The Struggle for Human Rights in Cuba

Peter Anthony Tariche, Staff Writer

“¡Que Viva Los Derechos Humanos!” (Long Live Human Rights!), shouted Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet as he was taken away by Cuban police on that fateful Black Spring of 2003. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, the founder of the Lawton Foundation an organization created by Cubans for Cubans in order to defend human rights in Cuba was condemned to a 25-year sentence. On March 18th, 2003, the Cuban government continued its crackdown on human rights activists in Cuba and arrested 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists. At the time, the European Union condemned the actions of the Cuban government and placed sanctions on the Cuban government until 2008. In contradiction to what the Cuban government would have you believe, they have continued to violate the human rights of many political and human rights activists in Cuba. After Fidel Castro passed the torch to his brother, some individuals of the international community hoped the Cuban regime would change its policies towards political activists, but that hope was not fulfilled.

Fast forwarding to recent events, a Human Rights activist in Cuba, Orlando Zapata, recently died in prison after undergoing a hunger strike. The International community has condemned the Cuban government over Zapata’s death, while the Cuban government has gone on to claim Zapata was nothing but a criminal. Las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White), an opposition group in Cuba who are the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of many political prisoners in Cuba, attempted to hold a silent vigil in protest of Zapata’s death. The Ladies in White were attacked by a Castro mob and many of the women were beaten. After the beating of the Ladies in White, President Barack Obama condemned the actions of the Cuban government and called for the release of political prisoners in Cuba. A silent march was organized in Miami following the event where tens of thousands (around 90,000+) of people from all walks of life came together in protest for human rights, telling the world that this is not a Cuban issue but a universal human issue. Others held many other silent marches around the United States and Europe, primarily in Los Angeles, Boston and Madrid.

I was lucky enough to attend the march in Los Angeles where thousands of individuals marched in solidarity for the victims of human rights abuses in Cuba. The march was lead by Andy Garcia, a Cuban-American actor most famously known for his roles in Ocean’s Eleven, The Godfather and The Lost City. Other celebrities joined us in the march, such as Steven Bauer and George Lopez who quoted José Martí stating, “Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect.” The March was absolutely beautiful as everyone dressed in white, the universal color for peace. Susie Carnet, an attendee at the Solidarity March stated, “It’s very unfortunate to live in a world where human rights and natural rights still cease to exist in many countries around the world that we as Americans have taken for granted; it is beautiful to see people stand up for something that they believe in.” Many exiles who were once prisoners of conscience in Cuba spoke prior to the march. More famously, Huber Matos, a Commandante (Commander) of the Cuban Revolution, was in attendance and spoke of what the Cuban Revolution had been about prior to the Communist takeover of the revolution: a revolution to re-establish democracy in Cuba and Cuba’s 1940 Constitution (one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world for its time).

Huber Matos, a highly praised Commandante of the revolution, was arrested in Cuba after Fidel Castro ordered his arrest, after Matos had begun to tell the Cuban people the Revolution had been taken over by Soviet and Communist forces. Camilo Cienfuegos, an anarchist and Commandante of the Revolution was sent to arrest Huber Matos. Matos was tried for treason and served a 20-year prison sentence. Shortly after, Camilo Cienfuegos, whom Huber Matos called a close friend, passed away after his private plane mysteriously crashed. When Matos was finally released he travelled to Costa Rica where he was reunited with his family, and later moved to the United States, where he wrote an account of his imprisonment. “I was tortured on several occasions, I was subjected to all kinds of horrors, all kinds, including the puncturing of my genitals. Once during a hunger strike a prison guard tried to crush my stomach with his boot.” Matos’ words at the time awakened the International community to one of the thousands of human rights abuses that occurred in Cuba’s political prisons.

The International community has continued to attack Cuba for its recent Human Rights abuses, and more than ever the Cuban community in the United States and in Cuba have picked up the torch of liberty. These marches all around the world in solidarity are calling for a peaceful, non-violent transition to a Democratic form of governance for Cuba.

Guillermo Farinas, a recently released political prisoner in Cuba has picked up the torch of liberty, as have so many other political prisoners in Cuba, and all together are currently protesting these abuses with a hunger strike. For many in the United States and around the world, Cuba has long been praised for some of their socialist reforms, yet why have millions of Cubans been displaced out of their country? Why have they left their homes, their land and are seeking to better their lives by sacrificing everything and travelling to unknown lands without anything in their pockets? The truth is men seek liberty even if they do not know what it is.

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