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Signs of Stagnation and Decline for Cuba

December 2, 2013 by Normando Hernandez

This post originally appeared on the Freedom Collection. Sign up to receive regular updates on freedom and democracy issues here.

The Castro brothers are still laughing at the world. On November 12, the United Nations General Assembly elected Cuba to its discredited Human Rights Council.  Meanwhile, violations of basic human freedoms remain the norm on the island.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an illegal NGO that the Cuban regime tolerates, there were in the month of October “at least 909 political arrests, one of the highest figures for one single month in the last two decades.”

For the past 19 weeks, the Ladies in White in the province of Matanzas have been arrested, beaten, and denounced by pro-regime supporters stationed in front of their homes to prevent them from participating in demonstrations after Sunday Mass. The Ladies in White of Villa Clara province and those from Santiago de Cuba have suffered the same fate. There are daily reports and testimonies of rights violations from all across the island.

Unfortunately, supporters of the Cuban government ignore these facts, while many international media outlets treat selective changes as more sweeping reforms.

One of these “changes” is the government’s decision after 50 years of tight control to give more Cubans the right to travel abroad and return home. But little is said about the regime’s selective policy of issuing passports to those who wish to travel.  None of the former prisoners from the Black Spring who were sent into exile in 2010 have been allowed to reenter Cuba. And of the former prisoners who did not accept exile as a condition of their release, none have been permitted to leave Cuba.

The most recent case is that of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who was invited by President Barack Obama to the 50th anniversary celebrations and 2013 award ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  In 2007, Dr. Biscet became the first Cuban to ever receive this prestigious honor. President George W. Bush awarded the medal to Dr. Biscet in absentia because he was serving a 25-year prison sentence as a victim of the Black Spring crackdown.  He was released and put under house arrest in 2011 as part of the negotiations between the regime in Havana and the government of Spain and the Catholic Church in Cuba.  Although Dr. Biscet applied for a passport to attend last week’s ceremony in Washington, DC, the Cuban government did not allow him to go. “The government still considers me a prisoner,” Dr. Biscet expressed in a telephone call [with Normando Hernández] .

Stories like this are not signs of change but of stagnation and decline; one wonders how the United Nations justifies such a noxious representative on its Human Rights Council.


Normando Hernández is a Freedom Advocate Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.  He is also a Cuban dissident and former prisoner of conscience. Learn more about his story here.


Author

Normando Hernandez
Normando Hernandez

Normando Hernandez is a Freedom Advocate Fellow with the George W. Bush Institute.  A former political prisoner, Normando has been a key figure in advancing the cause of freedom in his native Cuba. 

Normando is an independent journalist who has dedicated himself to providing alternate sources of news and information in Cuba.  In 1999, he cofounded the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights.  In 2000, he established the Camaguey Association of Journalists, the first independent organization of that type in the Camaguey province since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.  He was the youngest of 75 dissidents arrested by Cuban authorities on March 18, 2003, a day that became known as the “Black Spring.”  Normando was sentenced to 25 years in prison for writing about the condition of state-run services in Cuba and criticizing the government’s management of issues such as tourism, agriculture, and fishing.  Normando was exiled to Spain in 2010 and has since relocated to the United States with his wife and daughter.

Most recently, Normando was a Spring 2012 Reagan-Fascell Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy, where he focused on the monopoly of communications by the Cuban regime and how independent journalists can combat totalitarianism.  Normando is the author of numerous publications, including the book The Art of Torture:  Memories of a Former Prisoner of Conscience.  He has received several awards for his work in journalism and human rights, including, the Norwegian Writer’s Association’s Freedom of Expression Award, the PEN American Center’s Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and a special mention by the Inter-American Press Association for excellence in journalism.  Normando is also featured in the Bush Institute’s Freedom Collection.

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