Take Cuba Off the State Sponsors of Terrorism List? 7

 FARC and government negotiators at a news conference in Havana on 16 May, 2014


FARC and government negotiators at a news conference in Havana on 16 May, 2014

By George Phillips, InterAmerican Security Watch

Let us not give Castro the resources he needs to continue his regime’s 56-year reign of terror on his own people, and his continued support for terrorists and terrorist states.

To enrich and solidify that dictatorship at this time only prevents the Cuban people from being able to forge a better life through elections in a few years, now that they are finally “on the one-yard line,” when the Castro brothers, now in their eighties, could simply be left to their natural, un-bankrolled, ends. In a dictatorship such as this, only the dictators benefit.

As Sonia Alvarez Campillo was leaving Catholic Mass on July 14, 2013 with fellow members of Ladies in White, her pro-democracy organization, she was assaulted by Raul Castro’s agents.

These “security” agents broke Alvarez Campillo’s wrist as well as her husband’s ribs in their attack on her and other members of her group.

Sunday after Sunday in Cuba, the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) — members of a movement started in 2003 by wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents in Cuba — have peacefully demonstrated for freedom and human rights in cities across Cuba. They have continually been harassed, beaten, and imprisoned in Raul Castro’s Cuba.

In an attack just two months ago, Lady in White member Digna Rodriquez Ibañez was pelted with tar by agents of the regime.

The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation – an organization of Cuban dissidents that the Castro regime claims is illegal — reported that in 2014 alone, 1,810 members of the Ladies in White were detained. The detentions of these extraordinary women are among the total of 8,899 detentions evidently designed to crush political dissent. That figure represents a 27% rise from the previous year.

Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero were leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement, a political party opposed to Castro’s Communist Party.

In July of 2012, Cuban state security agents allegedly murdered Paya and Cepero by ramming into their car and running them off the road, where they crashed and died.

The Cuban government officially claims the crash was an accident. But, as documented in the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report for 2013, when David Gonzalez Peres, another leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, was arrested, Cuban officials at the jail warned him about what happened to Paya.

Paya and Cepero were most likely murdered for trying to change a system in which all 612 candidates in a recent Cuban election were members of the Communist Party and ran unopposed, and in which all other candidates had been rejected by the regime.

Article continues here:  Terror List

 

 

 

 

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For World’s Democracy Campaigners, Obama’s Cuba Move Means Crackdowns 9

Cuban repressionBy The Investors Business Daily‘s Editorial Board

President Obama claimed his move to normalize relations with Cuba was a means of nudging the military dictatorship toward democracy. He was wrong. The regime is cracking down on dissent harder than ever.

In what ought to be called Crackdown Tuesday a large group of prominent Havana dissidents — activists, civil society advocates and independent journalists — were arrested as they headed for a pro-free speech soapbox “speaker’s corner” event put on by Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguero, whose group is #YoTambienExijo, or “I also demand.”

Among the arrested were prominent blogger writer Yoani Sanchez; her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who edits 14ymedio.com, an online dissident publication; Eliecer Avila, a prominent democracy activist; and members of the Ladies in White group, mostly wives of political prisoners. Bruguero herself was hauled off by the Cuban secret police and held incommunicado for more than a day until she was released. She said Wednesday they tried to force her to sign a confession, but she refused.

So much for “promoting positive change,” which is what the White House claimed would be the result of its move toward normalization. Fact is, the Castro regime sees normalization of U.S. ties as a green light to step up the barbarism.

It’s not just attacks against high-profile dissidents. The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that the regime rammed and sank a boat of more than 30 refugees fleeing the island, killing one and jailing the men in the group as they were dragged back to shore.

And that underlines the naivete of the Obama administration. “We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the White House website reads.

Brought together through the desire to promote democracy? Not according to his new partner, dictator Raul Castro, who put on his military uniform and warned Cubans not to get any ideas from this move, defiantly warning that the communism that has so failed the country would remain in place.

There’s little doubt he knows what he’s doing.

Commentary continues here:  Obama Outreach Intensifies Repression

 

 

Cuban ‘Dissident’ Says He Was Really an Infiltrator 3

State Security collaborator Ernesto Vera

State Security collaborator Ernesto Vera

Lawyer Ernesto Vera said his main task was to attack and sow discord within two key Cuban opposition groups on the island.

