Report chronicles Cuba’s rights abuses Apr. 28, 2013
The State Department’s latest report on human-rights practices effectively puts the lie to the idea that the piecemeal and illusory changes in Cuba under Gen. Raúl Castro represent a genuine political opening… Continue reading
Posted on April 15, 2013
This past Tuesday, the Cuban authorities finally acknowledged Calixto R.
Martinez Arias's right to go free, after he had served more than six
months in prison, initially for the crime of "insulting the leadership
figures of the Revolution." He had no trial.
Martinez Arias twice engaged in what is known in the post-1959 history
of Cuban political prisoners as "taking a stand" (literally, "planting
oneself"): he declared a hunger strike. In the first, he went 33 days
without eating, the second, 22. Until, after the second strike, it was
reported by state security that his case had been reviewed and they had
"understood" his demand for freedom.
"I started the first hunger strike to protest my stay in the Combinado
del Este prison," Martinez Arias said. "I also refused to wear prison
garb. When an inmate declares a hunger strike, the guards use many
methods to make them quit. The first thing they say is that you are
committing a disciplinary infraction, which hurts your eiligibility for
rights such as conditional parole, and for family and conjugal visits.
And ultimately they take you to the infirmary where the doctor will take
your vital signs and issue you a "suitable cell" notice, which means
just that: you are fit to be taken to the punishment cells."
"The punishment cell measures about 6 by 8 feet. It has no light. It has
a "Turkish" toilet, and a water basin you can access twice a day, when
the guards allow. There were days when they refused me water because a
captain who claimed to be the second-in-command of Building 3, where I
was detained, said that I could not drink water and took it away from me.
"By day you have to lie on the floor or stand. To that end, they remove
the mattress. They left me my clothes, but took away anything with which
I might cover myself. I spent very cold days, especially during the
first strike. The cells are very wet and very cold, deliberately
prepared to be that way. There were times when I had to sleep sitting on
the floor, up against the wall, because the guards would come very late
to give me the mattress. Lying on the floor you can contract a lung
disease from the cold and moisture. The floor is very dirty because the
cells are not cleaned. There are many insects: enormous rats, droves of
cockroaches. It is a sacrifice that you have to make, convinced that it
is all designed to psychologically torture you.
"During the second hunger strike, of 16 days, they took me to what they
call 'the increased' area, which is more severe. Then they took me out
of there after one day to an even harsher cell. There the conditions
were more brutal. They kept a surveillance camera on me at all times;
they never turned off the light."
In the second hunger strike, Martinez Arias started bleeding profusely
from his gums and his teeth began to fall out. He lost 45 pounds. But he
says: "I became a lot stronger."
The "Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba," the newspaper
Granma, on Wednesday April 10, published an account of the "good
conditions" in which prisoners live in Cuban jails. Regarding this,
Martinez Arias said:
"This is an absurdity. I can assure you that they began preparing this
article in December. In the month of December they informed us that
journalists from the national and foreign press accredited in Cuba were
going to visit the Combinado del Este prison. Major Rodolfo, who is in
charge of the building where I was, a building for 'pendings,' explained
to us that the visitors would not be given access to our building
because of the appalling conditions. Prisoners there live in a state of
overcrowding, because every day many 'pending' prisoners enter.
"It also has many leaks, and the bathrooms are in an extremely
unsanitary condition. The building should be declared uninhabitable.
Rodolfo explained that he was not going to take visitors there, because
of these conditions, and that this was not a bad decision because, and I
can almost quote him verbatim, 'when a visitor comes to your house, you
want to show him the best, not the worst parts.' For that reason, he
said, they were going to repair a wing of building No.1. The foreign
media should not be allowed to have access to the punishment cells. In
fact, in none of the pictures they showed are these cells seen."
In Cuba, the exercise of the right that everyone has to seek, receive,
and distribute information, by any means of expression, without
limitation by borders—as stated in Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights—may be considered a crime. But on occasion,
to put an independent journalist in prison, as in the case of Martinez
Arias, the authorities bring charges of common crimes against him, to
deflect the political nature of the arrest.
On September 16, 2012, Martinez Arias had been inquiring of some
terminal-workers near Jose Marti International Airport about a batch of
medical aid provided by international humanitarian organizations to
address the outbreak of cholera and dengue and that, because of official
mismanagement, had spoiled.
On leaving the airport, as he and others took shelter from the rain,
perched on the benches of a bus stop to avoid the puddles, a patrol car
arrived and gave them all tickets; but Martinez Arias was transferred to
the police unit of Santiago de las Vegas on the charge of being
"illegally" in Havana, having an address of the province of Camagüey.
Martinez Arias claimed in his defense that "the brothers Fidel and Raul
Castro are natives of the province of Oriente."
