Cat-And-Mouse Secrecy Game Plays Out Daily in Cuba 5

FILE--Frank Calzon, a Cuban-American who smuggles items like bibles and televisions into Cuba, displays merchandise in his Washington Freedom House office in this June 12, 1996 file photo.  CHUCK KENNEDY / KRT

FILE–Frank Calzon, a Cuban-American who smuggles items like bibles and televisions into Cuba, displays merchandise in his Washington Freedom House office in this June 12, 1996 file photo. CHUCK KENNEDY / KRT

By Juan O. Tamayo,

Cuban dissident Berta Soler says she and other members of the Ladies in White were handing out toys to children at Trillo Park in Havana when a State Security officer detained them and seized the 60 to 70 toys.

Soler said she protested that the women bought the toys legally in Havana with money received legally from supporters abroad. But the agent told her, “Berta, don’t play the fool, because you know those toys come from Miami, the terrorists.”

The March 15 incident reflected the cat-and-mouse game played almost daily by dissidents, supporters abroad who send them assistance and the security agents of a communist government that views most such aid — even toys — as “subversive.”

That’s why, several of the foreign supporters argue, they must use a measure of discretion when sending aid to democracy, human rights or Internet freedom activists in Cuba — enough to ensure it reaches the right people on the island but not so much that it raises suspicions of major illegalities.

“When State Security seizes laptops or even copies of the [U.N.’s] International Declaration of Human Rights, you have to use some discretion,” said Frank Calzon, head of the Center for Cuban Democracy in Washington.

The issue of secrecy in efforts to help Cuba’s civil society hit front pages last week when The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development had created a “covert” Twitter-like platform for Cubans. USAID said the program was not covert, only “discreet” because of the “nonpermissive environment” on the island.

Calzon said he did not mind talking about the precautions he takes in helping Cubans because his center no longer receives U.S. government grants for Cuba programs, and suspects that Havana knows them anyhow.

He stopped keeping important documents in his office after three break-ins in which thieves rifled through files but took no valuables, Calzon said. He keeps four shredders in his office and has it swept occasionally for eavesdropping devices.

Over the years he used foreigners visiting Cuba and other ways to deliver tens of thousands of shortwave radios, books and human rights declarations, Calzon said, “all things that would not be a problem in any normal society.”

But he never revealed the names of the travelers to USAID before they had left the island, Calzon added. And if he sent cash, he would ask one activist to distribute the money to others in need, but he never provided a full list of recipients.

Read more here: Cat-And-Mouse Secrecy Game Plays Out Daily in Cuba




Cuban Government Supporters ‘Repudiate’ the Ladies in White 2

By Juan O. Tamayo,

Cuban police and a pro-government mob Monday shut off the area around the Havana home where the dissident Ladies in White were marking the anniversary of the death of their founder, and police reportedly detained 22 group members who tried to reach the home.

“The government brings the mob, paid by them, to silence our words,” Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said by phone from the home of founder Laura Pollán, which became the group’s office after her death on Oct. 14. 2011 at the age of 63.

Loud music and chanting could be heard in the background, coming from the loudspeakers set up by government officials to amplify the shouts by the more than 100 government supporters crowded since 2 p.m. just outside the front doors of the home on Neptuno Street.

About 50 Ladies in White were gathered in the home to mark Pollán’s death but another 22 were detained by police Monday to keep them from attending the ceremony, Soler said. Such detentions are usually ended after an event ends.

Police closed off the one block of Neptuno in front of Pollan’s house to vehicular and pedestrian traffic since early Monday and installed a “large stage” for the event against the women, according to a report by the Spanish EFE news agency.

At least six police vehicles and several police agents, most of them women, could be seen on Aramburen street, on one end of the closed-off block of Neptuno street, EFE added. The Cuban government regularly organizes such “acts of reputation” to harass and intimidate dissidents and to prevent them from staging street protests against the island’s communist system.

Soler said the Ladies in White gathered in the home had no intention of going out into the street and hoped simply to mark Pollan’s death by showing a video celebrating her life and reading some of the letters she wrote giving her support and encouragement to other dissidents.

Another 82 members of the Ladies in White were detained around the island over the weekend as they tried to reach ceremonies honoring Pollán, Soler said. All were believed to have been released by Sunday night.

Pollán was one of the main founders of the group, made up of the wives, mothers and daughters of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s “Black spring,” to demand the release of their male relatives.