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

A Cuban lawyer has confessed that he was a State Security collaborator for the four years he spent portraying himself as a dissident and harshly attacking two of the country’s most active opposition groups.

Ernesto Vera, 34, had been accused of being a collaborator last year, but his confession cast a rare spotlight on how State Security agents recruit informants and pay them thousands of dollars to discredit dissidents and generate rivalries among them.

Vera also pointed a finger at five other Cubans who in his view have been suspiciously critical of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) and the Ladies in White, the largest and most aggressive dissident groups on the communist-ruled island.

“My mission within State Security was to disparage and discredit UNPACU, especially its leader, José Daniel Ferrer, and the Ladies in White,” Vera told el Nuevo Herald by phone Wednesday from his home in the eastern city of Santiago De Cuba.

But he said he sat for a 44-minute video taped confession to Ferrer earlier this month because he was “disgusted with so many lies, the double life and faking a friendly relationship with people I hated so much.”

The two men shook hands at the end of the video.

State Security began the slow work of recruiting him as “Agent Jorge” after he was fired as a law professor at a medical school in Santiago, he said. Until then, he had been only on the periphery of dissident groups.

People who identified themselves as dissidents arranged to meet him in public places. But they were State Security agents and their meetings were videotaped — recordings then used to blackmail him into becoming an informant in 2010, Vera said. They also threatened to kill his mother and make it look like an accident unless he cooperated.

“I am ashamed to say I was a coward,” he told el Nuevo Herald, confirming that he had recorded the talk with Ferrer and written a three-page confession dated July 5 and published Tuesday by UNPACU.

“All of my attacks on José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White were ordered by State Security,” he said. They were part of a one-two punch, “to discredit the dissidents and lessen the impact of the repression when it came.”

The lawyer said he falsely accused Ferrer of stealing money sent by supporters abroad and abusing his wife. He and another infiltrator also sparked the biggest schism within the Ladies in White, causing about 30 members in Santiago to break with the main group.

Vera said he wrote the attacks with information and photos provided by State Security Col. Ernesto Samper. He was paid several thousand dollars over four years so he could send his columns abroad via the Internet, which costs $6 to $10 per hour in Cuba.

Read more here: State Security agent Ernesto Vera

Editor’s Note:  For additional background, also see Cuban Dissidents Plant a Hoax to Trap Government Spies and Ladies in White Resign Over Alleged State Security Infiltrator

 

 

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, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

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

 

 

Citing “Former” Cuban Spy, AFP Reports Dissident Influence Waning 1

In a feature worthy of Granma or Russia’s Pravda, the AFP reported that Cuban dissidents now travel freely, but their on-island influence has diminished. Curiously, the AFP conceded that Cuba’s apartheid regime censors dissident messages, but failed to report that foreign travel is allowed only when approved by Havana’s pervasive security and intelligence services. Likewise, it omitted State Security’s long-term, repressive targeting of the internationally-known Ladies in White and less famous protesters.

The piece then quoted “former” Cuban spy Arturo Lopez-Levy as saying dissidents do not provide “viable alternatives to the country’s main problems.” In reality, Lopez-Levy is a self-professed “former” Intelligence Officer in Havana’s dreaded Ministry of the Interior (MININT). He is also a relative of MININT Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul Castro’s son-in-law and head of GAESA, the regime’s business monopoly. Now living comfortably in Colorado, Lopez-Levy (aka Lopez-Callejas) is in his eighth year as a doctoral student in Denver.

Cuban Dissidents Plant a Hoax to Trap Government Spies 2

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

Cuban blogger Ernesto Vera Rodriguez thought he had a scoop: Exiles in Miami had cut off funds to the island’s most active opposition group in recent months, the Cuban Patriotic Union, UNPACU.

But the report was a fake, concocted by UNPACU leaders in a rare effort to unmask government agents infiltrated into the ranks of the opposition. And Vera, who claims to be a dissident, was the first to publish it. But he insists that he has no connection with State Security.

“It was a hook, to see who would bite,” said Luis Enrique Ferrer, UNPACU’s Miami representative and brother of José Daniel Ferrer, who heads the opposition group from his home in the eastern Cuban town of Palmarito de Cauto.

