Still a long road ahead for Cuba’s civil society



A leading human rights group has strongly condemned the harassment of Cuban doctor and journalist Eduardo Herrera Duran (above). In March, Herrera — a surgeon at the Calixto García University Hospital in Havana and a deputy editor for the Hablemos Press — was barred from leaving the country to attend a human rights conference in the Czech Republic. …In a phone call yesterday, Herrera informed HRF that he has once again filed a travel permit request to attend the Human Rights Foundation’s Oslo Freedom Forum in May.

“In 2012, Cuba began to allow some dissidents to travel abroad, but this new rule seldom applies to medical doctors who disagree with the government. Journalists, dissidents, and activists like Herrera often find themselves helpless when the authorities, targeting them for their work, prevent them from leaving the country,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Doctor Herrera is clearly being targeted for his role in condemning the farce of Cuba’s ‘significant achievements’ in areas like health care,” he said.

Cuba announced on Tuesday that some cooperatives offering food and other services will be able to buy supplies directly from government producers and wholesale outlets for the first time, part of a wider but so far cautiously implemented market reform program, Reuters reports.

But the “opening to the world” represented by Cuba’s return to the Organization of American States and the visits of Pope Francis and President Barack Obama is unlikely to have any short- or medium-term effects in respect of democratic reforms or civil society freedoms, says Armando Chaguaceda Noriega, a Cuban political scientist and historian who specializes in the study of civil society and the regimes of Cuba and other ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our Americas) countries.

“[D]uring President Obama’s visit, the Cuban government has shown through its actions that it is not open to any substantive change,” he tells CIVICUS, the international civil society group. Its leaders have defended the idea of a single party state and characterized the opposition as illegal. ….All opposition is perceived as counter-revolutionary.”

“The exercise of all rights, but particularly those of association and public assembly, remains limited,” he adds. “And the repressive State apparatus stays intact. In sum, from the government’s perspective, there is no will to effect any substantial change.”

Freedom of expression is also severely limited, despite certain cosmetic changes, Antoaneta Roussi writes for Salon:

In 1961, Fidel Castro famously said that the interests of the Revolution were “above the newspapers.” Since then a liberal public sphere has not existed in Cuba, casting journalists as “employees of the state,” confounded by the role that they must play.

“If I am loyal to the Revolution, I cannot be loyal to my profession, and if I am loyal to my profession, I cannot be loyal to the Revolution. I do not know how to make the two of them compatible,” said a reporter in “Ideology in Cuban Journalism,” an academic paper by Juan Orlando Pérez González ….

Currently, there are four different types of media in Cuba: the dissident, the independent media on the island, the official state media and the foreign bureaus. With talk of the Castro rule to end by 2018, a Cuba after communism seems ever more likely … In 2014, Juliet Michelena Díaz (left), a contributor to a network of local citizen journalists, was imprisoned for seven months on anti-state charges after photographing an incident between residents and police in Havana..

“The national newspaper in Cuba is the production of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. It says so on the front page of every paper. You are dealing with a media environment that is monopolistic and the private property of the communist party,” said Ted Henken, a professor at CUNY and co-author of Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape. “There’s other countries in the world that have that phenomena but in Cuba it’s in the constitution.”

Cuban poet and artist Armando Valladares will receive the prestigious Canterbury Medal, in New York City next month. Valladares spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for refusing to put up a placard on his desk that said “I am with Fidel” (watch video here). This year marks the 30th anniversary of his New York Times bestselling memoir, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag, which has been translated to 18 languages (available here):

Valladares was arrested and imprisoned at the age of 21 for refusing to display a placard on his desk that said: “I am with Fidel.” He spent 22 years in prison for that simple act of dissent. Eight of those years he spent naked in solitary confinement in a windowless and mosquito-infested cell, where guards regularly doused him with buckets of human excrement. He was tortured with relentless beatings and endured several hunger strikes, one of which left him wheelchair bound for years. During this time he wrote poetry, which his wife Martha smuggled out of Cuba and published to critical acclaim. She led an international campaign for his release, and Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He was released in 1982 thanks to the intercession of French President Francois Mitterrand.

“I have known Armando Valladares for many, many years. And he is a very good person, an honest fighter for peace and for justice,” said Nobel laureate Holocaust survivor and fellow Medalist Elie Wiesel, who will be presenting the tribute to Valladares. “I think he has something heroic about him.”

Valladares recently wrote: “America, perhaps more than any other nation in the world, understands and defends the sanctity of the human mind and the beliefs that flourish and guide it. We are still a beacon to the men and women that languish in their jail cells for holding steadfast to their beliefs and for refusing to violate them despite intimidation in places where tyrannical thugs or ISIS zealots reign with terror.”

This year’s black-tie gala will be held on Thursday, May 12, 2016 at the Pierre Hotel on 2 East 61st Street at 5th Avenue, New York City hosted by this year’s gala chairs Anthony and Christie DeNicola. Reserve your ticket online here.

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