in the Venezuelan, Nicaraguan y Cuban dictatorships
Of the total number of political prisoners in the three dictatorships, there are 37 minors held by a single regime. Why has the international community failed to secure their release? This is explained by specialists.
By La Prensa
HAVANA TIMES – At least 1,475 people have been turned into political hostages by three Latin American dictatorships to sustain themselves in power with the support of the armed forces and paramilitary forces. The figure comes from records kept by human rights organizations on the ongoing political and institutional crisis in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, where the dictators share the same method of oppression and human rights violations.
Cuba is the oldest dictatorship in the region and has been persecuting dissidents for decades. On July 11, 2021, Cubans took to the streets fed up with repression and what they received was more persecution and hundreds arrested for political reasons.
Experts, activists, and human rights defenders, consulted by La Prensa, explained that the Cuban dictatorship that has been in power for 63 years is the leader of the group of human rights violating regimes including Venezuela and Nicaragua. Of course, each dictatorship has its own peculiarities; but they employ very similar mechanisms.
In Nicaragua, as of May 31, 2022, 190 people were registered as political prisoners for protesting against the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, according to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners, whose data is accredited by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
In Venezuela, the regime of Nicolas Maduro holds a total of 239 people as political prisoners, according to records reported as of June 20, 2022, by the organization Foro Penal. Of these 239 political prisoners, 109 are civilians and 130 are military.
In Cuba, where the largest number of political prisoners is registered, up to May 31, 2022, 1,046 people are reported to be deprived of their freedom for protesting against the regime of Miguel Diaz-Canel, reveals the latest report of the organization Prisoners Defenders, released last June 8.
In other words, the Cuban dictatorship is the one more willing to put people in prison, followed by Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Such is the cruelty of the Cuban dictatorship, that US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian A. Nichols said this past weekend on his Twitter account, that “more than 550 political prisoners in Cuba have been sentenced to more than 4,000 years combined total in prison for expressing themselves freely. This is unacceptable. We call on the international community to join us in condemning the human rights abuses of the regime #PresosPorQué.” These individuals were prosecuted and convicted following the protests in July 2021.
Cuban activist and president of the organization Movimiento Democracia, Ramon Saul Sanchez, explained to La Prensa that when one talks about political prisoners, we are not only talking about political prisoners, but “about any person who is not willing to support dictators, even when many times they simply remain neutral, without expressing political opinions.”
“That person has already been marked. He or she begins to be watched, besieged, and may eventually, due to any fabrication of a case, which is what has happened with all these political prisoners, end up in prison for many years,” he added.
Evident violations of human rights
In September 2021, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela presented a “harsh” report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in which it concluded that the justice system of Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship facilitated the persecution and torture of opponents and was a key factor in the cover-up of these crimes.
The document presented to the UN Human Rights Council also notes that “the State did not adopt concrete measures to remedy the human rights violations.” The investigation also exposed the systematic use of the repressive apparatus carried out by Maduro’s military state against dissident voices and the complicity of the judicial structure.
In Nicaragua, the Ortega regime currently has 190 people jailed, among these more than 40 correspond to opponents detained from May 2021 onwards, among them seven presidential candidates, under charges of promoting foreign interference to “undermine sovereignty,” under the protection of a law created by the same Nicaraguan regime that typifies these actions as “treason to the homeland.” Ortega has described imprisoned opponents as “criminals,” and “agents of Yankee imperialism.”
Same types of torture
Reports by the civil society organizations, Prisoners Defenders, Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca Más and Foro Penal, reveal that the types of tortures of political prisoners in the prisons in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, respectively, are the same. Among the main ones are physical and psychological torture, verbal abuse, limited water and food, deprivation of medical attention, solitary confinement in punishment cells, beatings, among others.
They also point out that relatives of those imprisoned for political reasons live under constant siege, their houses are under surveillance and besieged. In Cuba, they are not even allowed to go out and “they are seriously threatened with imprisonment.”
Tamara Taraciuk, Acting Director for the Americas of the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), asserted that the cases of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are the examples of dictatorships that we have in the region.
“And those who are in power today (in these three countries) have come to power without having been democratically elected in free elections, and I think that distinguishes them from the rest of the governments in the region where there are perhaps also human rights problems to varying degrees, including cases of governments that come to power after elections and then turn their backs on judicial independence or the independent press or civil society. However, in these cases there is not even an election that has given them legitimacy of origin, to be where they are,” Taraciuk said.
