By Melissa C. Novo (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – The vulnerability of Cuban civil society and the unexpected protests of July 11, 2021 did not stop the civil movement the following day. Contrary to what could happen in similar situations, various initiatives have been launched – inside and outside the island – wanting to be useful in one way or another. Initiatives that initially focused entirely on discovering the whereabouts of detainees and missing persons.
What started as a list – which was first revealed by posts and reports on the DESAPARECIDOS#SOSCUBA Facebook page – written in an Excel sheet, which several women (in Cuba and abroad) used to compiling information – drawn from public complaints and direct communication with family and friends of protesters, who later became Justice 11J.
Today, Justice 11J is a working group on politically motivated arrests in Cuba. It was founded by Camila Rodriguez, Cynthia de la Cantera, Darcy Borrero, Eilyn Lombard, Ivette Leyva, Laritza Diversent, Kirenia Yalit Nuñez, Maria Matienzo and Salome Garcia.
The dimension and scope of the work of these women over the past year has been crucial, particularly in three fundamental aspects. First, by consistently reporting violations against protesters – from their arrest to every phase of their criminal trial. Secondly, by giving high visibility to the issue at the international level and by campaigning for the release of imprisoned minors. Finally, by providing support, following and helping the families of the demonstrators.
Thanks to Justice 11Jin the first hours after July 11, we already knew who some of the detainees and missing persons were, which gave a quantified – albeit approximate – idea and a human aspect to the crackdown unleashed by government forces against the president Cuban, Miguel Diaz -Canel, gave the order to fight.
Thanks to Justice 11J, there is an exhaustive statistical record – which has improved over the days; it is a document and an archive of a historical nature. Today, this registry not only allows you to consult the names of people who have been and are victims of the state sentence, but also other important variables when it comes to analyzing and studying what happened – age, province and place of imprisonment, gender, ethnicity, occupation, insurance, sentences, prison facilities and photos of the accused.
Thanks to Justice 11J, we now have an independent tool – free from government pressure or cover-ups – which, although under-reported, has revealed discrepancies in the official version. Discrepancies which, in some cases, have highlighted the selectivity of public information from institutions; while they showed the greatest dimension of punishment.
On July 18, 2021, seven days after the protests, the Cuban Conference of Religious Men and Women (CONCUR) announced a follow-up service for 11J detainees and their relatives. The service is structured around three components: advice for the presentation of habeas corpus documents, help in locating detainees and spiritual and psychological support.
Organizations such as the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights and Defenders of Prisoners also helped contribute and disseminate records of those detained and disappeared after 9J11. Additionally, Prisoners Defenders filed a complaint with the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, on July 14, 2021. The appeal succeeded in causing the UN to demand urgent information from the Cuban government to reveal the whereabouts of the protesters. incarcerated.
Students, professors and graduates of the University of Havana delivered a letter to the headquarters of the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) demanding the immediate release of the arrested students. The letter was addressed to the Minister of the MES, Jose Ramon Saborido, whom they asked to intervene immediately because it is a violation of student rights. The document also demanded that the MES take a public position on the events and follow the hearings of the students’ trial.
Meanwhile, students from the Faculty of Audiovisual Communication of the Art University (FAMCA) came out in support of the protest and against the call for violence and the campaign to smear the protests in the official media. The Department of Biology at the University of Havana also joined in similar complaints; such as the support and follow-up service for victims of gender-based violence YoSiTeCreo in Cuba.
Despite the dismantling of a project as well received as Archipelago – especially after the unexpected departure of its main organizer, Yunior Garcia Aguilera – the citizens’ platform has managed to establish itself as a solid movement. Although he will be remembered for their call for a peaceful popular march on November 15, 2021, the main objective of Archipelago struggle was to free 11J political prisoners.
