HAVANA TIMES – Loreto Hernandez Garcia and his wife, Donaida Perez Paseiro, were arrested on July 15th 2021 after taking part in the July 11th protests in Placetas, Villa Clara. Loreto suffered preinfarction angina in the first few days of his imprisonment.
After months of waiting, the vice-president of the Cuban Association of Free Yorubas was sentenced to seven years in prison; while his wife was sentenced to eight. Charges against Lorenzo include public disorder and contempt, Donaida was also charged with the crime of attacking an official.
Deteriorating health in prison
Loreto went to jail suffering high blood pressure. In May 2022, he was admitted into the “Arnaldo Milian Castro” Provincial Hospital in Villa Clara, because they suspected he had hepatitis. He stayed there without receiving a medical diagnosis for over a week.
His daughter, Rosabel Sanchez, announced at the time that she couldn’t get into contact with him. “I haven’t been able to see him again, I haven’t been able to speak to him, and we’re here at the hospital waiting, because we want to see him, talk to him on the phone, and hear him say that’s OK.”
In October 2022, given the fact Loreto’s health situation was getting worse, his family and the medical committee that was taking care of him requested a release on license, because his condition was beyond the capability of the prison’s staff. A half year later, the Ministry of Interior and its Prisoners Office denied the request in March 2023.
“This just goes to prove what we already think, that they are slowly killing him. Denying him a release on license is proof that repressive methods employed by the Political Police are above any medical opinion,” Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (also known as “Antunez”, pointed out.
Loreto’s last admission into hospital was on June 12, 2023. He was diagnosed with diabetic polyneuropathy at the Provincial Santa Clara Hospital.
Antunez told independent press that the Cuban authorities were stopping his family from taking food and personal hygiene items to him. He explained that the disease requires a special diet and certain medicines. Furthermore, he added: “[his] lower limbs are very inflamed , he’s not hungey and isn’t receiving proper medical assistance.”
He’s had a fever and headache ever since he was admitted, and he’s refused to eat. The Cuban Government continues to deny family visits.
Punishment, isolation and solitary confinement
There are many complaints about repression against Loreto in prison. In April 2023, the Yoruba priest was blamed for cries of “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) that several inmates shouted during some protests and he was transferred to a punishment cell where he stayed for almost eight hours, after being abused by prison wardens.
“They went to his bed where he was lying down. They threw him from the bed violently and then handcuffed him with his hands behind his back, pushing him violently and chokeholding him to the point of suffocating him towards the punishment cell. There, he was subjected to heavy questioning by high-ranking State Security agents, who told him amidst threats and racially-charged and religious insults: “Look, negro, we’re tired of you shaking up the Prison with this dangerous strike campaign,” a Statement from the Assembly of Cuban Resistance (ARC) read shared by Diario de Cuba.
In an open letter sent from Guajamal Prison, in Villa Clara, Loreto Hernandez reported that prison authorities were repressing him because he is dissident Antunez’s real brother and for expressing his pride at having protested on July 11th.
“To my friends, relatives, supporters, religious brothers, wherever they may be, let them know that Loreto Hernandez Garcia, Oggun Toeye, will never lower the servit and there is no act of torture, humiliation, difficulties – no matter how strong and sophisticated they may be -, that can make me give up, for one of my heroes, Pedro Luis Boitel, once said: “Men won’t give up the struggle when it’s for a just cause,” the prisoner of conscience said.
Human right violations against Loreto have spread further than Cuba’s national borders.
In early 2022, the Global Liberty Alliance Board awarded the Freedom of Conscience Gritó de Baire Award to different religious members in Cuba, including to Loreto Hernandez Garcia and Donaida Perez Pasiero.
Organizations such as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Amnesty International believe the Yoruba leader is a prisoner of conscience and have demanded the Cuban Government release him and give him access to proper medical assistance.
Meanwhile, the US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussein, recalled Loreto in May 2023, on the prisoner’s 52nd birthday.
The US official took to Twitter to express the need for the Cuban authorities to stop discriminatory treatment of Loreto because of his beliefs.
On June 21st 2023, Amnesty International published a statement addressed to President Miguel Diaz-Canel, asking him for Loreto Hernandez Garcia’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as for his wife and everyone else who was imprisoned in Cuba because of their political convictions and participation in the July 11th protests.
The document points out that the Cuban judiciary systematically validates charges on political grounds, without holding trials with the safeguards these should entail.
The organization says that contempt and public disoorder are charges regularly used in Cuba to restrict freedom of speech and peaceful assembly; while charges of attacks and damage caused are used by the Government when trying to repress dissidents.
The NGO Christian Solidarity International also expressed concern for Loreto’s situation and demanded his release in a press release made in London.