Regarding the charges against opponents and critics of the dictatorships, the lawyer and political scientist, director of the Inter-American Institute for Democracy, Carlos Sanchez Berzain, explained in an op-ed article published in the Argentine digital newspaper Infobae that “the judges and courts of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua hand down sentences on fabricated facts, violating human rights, deliberately suppressing due process, ordering arbitrary detentions and sentencing innocent people to many years in prison to strike fear in the population and placate them to those in power.”
“These ‘crimes against humanity’ against innocents in a ‘situation of vulnerability’ are not the harm of a ‘politically-led judiciary’ but rather victims of ‘judicialized dictatorships,’ in which the pseudo-judicial power is only a branch of the repression and of state terrorism.”
Sanchez Berzain adds that “state terrorism” is “the commission of crimes from the government with the purpose of producing fear or terror in the civilian population in order to hold power. These are common crimes and crimes against humanity, but all aggravated by the position of power.”
“Diaz Canel is the boss”
The use of the justice system by dictatorships to frighten and subjugate the population is not new, but it was not foreseen for the 21st century, the political scientist said. “The Cuban dictatorship since its accession to government in 1959 established executions as a method of terror to wield their power.”
When asked about the similarities between Ortega, Maduro and Diaz-Canel, Sanchez Berzain maintained that “the three are the same and Diaz-Canel is the boss.”
He further thinks that the difference between these three leaders “is simply their nationality,” as regards their political conduct, he said that they are “tyrants who repress their people to remain in power for life.”
“They use the same method, because the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan regimes have been deeply influenced by the Castro family dictatorship, which as we know has acted in Latin America always trying to insert its destructive and dictatorial system,” the activist pointed out.
Why has international pressure been unable to achieve the release of the political prisoners?
Albeit today they have not been as fruitful as we may wish, I think it is essential to maintain this international pressure, because we will not achieve change by relying on the goodwill of dictators,” said Taraciuck.
HRW’s Acting Director for the Americas believes that international pressure “must be accompanied by the mobilization of those who seek democracy in their countries, but international pressure is key to be able to achieve the release of political prisoners, especially if it is a concerted and multilateral pressure, emerging from a commitment by different actors at the international level working together for the same cause and the same purpose,” she said.
However, in Sanchez Berzain’s opinion, the release of political prisoners in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela has not been achieved because “there is no international pressure.”
“Our countries have to understand that freedom comes only through the energy of the countries themselves, and this does not mean that the solidarity from the international community is not sought, but we do see that many international institutions have been deeply infiltrated by these regimes,” added the Cuban activist.
Taraciuk reiterated that “in these three countries the concentration of power is absolute and the inclination of those in power is to cling to power and they will not go anywhere voluntarily; so, international pressure is extremely important, not only for the release of political prisoners, but also for any change that leads to the restoration of democracy.”
The profile of political prisoners
In Nicaragua, as of May 31, 2022, 190 people were registered as political prisoners for protesting against the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
Of these 190 people deprived of their freedom for political reasons: 180 correspond to people currently arrested for protesting against the Ortega regime from April 2018 onwards.
Gender: Men 162 and Women 18.
The other 10 political prisoners were already under arrest before 2018. Of this group, all are men.
Source: Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners.
As of June 20, 2022, a total of 239 political prisoners are registered in Venezuela.
Gender: Men 223 and Women 16.
Occupation: Civilians 109 and Military 130.
Age: 238 adults and 1 adolescent.
Source: NGO Foro Penal
As of May 31, 2022, 1,046 people are reported to be deprived of their freedom in Cuba for protesting against the Miguel Diaz-Canel regime.
Of these 1,046 political prisoners in Cuba: there are 32 boys and 5 girls, 37 minors in total.
Four girls and 19 boys, 23 minors, have already been sentenced mostly for “sedition,” and to an average sentence of 6 years and 5 months of deprivation of liberty.
168 protestors, including many of these minors, have been prosecuted for “sedition.”
726 political prisoners have already been sentenced, and 246 of them with stiff sentences of 10 or more years.
At least 134 women are political prisoners of the Cuban regime.
Source: NGO Prisoners Defenders