Other initiatives have focused on fundraising, collecting medicine, food, clothes and shoes for prisoners and their families. These include Te Presto Mi Voz, led by Luciana Covin – a Cuban living in Europe and granddaughter of a political prisoner. The project existed before 11J and their goal was to find sponsors for Cuban prisoners, but after the social uprising they joined forces to send a weekly bag – including medicine – to protesters who needed it. On their Facebook page, they also follow court cases, share information about prisoners, as well as complaints from family and friends.
Some of the leading figures of Te Presto Mi Voz went ahead with another project called The Jaba de los Inocentes (The Bag of the Innocent); with the mission of also obtaining food from outside Cuba for the prisoners of the 11J.
The “Donde tu caes, yo te levanto” (Where you fall, I pick you up), by the San Isidro Movement, mobilized after 11J. Coordinated by activist and art historian Anamely Ramos, the project has focused its efforts on getting basic necessities to victims of repression during the protests, while also acting as an intermediary with organizations offering advice legal. They created an open whatsapp group, called MSI Boothto work on logistics.
Ayuda a los Valientes del 11J (Aid to the Brave of 11J) began in Santa Clara as an aid initiative to bring food to prisoners in prisons. On the other hand, the group Cuban Canadians for a Cuba Democratica joins the public complaints of prisoners and does a fasting relay to accompany the hunger strike led by Barbara Farrat Guillen, the mother of Jonathan Torres, who was released after almost a year in prison.
Many mothers of political prisoners have also raised their voices and united in their demand for justice for their children. They reported instances of abuse, due process violations and arbitrary convictions, both individually and as a group. These mothers sent a letter to President Miguel Diaz-Canel, which was delivered by Barbara Farrat and her husband to the Citizen’s Assistance Office of the Council of State. The letter had over 150 signatures.
Mothers who have publicly complained about the situation of their incarcerated children include Barbara Farrat, Yanaisy Curbelo (mother of Brandon David Becerra), Yudinela Castro (mother of Rowland Castillo), Elizabeth Leon (mother of Frandy Gonzalez Leon and Santiago Vazquez León ), Migdalia Gutierrez (Brusnelvis the mother of Adrian Cabrera), Maria Luisa Fleitas (the mother of Rolando Vazquez Fleitas). Andy Garcia’s family was also important, along with the powerful voices of fathers like Wilber Aguilar (Walner Luis Alguilar’s father) and wives like Lazara Roblebo (Jose Antonio Gonzalez’s wife) and Saily Nuñez (l wife of Maikel Puig Bergolla).
On the other hand, GuajiroBot is a Twitter bot created by Danilo El Cubano, in April 2022, which “provides information about Cuba and its struggle for freedom”. How does this initiative work and what does it consist of? If a user of this social network tweets “@guajirobot denuncia” (reports), a reply automatically appears including a photo of a political prisoner and his personal information. Activists use it to respond to President Diaz Canel’s tweets.
Other group actions – mobilized outside Cuba – and appeals from international organizations have also contributed to the campaign denouncing the excessive force used by the Cuban government against 11J protesters and calling for their release.
These include the joint statement made by over 300 art world figures – on December 8, 2021; European Parliament resolution condemning government repression – approved on September 16, 2021; the statement made by UN journalists to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on October 25, 2021; the call for the freedom of Cuban political prisoners at the United Nations Human Rights Office in November 2021; and the statement by Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who urged Cuban leaders to release political prisoners.
While it is impossible to know which of these actions influenced the releases, few discharges and changes in sentences of the 11J protesters, and to what extent, it is true that they defied and pinpointed the government, and they always do. Protests and legitimate complaints in places like Cuba have become fundamental weapons against institutionalism that does not respect justice.
Civil society is a vital part of society. Voluntary associations are the backbone and they do not belong to the government. According to political scientist John Keane, voluntary associations aim “to maintain and redefine the boundaries between civil society and the state through two interdependent and simultaneous processes: the expansion of social equality and freedom, and the reorganization and the democratization of the state”.
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