s blackmail of the foreign press, know that if they report reality they are immediately expelled from the island and their future requests to enter Cuba will be denied. Therefore, most foreign reporters cooperate. This renders a disservice to the public and to the suffering Cuban people.
(Diario Las Americas, June 24, 1999, by Jorge Olivera, Nueva Prensa Cubana) In the western province of Pinar del Río, at the infamous Kilometer Five-and-a-Half Prison, two prisoners with AIDS, Jorge Luis Porras and Juan Carlos Gómez were confined in punishment cells for requesting medical attention. Gómez has mutilated himself to protest the psychological torture administered to Porras and himself. Both men contemplated suicide to end their suffering.
(Ricardo Rodríguez Bosh, delegate of the Pro-Human Rights Party – affiliated with the Andrei Sakharov Foundation – July 8, 1999) In the coastal town of Puerto Padre in the eastern province of Las Tunas, 419 miles from Havana, a group of about 6,000 townspeople bitterly protested against the Castro regime’s coast guard ramming of a small boat filled with 15 people trying to escape to the U.S.
Castro’s coast guard harassed the unarmed people and opened fire hitting the gas tank of the flimsy boat. The witnesses on shore were defiantly shouting "Freedom, Democracy!" to the authorities and kept up their vigil the entire night of July 6 to prevent further abuses. To prohibit more townspeople from joining the protest, the police blocked the streets leading to the waterfront. The military took control of the town but the next day anti-Castro graffiti appeared on nearby streets. The 15 people were apprehended and brutally beaten by State Security (SS) police. A woman was in critical condition and others suffered broken ribs. They were taken to an SS jail in the town of Victoria de Las Tunas.
Unable to deny the protests at Puerto Padre, Castro’s regime tried to put a "spin" on the incident. On July 8, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, while denying the use of force, confirmed that a group of people had tried to escape unsuccessfully two days earlier. Contrary to thousands of witness accounts he said, "There have not been any disruptions" in the town.
On July 11, the French Association Europeenne Cuba Libre in Paris, denounced the hundreds of arrests by the SS in the town of Puerto Padre because of this incident. They said that the townspeople were being victimized by a "repressive operation under the direct command of Gen. Ulises Rosales del Toro and the direct supervision of Fidel Castro." They deplored and condemned "those grave violations on the part of the totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro."
(Cuba Free Press, July 16, 1999, by Ramón Humberto Colás Castillo) The firing squads have been at work in the eastern province of Las Tunas. In the first two weeks of June, the death sentence was carried out on Boris Serrano Cañizares, a young man charged with four murders. This was the fourth execution in this province recently. There are more than ten other people sentenced to death. "Las Tunas has a population of little more than 500,000 inhabitants and the crime rate is very high if one takes into account that more than one per 100,000 citizens have been sentenced to death," the report concludes.
(Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin, July 19, 1999) Pro-democracy Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina was "arbitrarily arrested on July 11, 1999, and his whereabouts are now unknown." He is considered a "prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Under harsh new legislation [Law 88] aimed at silencing dissent, he could face a long prison sentence."
Rodriguez Lobaina is the president of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy. He was arrested at the movement coordinator’s home in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. He was arrested because he had begun a hunger strike with a group of pro-democracy activists in Havana. The 40-day hunger strike started on June 7 to demand the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights in Cuba.
He was arrested for political reasons in February and March 1999 and was detained from December 7 to 15, 1998 after "making a personal protest at the Cuban government ‘s refusal to let him leave the country to attend a conference in Paris marking the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." He had previously been arrested in April 1997 and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for "disrespect" and "resisting authority," after criticizing the Fourteenth Youth and Student Festival held in Havana. He was also arrested on June 6, 1996 in connection with the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy’s peaceful attempts to organize an effort for university reform in Havana. He was sentenced to 12 months "restricted liberty," as well as five years of "internal exile" in his hometown of Baracoa in the eastern province of Guantánamo.
(Cuba Free Press, July 26, 1999, by Marvin Hernández Monzón) In the sea port city of Manzanillo, in the eastern province of Granma, the SS police had surrounded the house of Cuba Press’ independent reporter Jesús Labrador Arias since July 23. He was under house arrest to prevent his attendance at the celebration of the anniversary of Castro’s July 26, 1953 failed attack on the Moncada Barracks. More than six times in anticipation of this date, SS police visited his home to warn him not to go out and not to make any protest signs. During the celebration day, three SS police kept watch of his house.
(CubaNet, July 30, 1999, by Reinaldo Cosano Allen, President of the Cuban Democratic Coalition) On July 15, 1999, in the town of Florida in the eastern province of Camagüey, an Italian citizen (name was not reported) and Tina, his black Cuban wife were forcibly evicted from the home they legally bought from Castro’s Housing Department.
Without prior notification, SS police, the Technical Department of Investigations and Housing Department officials violently broke into their house. The huge military operation called the attention of the neighbors and most of the town. Soon thousands were witnessing the incident. They saw the mistreatment the officials were inflecting on the defenseless couple, and how they insulted, pushed and bit them. They witnessed how the officials confiscated all their property in official trucks. By this time, the witnesses began protesting the abuse and screaming insults at Castro’s police and officials.
Tina’s Italian husband threatened the authorities with calling the Italian Embassy. They replied, "We don’t care if you are Italian, complain to whoever you want!" He grabbed his video camera to tape the incident and the authorities took it. He requested its return stating that he has the camera’s property papers, but to no avail. Tina screamed at the authorities, "You are doing this to me because I am black!"
The violent eviction lasted a few hours. Tina and her husband fought to the end until they were forcibly removed from their property. The witnesses were so incensed at the brutality of the authorities that their rage intimidated them. The crowd was dispersed by the use of high-pressure water cannons. Many elderly, woman and children were knocked to the ground.
Lately, thousands of Cubans are being evicted from their homes because Castro’s regime finds its own use for the property or as punishment for pro-democracy activities.
Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
Mr Blazquez is the Producer/Director of the documentaries
COVERING CUBA & CUBA: THE PEARL OF THE ANTILLES