"Immediately" said the self-described activist "the police handcuffed
me, took me to a dark hallway, and beat me hard."
The police who detained and beat him then accused him of "insulting the
figures of the leaders of the revolution." He was automatically moved to
the Valle Grande prison, and from there, as punishment for continually
denouncing through his colleagues the human rights abuses of the prison
population, he was taken to the maximum-security Combinado del Este prison.
During the first hunger strike, State Security informed Martinez Arias
that the prosecutor's petition stated that he had been "insulting" and
"resistant", for having offended a policeman.
"If I had reacted during the beating they gave me by dodging a blow, or
by landing a defensive blow to the policeman who was giving me the
beating, I would have been accused of 'attacking,'" Calixto said. Police
in Cuba can feel "offended" and "attacked" if you don't react with
absolute passivity to their arbitrariness and brutality, and then they
fabricate the charges of "insult" and "attack", respectively, resulting
in the person's imprisonment.
Martinez Arias believes that the visibility conferred by having been
declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, together
with the solidarity of human-rights activists, independent journalists
in Cuba, and many foreign media with the participation of Cubans living
abroad, managed to send a message to the government of Raul Castro that
a person imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression
is not alone, and you cannot keep them in prison subjected to cruel,
inhumane, and degrading treatment without paying a high political cost
that limits your room to maneuver with impunity.
*Translator's note: Literally "the planted one"
Translated by: Tomás A.
This post appeared originally in Cubanet.org
12 April 2013
http://translatingcuba.com/calixto-the-resolute-lilianne-ruiz/ Continue reading
Castro wants money, not a dialogue
BY FRANK CALZON
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died, and Raúl Castro is searching for
"investors" in Cuba. Chávez spent billions of Venezuela's petro-dollars
shoring up Cuba's economy but Venezuela's new leaders may not be as
beneficent. Venezuela may cut off its Cuban subsidy, just as new Russian
leaders did after the Soviet Union's demise.
American taxpayers are at the top of Castro's list, but can the Cuban
communist government cash in on its years of political theater
proclaiming itself the victim of American economic aggression while
running its own economy into the ground and training and financing
anti-American insurgencies around the world?
Perhaps it can, given that the collective U.S. memory is rather short if
not wholly forgiving.
Earlier this year, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy visited the Cuban dictator
and returned home saying this is the time "to overcome continuing
obstacles" and " to improve relations" because that would be in the
"best interests of both countries." The senator means well, but his
statements cry out for a more detailed appraisal of U.S.-Cuban relations.
The real questions are: Improve relations for what purpose? And under
what conditions? It might be in America's best interests to improve
relations with North Korea, Syria and Iran too, but the obstacles
standing in the way are similar to those in Cuba. There is no quid pro
quo their leaders are willing to offer.
Granted that while in Cuba, Sen. Leahy managed to wrangle permission
from Gen. Castro to visit Alan Gross, a subcontractor with the
U.S.Agency for International Development, who is serving a 15-year
prison sentence. Gross after-the-fact "crime" was giving a laptop
computer and satellite telephone to a Jewish organization seeking access
to the Internet.
Gross is innocent and also quite ill. Amnesty International reports he's
lost more than 100 pounds in prison, and he has developed a growth that
may be cancerous. Havana won't allow an American physician chosen by his
family to see him.
There are others. Amnesty International says that Calixto Martinez, a
Cuban independent journalist — a reporter not working for state-run
media — was jailed when he went to Havana's international airport to ask
about a shipment of cholera medication sent by the World Health
Organization. He has not been charged nor had a trial. Havana does not
want tourists to hear about a cholera outbreak.
But, back to the benefits of lifting what remains of the U.S. embargo
against the Castros' dynasty: Cuba is broke and has suspended payments
to many creditors.
There is no ban on American companies selling foodstuffs or medicines to
Cuba, which they do on a "cash-and-carry" basis. But Washington won't
provide credit to Cuba, i.e., absorb the loss if the regime fails to pay
its suppliers. Thus American companies selling to Cuba get paid and
American taxpayers aren't on the hook when the regime fails to pay what
Individually, Cubans have no "purchasing power" to speak of. The
government is the island's only "employer" and pays workers the
equivalent of $20 a month. Except for cigars, Cuba now has very little
to sell to anyone. For 200 years, the engine of Cuba's economy was its
sugar industry. It is now in shambles due to "state planning."
Lastly, the United States lists Cuba as a state-sponsor of international
terrorism. It does so, despite the best efforts of Ana Belen Montes, a
high-ranking Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, who presented Havana
as peace-loving and no threat to anyone. Montes was a spy for Cuba. She
pleaded guilty and is now in a federal penitentiary. Her "reports" are
still used by Castro's advocates.
