By Nora Gámez Torres, firstname.lastname@example.org
Juan Antonio Blanco — the academic, activist, and executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba — recently announced an initiative to unmask and deport Cuban human-rights abusers now living in the United States. He declared that the drive was not “a witch hunt” against people just because of their political beliefs or affiliations with political organizations on the island.
What Blanco didn’t say: He once belonged to the Rapid Response Brigades, which were created by Fidel Castro in the 1990s to repress dissidents and contain popular unrest.
“I myself am a member of the Rapid Response Brigades in my building,” Blanco said during a conference in the United States in 1993, after he had broken with the Cuban government.
The brigades were organized along paramilitary lines and have been frequently deployed by the government to repress the dissident Ladies in White and other opposition groups. In 1994, Brigade members, along with police and military members dressed in civilian clothes and armed with clubs and steel rods, cracked down on a large Havana protest known as El Maleconazo, which gave way to the mass departures of the Balsero Crisis.
“It’s true that there have been cases where such encounters have gotten out of hand. I joined the brigade precisely because I think it is important to make sure that there will be no excesses or abuses,” Blanco added in 1993, according to the book “Talking About Revolution,” which was written by activist Medea Benjamin and based on conferences that Blanco held in several U.S. universities at the time.
Twenty-five years later, Blanco still finds it difficult to explain his statements.
“I did not belong to a Rapid Response Brigades unit,” he initially told el Nuevo Herald during a telephone interview. “The most that I recall participating in was one time when there was a protest against a neighbor in my building, and what I did was precisely to block any abuses against that person. What I did was to break up the activity.”
“I say there [at a 1993 conference] that I am a member because I belonged, not because I signed anything or was involved in anything,” Blanco said. “Sadly, the way that I was talking about that at that time, well, you evidently seize on that now and you take it out of context, and that doesn’t help.”
Feature continues here: Devoted Spy to Human Rights Champion?