More importantly, Luis Enrique Ferrer added, the fishing expedition was also an attempt to hit back at State Security, the branch of the Interior Ministry that monitors, harasses, intimidates and arrests dissidents.

State Security agents have repeatedly infiltrated and at times even created opposition groups to disrupt their plans, embarrass their leaders and sow mistrust.

Infiltrators “cause more damage within the opposition than even the active repression,” said Luis Enrique Ferrer. “They are more damaging because they create mistrust and discredit the opposition inside the country.”

The Ferrer brothers’ scam was revealed Friday by Cuban journalist Michel Suarez in Diario de Cuba (Cuba Diary), a Web page based in Spain.

El Nuevo Herald spoke to the people involved and confirmed the details in Suarez’s story.

Luis Enrique Ferrer told El Nuevo that he and his brother arranged the sting using secret email accounts and a code they developed when they were held in separate prisons from 2003 to 2010.

Then in mid-September they talked about the fake report over a telephone line. It went like this: The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) had stopped its financial support for UNPACU in favor of the dissident Ladies in White.

They were certain that State Security agents would listen in on all of their conversations.

About three days later, on Sept. 17, Vera posted the report on his eponymous blog. “It is not a rumor; it is not a joke. This information was confirmed by various people, all of them human rights activists with access to CANF leaders,” he wrote.

Vera, who lives in Santiago de Cuba, near Palmarito de Cauto, insists he obtained his “completely true” report from “reliable sources.”

“I don’t have any type of link with State Security,” he told El Nuevo Herald Friday by phone from Cuba.

At the same time Vera published his “scoop,” State Security Maj. Luis Plutín, in charge of the Santiago region, began telling area dissidents that CANF would no longer provide them with assistance, said José Daniel 0Ferrer.

Omar Lopez Montenegro, who handles human rights issues for CANF, said there was no truth at all to Vera’s report. “He got that information from the intelligence services of Cuba,” Lopez said. “The assistance is being maintained.”

The Ferrers were not surprised that Vera, a lawyer in his early 30s, bit on their bait because they have denounced him as an infiltrator many times over the past year or so.
Although he sometimes criticizes the government, the vast majority of Vera’s blog posts attack UNPACU, José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White.

Luis Enrique Ferrer also noted there were others who echoed Vero’s report.

Percy Alvarado Godoy, confirmed by the Cuban government as an intelligence agent who infiltrated CANF in the 1990s, wrote in his blog on Sept. 20 that Vero’s report showed the “terrorist” CANF had broken with the “delinquent” José Daniel Ferrer.

In Miami, Edmundo Garcia, who runs the pro-Castro blog La Tarde se Mueve (The Afternoon Moves) also repeated the Vera report. So did Aldo Rosado-Tuero, of the blog Nueva Accion (New Action). He is a harsh critic of both the Cuban government and dissidents.

“It was like they were in the same orchestra, playing the same rhythm,” said Luis Enrique Ferrer.

UNPACU, currently the most visible and pugnacious of Cuba’s dissident movements, has been targeted for several destabilization efforts by government agents in recent months.

Sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2003, José Daniel Ferrer was freed in 2011 following talks between Cuban President Raúl Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega. While most of the more than 100 other political prisoners freed at that time, including his brother, went directly from prison to exile in Spain, Ferrer stayed in Cuba and founded UNPACU.

Cuban Government Supporters ‘Repudiate’ the Ladies in White 2

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

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.

La actriz Ana Luisa Rubio, salvajemente golpeada por supuestos vecinos 1

DiariodeCuba

“La violencia ha llegado en Cuba a niveles críticos”, dice el activista Antonio Rodiles, y la actriz Ana Luisa Rubio, de 62 años, acaba de experimentarlo. La foto que encabeza este reporte es la de su cara tras la severa golpiza que le propinó un grupo de supuestos vecinos el pasado viernes.

“Estoy muy adolorida, pero sobre todo estoy muy asustada”, dijo Rubio a DIARIO DE CUBA, desde su casa en el barrio habanero del Vedado. “Ellos no van a parar”.

