Spiraling Arrests Mean No Rest for Cuba’s Weary Opposition
EspañolYesterday, Cuban political dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez, better known as “Antúnez,” and his wife, Yris Pérez, were arrested in the city of Placetas, Cuba. This is not the first time that Antúnez has been arbitrarily detained by police officers, nor is he the only victim of the Cuban regime. Despite Castro’s claims of a liberalization process on the island, NGOs have reported that repression in the island has actually increased markedly this year.
The Cuban Democratic Directorate (DDC) — a Miami-based NGO that promotes democracy in Cuba — released a statement on Antúnez’s detention and called on “Cuban exiles, human rights organizations, and the international community to be aware of the situation, and to show solidarity by asking for the immediate release of both activists.”
Antúnez’s neighbor and activist Donaida Pérez Paceiro witnessed the arrest, and told the DDC what happened. Apparently, Cuban police agents arrested the activist without providing him with any details.
Pérez Paceiro went over to the police station and asked for the charges. The police agent, however, only told Pérez Paceiro that Antunez and his wife were going to be prosecuted. The agent did not know for how long they will remain in custody. The police official just said “he had to wait for orders from the high command.”
Continuan presos mi hermano y mi cuñada, régimen amenaza procesarlos, no hay delito, son buenos, honrados y amantes d la libertad.#cuba
— Jorge Luis Antunez (@antunezcuba) June 16, 2014
So far, both dissidents have yet to be released, according to information shared by Antúnez’s brother through the activist’s Twitter account.
Antúnez is the secretary of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Internal Resistance. Orlando Zapata was a Cuban political activist who died in 2010 after going on a hunger strike for 80 days while in prison. Antúnez is also no stranger to the regime, given that he remained behind bars from 1990 to 2007 for his open antagonism towards the Cuban dictatorship.
His wife, Yris Pérez, is a member of the civil rights movement Rosa Parks. Both political dissidents have been arrested at least a dozen times for their open stand against the 55-year-old regime, and this is the second time within a week.
Their home has also been raided three times since February. The last one occurred on June 11, as police agents broke in while they were still in bed. They were dragged out of their home, still in their pajamas, and remained detained for two days.
Sos En profundo sueño Policia política allano la vivienda @yriscuba
— Yris Perez Aguilera (@YrisCuba) June 11, 2014
Nos asaltaron la casa
— Yris Perez Aguilera (@YrisCuba) June 11, 2014
After being released, Antúnez revealed via recorded audio on YouTube all the irregularities in his due process and the abuses perpetrated by police officers during his detention last week. Beatings until he lost consciousness and even being injected with an unknown substance were some of the tortures the political activist made public.
According to Antúnez, the officer that led the interrogation told him there were three reasons why he was being arrested:
“First, because you are instigating activities of propaganda… second, you have become a spokesperson inside Cuba, in collaboration with the extreme right-wing in exile, to obstruct the relations between Cuba and United States. We know that you are heading this new trend that is causing us some problems. The Cuban Revolution can recover, but because of you and other dissidents inside and outside Cuba, we haven’t been able to achieve this. And we have orders from the interior minister that every time we see a poster on the streets of Placeta, we have to arrest you.”
A Larger Trend for Cuba
In a report made by 14ymedio, the leader of the group, Guillermo Fariñas explains how the repression is taking place:
“Every Monday we go to the house where we meet… They start to detain us from the corner of my own house… These detentions include beatings by members of the special brigade — also known in Cuba as boinas negras (black berets) — who have specific orders to beat male members of our organization.”
When they are detained, they are regularly tortured with the use of extreme temperatures, and can remain without communication for complete nights, before they are released. According to 14ymedio, after their interview with Fariñas ended, his local phone and the cellphones of members who were joining Fariñas suddenly went out of service.
The Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation has publicized a rise in politically motivated detentions in Cuba over the last few months. Specifically, 4,941 detentions took place in the first four months of 2014, far in excess of the 1,963 from the same period in 2013.
The figures released by the Cuban Council of Human Rights Monitors, however, are even worse. According to the council, May alone saw more than 1,000 arrests, bringing a total of 5,000 arrests for 2014. That is already twice the total number registered last year.
John Suarez, international secretary for the Cuban Democratic Directorate, told the PanAm Post that the “intensification of repression on the island is due to regime desperation at growth of the opposition, combined with increasing frustration of the general population, and a general decrease in fear.”
In front of this loss of fear, Suarez says the regime seems to have taken a different turn from the approach taken during the 20th century. Karel Becerra, a Cuban and the secretary of international relations for the Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID) advocacy organization, explains:
“Detentions of dissidents in Cuba continue, despite what everybody says about a ‘change in the Cuban regime.’ The facts are that there has been a rise in the number of detentions. The regime has changed its strategy, going from long detentions, as the case of Sosa Fortuny (‘Sosita’) who spent over 36 years in prison, and is still paying time, to quick detentions that don’t last over 72 hours.”
Becerra identifies two tools used by Castro to “justify” these abuses. The first one is Law 88 for Protection of Independence and the National Economy, (also known as the “gag law”) which “states that the socialist state is above everything,” even civil liberties.
The second law, Becerra explains, is stated in Cuba’s Penal Code, particularly section XI. It allows state and security measures against a “pre-felony.” This gives Cuban authorities the power to detain a citizen they consider to have an “inclination” to commit a crime. That person can remain behind bars for up to four years without actually breaking the law. “Then, citizens are simply in the hands of the state, and it’s just a matter of applying the law whenever the regime wants to.”
* The Patriotic Union of Cuba and the United Anti-Totalitarian Front.