HAVANA TIMES, Dec 10 — Following the release of the political prisoners and the commutation of all death sentences, Cuban human rights groups opposed to the government are confronting their greatest national and international isolation in the last 10 years.
The Catholic Church ended its involvement in the process of the release of political prisoners, while Amnesty International (AI) no longer includes the name of any Cuban on its lists of prisoners of conscience.
To reverse the situation, for Human Rights Day (December 10) the Cuban opposition is organizing some public activities in Santa Clara and Havana, while other exile organizations plan to approach the capital’s coast in a flotilla to launch fireworks.
Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Human Rights Commission, and Berta Soler, the leader of the “Ladies in White” (Damas de Blanco), believe that nothing has changed, while questioning the positions of both the Catholic Church and Amnesty International.
However, they have no hope that there will be political change during the lifetime of the generation that carried out the revolution.
In 2010, Raul Castro reached an agreement with the Catholic Church and the government of Spain whereby he freed the political prisoners, including all those included on the list of “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International. Most of them left Cuba.
However, according to Elizardo Sanchez, there still remain “52 political prisoners [being held] for crimes against the state.” Meanwhile Berta Soler assures us that “there are about 80 prisoners,” though she acknowledges “we don’t have the exact figure.”
The spokesperson for the Ladies in White explained to us that her group has extended the concept and that now, for example, “We believe that a political prisoner also includes someone who steals a boat to leave the country, because they’re stealing something from the government.”
Sanchez, on the other hand, asserts that the authorities are using a new tactic based on short-term arrests, indicating that “this week between 100 and 120 opponents were detained,” though they were released a few hours or a few days later.
“A CLOSED CHAPTER”
Both nationally and internationally, the massive prisoner release had a devastating effect on the opposition. At the end of October, Cardinal Jaime Ortega told reporters that the issue of political prisoners “is now a closed chapter” to the Catholic Church.
For its part, Amnesty International has no Cuban on its list of prisoners of conscience and it refuses to include some of those who were released, as proposed by Elizardo Sanchez, who maintains that they are “on parole.”
“There’s some inconsistency among our friends at Amnesty International by leaving off of their list of prisoners of conscience the 16 former inmates who were not released unconditionally,” Sanchez, the president of the opposition Human Rights Commission, told the BBC.
For her part, Berta Soler said the cardinal should remember that “the Catholic Church has a social doctrine that must be respected,” adding that, “The Ladies in White will continue knocking on his door to report the problems our prisoners have.”
THE PEOPLE IN THE GRANDSTANDS?
The two activists affirm that the dissident movement is growing, though they can’t cite the total number of activists. Berta is satisfied because the number of Damas de Blanco grew in eight years from 12 to 115, despite “Cubans being afraid.”
Sanchez adds that many citizens do not join the opposition due to a particular characteristic of the Cuban people. “If we were like Colombians or Salvadorans, this government would no longer exist; they’re rebellious peoples – we’re not.”
Sanchez says that ever since the colonial era, “We’ve been an exceedingly peaceful people with an enormous capacity for endurance. Most people remain in the grandstands, clapping and whistling, but chasing after the ball isn’t in our nature.”
He concluded saying that changes could only come after the death of the guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra. “I don’t think we have the strength to force the government to introduce reforms. We’ll have to wait until the historic generation leaves.”
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by Cartas Desde Cuba.