Cuban dissident movement

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The Cuban dissident movement is a political movement in Cuba whose aim is "to replace the current regime with a more democratic form of government".[1] According to Human Rights Watch, the Cuban government represses nearly all forms of political dissent.[2]


1959 - the Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro came to power with the Cuban Revolution of 1959. By the end of 1960, according to Paul H. Lewis in Authoritarian Regimes in Latin America, all opposition newspaper had been closed down and all radio and television stations were in state control.[3] Lewis states that moderate teachers and professors were purged, about 20,000 dissidents were held and tortured in prisons.[3]

Homosexuals as well as other "deviant" groups who were barred from military conscription, were forced to conduct their compulsory military service in camps called "Military Units to Aid Production" in the 1960s and were subjected to political "reeducation".[4][5][6] Castro's military commanders brutalized the inmates.[7]

One estimate from The Black Book of Communism is that throughout Cuba 15,000-17,000 people were executed.[8] Meanwhile, in nearly all areas of government, loyalty to the regime became the primary criterion for all appointments.[9]

Government authority

  • The media is operated under the Cuban Communist Party’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which "develops and coordinates propaganda strategies".[10]
  • A Human Rights Watch 1999 report on Cuba notes that Cuba has penalties for anyone who "threatens, libels or slanders, defames, affronts (injuria) or in any other way insults (ultraje) or offends, with the spoken word or in writing, the dignity or decorum of an authority, public functionary, or his agents or auxiliaries". There are even harsher penalties for those who show contempt for the President of the Council of the State, the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, the members of the Council of the State or the Council of Ministers, or the Deputies of the National Assembly of the Popular Power.[11]
  • There is a three-month to one-year sentence for anyone who "publicly defames, denigrates, or scorns the Republic's institutions, the political, mass, or social organizations of the country, or the heroes or martyrs of the nation". This appears designed solely to preserve the current government's power.[11]
  • Cubans are not allowed to produce, distribute or store publications without telling to authorities.[11]
  • Social dangerousness, defined as violations of socialist morality, can warrant "pre-criminal measures" and "therapeutic measures".[12]
  • Regarding institutions, the Human Rights Watch report notes that the Interior Ministry has principal responsibility for monitoring the Cuban population for signs of dissent.[13]
  • In 1991 two new mechanisms for internal surveillance and control emerged. Communist Party leaders organized the Singular Systems of Vigilance and Protection (Sistema Unico de Vigilancia y Protección, SUVP). Rapid Action Brigades (Brigadas de Acción Rapida, also referred to as Rapid Response Brigades, or Brigadas de Respuesta Rápida) observe and control dissidents.[13] The regime also "maintains academic and labor files (expedientes escolares y laborales) for each citizen, in which officials record actions or statements that may bear on the person's loyalty to the regime. Before advancing to a new school or position, the individual's record must first be deemed acceptable".[13]

1989: Communism ends in Europe, but not in Cuba

While the communist governments in Europe fell, Cuba continued communism.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who had unsuccessfully tried to replace hardline communists in Eastern Europe with reformers, might have supported Arnaldo Ochoa, a general who was executed on charges of drug trafficking. Cuba banned Soviet publications Sputnik and Moscow News in August 1989 because they were accused of "justifying bourgeois democracy".[14]

In 1991 Castro stated that Cuba should "forget [the] world's criteria" for democracy. Castro alleged that Western "bourgeois democracy" has nothing to do with democracy and is "complete garbage".[15]

Thousands of Cubans protested in Havana and chanted "Libertad!" ("Freedom") during the Maleconazo uprising on 5 August 1994. The uprising lasted a few hours before it was dispersed by the government's security forces, and an intervention by Fidel Castro himself.[16] A paper published in the Journal of Democracy states that this was the closest that the Cuban opposition could come to asserting itself decisively.[16]

Cuban dissidents formed the Concilio Cubano in late 1995. The Concilio planned to hold a meeting on 24 February 1996, a plan which was blocked by the government. The government arrested many of the leading activists and labeled them as "counterrevolutionary grouplets".[16]

The Varela Project started in 1998.

Situation today

In 2010, Cuba was described as the only "authoritarian regime" in the Americas by The Economist's 2010 Democracy Index.[17] The island was the second largest prison in the world for journalists in 2008, second only to the People's Republic of China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international press organization.[18] The military of Cuba is a central organization; it controls 60 percent of the economy and is Raúl Castro's base.[16]

According to a paper published in the Harvard International Review, dissident groups are weak and infiltrated by Cuban state security. Media is totally state-controlled. Dissidents find it difficult to organize and "Many of their leaders have shown enormous courage in defying the regime. Yet, time and again, the security apparatus has discredited or destroyed them. They do not represent a major threat to the regime."[19]

The paper Can Cuba Change? in the National Endowment for Democracy's Journal of Democracy states that about nine-tenths of the populace forms an economically and politically oppressed underclass and "Using the principles of democracy and human rights to unite and mobilize this vast, dispossessed majority in the face of a highly repressive regime is the key to peaceful change".[16] Working people are a critical source of discontent.[16] The only legal trade union is controlled by the government and strikes are banned.[16] Afro-Cuban dissidents have also risen, fueled by racism in Cuba.[16]

In 2012, Amnesty International warned that repression of Cuban dissidents was on the rise over the past two years, citing the Wilmar Villar hunger strike death, as well as the arrests of prisoners of conscience Yasmin Conyedo Riveron, Yusmani Rafael Alvarez Esmori, and Antonio Michel and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz.[20] The Cuban Commission of Human Rights reported that there were 6,602 detentions of government opponents in 2012, up from 4,123 in 2011.[21]