Rubio pasó una noche en el Hospital Manuel Fajardo debido a los golpes. Rodiles, director del proyecto independiente Estado de Sats, la acompañó al día siguiente a la Policía para poner la denuncia, la décimo segunda que hace la actriz. Las anteriores fueron por agresión, amenaza, difamación, violación de domicilio, daño a la propiedad y coacción.

“La Policía no hace nada”, dijo Rubio. El resultado es que los agresores “se sienten impunes ante la ley”.

La actriz relató que el día del incidente salió de su casa después de que un grupo de niños llamara insistentemente a su puerta en un aparente juego.

“Salí a reclamar un poco de paz”, dijo. “Eso fue todo, ahí mismo se abalanzó una mujer a la que ya he denunciado en otras ocasiones por ofensas y amenazas, pero nunca le ha pasado nada (…) Ya no tuve tiempo de defenderme ni refugiarme porque fue una cosa detrás de la otra; al momento empecé a sentir patadas, piñazos, golpes de muchas personas”.

Solo pudo reconocer a tres participantes en la golpiza: dos vecinas y el coordinador de los Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (CDR) en la zona. El resto eran desconocidos.

En total, fueron una decena de mujeres y hombres que la dejaron tirada en el suelo, sola, tras el ataque, según su versión.

“Nos llamó muy nerviosa, diciendo que estaba ensangrentada y necesitaba ayuda”, dijo a DIARIO DE CUBA Ailer González, directora artística de Estado de Sats, quien junto a Rodiles y el activista Juan Antonio Madrazo acompañó a Rubio al hospital.

“Le han dado una tremenda paliza (…) la molieron a golpes”, señaló.

Frente a la casa de Rubio hay una oficina del Partido Comunista y en la misma cuadra otra de los CDR.

Madrazo dijo que al llegar a casa de la actriz, el viernes, respondiendo a su petición de auxilio, escuchó al coordinador de los CDR, de apellido Durán, decir a una persona con la que hablaba por teléfono: “Se le dio una buena paliza, pero si vuelve a bajar, se le despinga”.

La policía estuvo en la casa de Rubio el sábado y ella señaló a las dos mujeres y a Durán entre sus agresores. Ninguno fue detenido, confirmó Madrazo.

De la televisión a los calabozos

Ana Luisa Rubio fue una popular actriz de televisión en la Isla hasta que en la década pasada comenzó a participar en actividades de la disidencia interna.

En los últimos años ha sido detenida varias veces, la última el pasado 24 de agosto, cuando se paró en la Plaza de la Revolución “a gritar por la justicia, por la libertad, por los derechos humanos”, según relató.

Tras los arrestos, “me llevan siempre a la sala de psiquiatría” de algún hospital de La Habana. “Ya los médicos les han dicho que no me lleven más, que yo no tengo nada”, aseguró la actriz.

“Están tratando de hacer ver que yo estoy loca para que no tenga validez lo que digo”, consideró. “Para mí esto ya no es ni dictadura, esto es fascismo”.

Rubio también ha pertenecido a las Damas de Blanco y escribe el blog Aramusa28, desde el cual ha denunciado las agresiones que ha sufrido y ha pedido la renuncia de Raúl Castro.

A su juicio, la golpiza del viernes “fue preparada por la Seguridad del Estado”.

El acoso y los ataques vienen “ya de hace mucho tiempo, yo diría años, lo que pasa es que han ido in crescendo”, afirmó. Añadió que en 2004 estuvo nueve meses en una silla de ruedas debido a una agresión.

“No puedo hacer nada, no sé a quién acudir. Mis compañeros de lucha hacen lo posible, pero nosotros estamos totalmente indefensos”, se quejó la actriz.

El Gobierno ya no le permite trabajar en la televisión estatal.

“No me dejan ni respirar, me tienen sin economía alguna (…) ellos me censuraron como actriz en 2011, estando en las Damas de Blanco”, dijo.

Actualmente, Rubio alquila una habitación de su casa, como cuentapropista. Pero “tampoco me dejan, me interceptan a los clientes”, señaló. “Me están ahogando de una forma que no tengo manera ni de comer, ni de respirar, ni de reírme”.

Fotos

Ladies in White Resign Over Alleged State Security Infiltrator 2

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

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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