Some of the 75 were released early for health reasons, and the last of the men still in prison were freed in 2010 and 2011 by the Raúl Castro government after meetings with leaders of Cuba’s Catholic Church. All but a dozen or so went directly from prison to the Havana airport for flights to exile in Spain.

The Cuban government reported Pollán died from a heart attack, brought on by a respiratory crisis complicated by a bout with dengue fever and her diabetes. Some of her followers have said they suspect she was poisoned but offered no evidence.

Pollán died nine months before another top dissident, Oswaldo Payá, and supporter Harold Cepero were killed in what Cuban officials called a traffic accident. Payá’s family maintains the fatal crash was caused by a State Security vehicle that rammed their car.

Ladies in White Resign Over Alleged State Security Infiltrator 2

By Juan O. Tamayo,

At least 18 members have quit Cuba’s dissident Ladies in White in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba. Top opposition leader Jose Daniel Ferrer has been accused of treating a black supporter like a slave. And Ferrer has split from his wife of 20 years.

The two most aggressive opposition movements in eastern Cuba appear to be going through a rough period in recent weeks, forced to deny serious allegations and even hanging up the phone on usually friendly Miami news media. But dissidents say their troubles are the work of infiltrators from the State Security apparatus in the communist-ruled island, tasked with fueling the jealousies and rivalries that have long riven the opposition, and creating new ones. “It is very, very clear that all of this comes from people who have a job to do for the political police,” said Ferrer, who served eight years as a political prisoner, was freed in 2011 and is now one of the island’s most respected opposition activists.

The group he founded, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), is the most combative dissident faction in Santiago. Earlier this year it forged a national alliance with Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s $67,000 Sakharov prize.

Authorities meanwhile have repeatedly cracked down on the Santiago branch of the Ladies in White as they push to win the same right to stage public protests as their counterparts in Havana, who march along an avenue after Sunday Mass. At the root of the split within the Ladies in White is a push by several members to expel a woman repeatedly accused of being a State Security infiltrator and inventing gossip about infidelities by the group’s members or their husbands.

Group leader Berta Soler in Havana acknowledged that she and Santiago leader Belkis Cantillo opposed expelling the woman during a June 18 meeting in Santiago because it would be essentially undemocratic to drive her out without hard evidence. “We are learning each day how to live with infiltrators. It does not worry us,” Soler told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana. “We are not going to waste the time that must be used to continue working for human rights.”

In a statement issued June 30, Soler had declared: “We will not fall into the foolish game of you tell me and I tell you … There are no proofs that she is an agent … so she will continue being a member until it is proven.” That statement acknowledged that 18 Ladies in White in Santiago had resigned. Ferrer, who is married to Cantillo, said last week that the number of resignations had climbed to 27. Several calls to Cantillo’s cellphone went unanswered.

Ferrer said he separated from Cantillo after 20 years of marriage because of her attitude toward some of the Ladies in White who want to expel the alleged infiltrator. The women who resigned remain members of UNPACU, he said.

State Security agents have repeatedly infiltrated and in some cases founded opposition movements during the five decades of Castro rule, to spy on the groups and exacerbate the many rivalries and tensions that have historically hit the dissident movements.

Soler and Cantillo returned to Cuba in May after a lengthy trip abroad during which they received a hero’s welcome in the United States and Europe and collected more than $65,000 — a fortune by island standards — in prizes and donations.

The alleged infiltrator not only spread the gossip about infidelities but sold end-of-year school exams and offered to obtain U.S. visas for $3,000, two Ladies in White said, both crimes that real dissidents know too well would immediately land them in jail. “Since she joined us [in August] the bickering started. We have no doubts about her,” said Yelena Garcés, who with her sister Aimee led the group of women that resigned.

“We have no doubts that she and her husband work for the political police, and that their principal mission … is to divide” the opposition, Ferrer said by phone from his home in the small Santiago town of Palmarito de Cauto. Ferrer said UNPACU expelled the woman several months ago, but the Ladies in White remain “incapable of realizing that she … is creating problems.” El Nuevo knows her name, but will not print it because it has been unable to reach her for comment.

Some of the women who resigned said Soler made the dispute worse during the June 18 meeting by telephoning the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana to report their separation, a call they took as a threat to deny them U.S. visas. Soler told El Nuevo she would not comment on that allegation. Radio Martí reported last week that she hung up when one of its reporters asked her about it.