Dissident groups


During the "Black Spring" in 2003, the regime imprisoned 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists.[25][26][27][28] Their cases were reviewed by Amnesty International who officially adopted them as prisoners of conscience.[29] To the original list of 75 prisoners of conscience resulting from the wave of arrests in spring 2003, Amnesty International added four more dissidents in January 2004. They had been arrested in the same context as the other 75 but did not receive their sentences until much later.[30] These prisoners have since been released in the face of international pressure. Tripartite talks between the Cuban government, the Catholic Church in Cuba and the Spanish government were initiated in spring 2010 in reaction to the controversial death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010 following a hunger strike amid reports of massive abuse at the hands of prison staff. These negotiations resulted in a July 2010 agreement that all remaining prisoners of the 'Group of 75' would be freed. Spain offered to receive those prisoners who would agree to be released and immediately exiled together with their families. Of the 79 prisoners of conscience 56 were still behind bars at the time of the agreement. Of the total group, 21 are still living in Cuba today whereas the others are in exile, most of them in Spain. The final two prisoners were released on 23 March 2011.[31]

Independent bloggers

The Foreign Policy magazine named Yoani Sánchez one of the 10 Most Influential Intellectuals of Latin America, the only woman on the list.[32] An article in El Nuevo Herald by Ivette Leyva Martinez,[33] speaks to the role played by Yoani Sanchez and other young people, outside the Cuban opposition and dissidence movements, in working towards a free and democratic Cuba today:

On 29 March 2009, Yoani Sánchez, at Tania Bruguera's performance where a podium with an open mic was staged for people to have one minute of uncensored public speech, Sánchez was among people to publicly criticize censorship and said that "the time has come to jump over the wall of control". The government condemned the event.[34][35]

Yoani Sánchez is under permanent surveillance by Cuba's police force, which camps outside her home.[36]

June 2010 letter to United States Congress

On Thursday, 10 June 2010 seventy-four of Cuba's dissidents signed a letter to the United States Congress in support of a bill that would lift the U.S. travel ban for Americans wishing to visit Cuba. The signers include blogger Yoani Sanchez and hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, as well as Elizardo Sanchez, head of Cuba's most prominent human rights group and Miriam Leiva, who helped found the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, a group of wives and mothers of jailed dissidents. The letter supports a bill introduced on 23 Feb. by Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, that would bar the president from prohibiting travel to Cuba or blocking transactions required to make such trips. It also would bar the White House from stopping direct transfers between U.S. and Cuban banks. The signers stated that:

"We share the opinion that the isolation of the people of Cuba benefits the most inflexible interests of its government, while any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society.[37] "

The Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington-based group supporting the bill, issued a press release stating that "74 of Cuba's most prominent political dissidents have endorsed the Peterson-Moran legislation to end the travel ban and expand food exports to Cuba because in their words it is good for human rights, good for alleviating hunger, and good for spreading information and showing solidarity with the Cuban people. Their letter answers every argument the pro-embargo forces use to oppose this legislation. This, itself, answers the question 'who is speaking for the Cuban people in this debate?' - those who want to send food and Americans to visit the island and stand with ordinary Cubans, or those who don't. If Cuba's best known bloggers, dissidents, hunger strikers, and other activists for human rights want this legislation enacted, what else needs be said?"[38][39] The Center also hosts English[40] as well as the Spanish[41] version of the letter signed by the 74 dissidents.

Notable people

Hunger strikes

Pedro Luis Boitel, a poet who died on hunger strike.[43]

On 3 April 1972, Pedro Luis Boitel, an imprisoned poet and dissident, declared himself on hunger strike. After 53 days on hunger strike without receiving medical assistance and receiving only liquids, he died of starvation on 25 May 1972. His last days were related by his close friend, poet Armando Valladares. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Cólon Cemetery in Havana.

Guillermo Fariñas did a seven-month hunger strike to protest against the extensive Internet censorship in Cuba. He ended it in Autumn 2006, with severe health problems although still conscious.[44] Reporters Without Borders awarded its cyber-freedom prize to Guillermo Fariñas in 2006.[45]

Jorge Luis García Pérez (known as Antúnez) has done hunger strikes. In 2009, following the end of his 17-year imprisonment, Antúnez, his wife Iris, and Diosiris Santana Pérez started a hunger strike to support other political prisoners. Leaders from Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Argentina declared their support for Antúnez.[46][47]

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an imprisoned activist and dissident, died while on a hunger strike for more than 80 days.[48] Zapata went on the strike in protest against the Cuban government for having denied him the choice of wearing white dissident clothes instead of the designated prisoner uniform, as well as denouncing the living conditions of other prisoners. As part of his claim, Zapata was asking for the prisoners conditions to be comparable to those that Fidel Castro had while incarcerated after his 1953 attack against the Moncada Barracks.[49]

In 2012 Wilmar Villar Mendoza died after a 50+ day hunger strike.[50]

Cuban exiles

More than one million Cubans of all social classes have left the island to the United States,[51] and to Spain, The U.K., Canada, Mexico and other countries. Because leaving requires exit permit and a substantial amount of money, most Cubans can never leave Cuban soil.

Dissidents are allowed to leave, but not to return. However, a dissident who returns must stay in Cuba.

Many Cuban exiles have actively campaigned for a change of government in Cuba.

See also


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  51. Pedraza, Silvia 2007 Political Disaffection in Cuba's Revolution and Exodus (Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics)) Cambridge University Press ISBN 978-0-521-68729-4, ISBN 978-0-521-68729-4 p. 2 and many other sections of this book

External links

General links

Opposition groups