The Ladies in White was founded by female relatives of 75 dissidents jailed during a 2003 crackdown to demand their freedom. The government freed the last of the 75 still in prison in 2010-2011 — but forced most to go into exile in Spain. Only a dozen insisted on staying in Cuba to continue their opposition activism, including Ferrer and Angel Moya, Soler’s husband. The Ladies in White vowed to remain together to push for human rights and democracy.

Ferrer himself has come under harsh attacks from Raumel Vinajera, a former UNPACU activist now living in the United States who has accused him of being a “slave keeper” and stealing money donated for the opposition movement. A photo of Vinajera, who is black, holding an umbrella over the light-skinned Ferrer while the UNPACU leader speaks on a cellphone has been spread on the Internet, especially by Ernesto Vera, a Santiago lawyer and self-described dissident who regularly attacks UNPACU, the Ladies in White and blogger Yoani Sanchez.

Ferrer said the photo was snapped when it was raining and he went to his patio to get better reception on his cellphone. He added that police seized that photo and several others during a raid of his home in July of last year.

Cuba Critics Look to Test Government on Travel Law 1

PETER ORSI | Huffington Post

HAVANA — For years, Cuban dissidents say, authorities’ message to them has been the same: Sure, you can leave the country. Just don’t expect us to let you come back. Now, two prominent and outspoken government opponents say they’ve been told they can come and go freely under a new law that eliminated decades-old travel restrictions on nearly all islanders.

It’s a calculated risk that potentially enables the dissidents to become high-profile ambassadors for change in the communist-run country, traveling abroad to accept awards and slamming the government back home in speeches to foreign parliaments. At the same time, it blunts one of their main criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record, that it effectively held them and others hostage by restricting their movement. “Previously the policy was just to get them out of the country, which really, really did work for the maintenance of the Castro government,” said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba analyst and author of “Cuba Confidential.” “But if they are allowing them to come back, we are looking at a game-changer of sorts because that could usher in the first embryonic state of some democratic process,” Bardach said. “If people can go abroad, criticize the government and return, that’s a new day in Cuba.”

The government faces some of the same pluses and minuses with all Cubans traveling abroad, showing that it is being more open by letting its citizens leave more easily, but taking the risk that some won’t come back. Travelers seeing the world for the first time are apt to experience things that could give them cause to clamor for more freedoms or material goods back home, or it could make them more grateful for basic guarantees like free health care and education. Some will surely have both those reactions.

Cubans of all political stripes lined up outside travel agencies and migration offices when the law scrapping the country’s exit visa requirement went into effect Monday, looking to book flights, renew expired passports or just get information about how the measure would affect them. Among them was Yoani Sanchez, a dissident blogger who has garnered fame overseas for her writings about the frustrations of daily life. Sanchez says she has been turned down 20 times when she asked for permission to travel abroad to accept awards or attend conferences, and authorities told her she would only be allowed out if she was leaving for good.

It’s a practice that has been used to rid the island of a number of people considered troublemakers, including dozens of activists who were imprisoned in 2003 during a notorious crackdown on dissent. Under an agreement brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, many of them accepted exile in Spain as a condition of their release in recent years, although some holdouts were freed and allowed to stay in Cuba.

Sanchez said that to her surprise, an official told her Monday she will be able to leave and return once she has her new passport, a process that should take around two weeks. Shortly before turning in that night, she tweeted enthusiastically about her intention to visit friends in Canada: “I will dream of embraces, walls that fall and borders that dissolve.” Sanchez will apparently be the first dissident to test the government’s word, but she’s not alone.

In interviews with The Associated Press, several others confirmed plans to travel in the near term, including two recent winners of the European Union’s Sakharov prize who were denied permission to collect the award in person. They include Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White protest group, who hopes to organize a delegation of the women to travel to Strasbourg, France, to pick up their prize from 2005. Guillermo Farinas, a noted hunger striker and 2010 Sakharov winner, said state security agents took the trouble of driving out to his home in the central city of Santa Clara to let him know he’ll be allowed to travel and return.

Both Farinas and Soler would presumably use the opportunity as a bully pulpit to bash their home country, seek support from sympathetic groups and lobby foreign governments to press Havana on human rights and democracy. “My position will be the same wherever I am. I will say the same thing anywhere,” Farinas said. “I believe the Cuban government should be replaced by a democratic government, and it is up to the Cuban citizenry to put another government in place or ratify the one that’s there.”

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