It is difficult to improve relations with dictatorships that deny human
rights, ban labor unions and abuse and jail peaceful dissidents for
talking about democracy. Visiting members of European parliaments have
been arbitrarily arrested in Cuba.
President Obama tried unilaterally to extend a "hand of friendship"
without success. Today Havana wants money, not a meaningful dialogue
that might lead to a "transition."
Like Sen. Leahy, I wish things could be different, but that requires a
demonstrable Castro initiative to change the nature of his rule in Cuba.
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in
http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/14/3340674/castro-wants-money-not-a-dialogue.html Continue reading
Independent reporter released after seven months in detention Published on Wednesday 10 April 2013.
Reporters Without Borders hails yesterday's release of Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, an independent reporter for the Hablemos Press information centre, after several weeks of mounting calls… Continue reading
strike: Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias
Further information on UA: 25/13 Index: AMR 25/002/2013 Cuba Date: 14
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE ON HUNGER STRIKE
image1.png Independent journalist and prisoner of conscience Calixto
Ramón Martínez Arias is on hunger strike to protest against his
detention in Cuba. As a result, he has been placed in solitary
confinement in a punishment cell.
On 6 March, journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias went on hunger
strike to protest against his detention in Combinado del Este prison on
the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. He was consequently transferred by the
prison authorities to a punishment cell. According to his relatives, the
small cell where he is now held has no light, toilet facilities or
bedding, and he is not permitted to leave the cell to exercise in the
open air. These kinds of punitive measures are typically used by the
Cuban authorities against prisoners on hunger strike.
image2.jpgCalixto Ramón Martínez Arias works for the unofficial news
agency, Let's Talk Press (Hablemos Press). He was arrested in Havana on
16 September 2012 by the Cuban Revolutionary Police (Policía
Revolucionaria de Cuba) at José Martí International Airport in Havana.
He had been investigating allegations that medicine provided by the
World Health Organization to fight the cholera outbreak (which began in
mid-2012) was being kept at the airport instead of being distributed.
Since then, he has been detained in various detention centres. He has
been held at Combinado del Este prison since November 2012.
Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias is yet to be formally charged by the public
prosecutor, and according to his relatives he is reportedly being
accused of "disrespect" ("desacato"). Amnesty International believes
Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias' detention is politically motivated and
related to his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.
Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:
Calling on the Cuban authorities to release Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias
immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience,
detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of
Urging them to remove him from solitary confinement, and ensure he is
granted any medical attention he may require;
Urging them to refrain from taking punitive measures against prisoners
for undertaking hunger strikes.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 25 APRIL 2013 TO:
Dr. Darío Delgado Cura
Fiscal General de la República, �Fiscalía General de la República,
Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella, �Centro Habana,
La Habana, Cuba
Salutation: Dear Attorney General
General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra
Ministro del Interior y Prisiones
Ministerio del Interior, �Plaza de la Revolución, �La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Your Excellency
And solidarity letters to:
Centro de Información Hablemos Press
Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez –
calle Santa Marta 394, Apto 3 alto, entre Franco y Subirana, municipio
Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above
date. This is the first update of UA 25/13. Further information:
prisoner of conscience on hunger strike
Restrictions on the Cuban media are stringent and pervasive and clearly
stop those in the country from enjoying their right to freedom of
opinion and expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The
state maintains a total monopoly on television, radio, the press,
internet service providers, and other electronic means of communication.
Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution recognizes freedom of the press but
expressly prohibits private ownership of the mass media: "Citizens have
freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of
socialist society. Material conditions for the exercise of that right
are provided by the fact that the press, radio, television, cinema, and
other mass media are state or social property and can never be private
property. This assures their use at exclusive service of the working
people and in the interests of society. The law regulates the exercise
of those freedoms." Although there is no censorship law that explicitly
regulates the functioning of the press or establishes what is published,
journalists must join the Cuban Journalists Association (Unión de
Periodistas Cubanos, UPEC) in order to practice journalism in the
state-owned media. UPEC is self-governing; however, in its statutes it
recognizes the Cuban Communist Party as "the highest leading force of
society and of the state" and agrees to abide by Article 53 of the
Constitution (see above).
Compulsory membership of a professional association for the practice of
journalism is an unlawful restriction on freedom of expression and a
violation of the right to freedom of association. Article 20 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that, "no one may be
compelled to belong to an association". In the particular case of UPEC,
whose members are employees of the government of Cuba, compulsory
membership is a means of exerting political control in the field of
communications. Only journalists expressing views in line with official
government policies are accredited by UPEC; independent journalists are
barred from joining.
The news agency Hablemos Press is an unofficial Cuban news agency
founded in February 2009 by independent journalists and human rights
activists, "for the purpose of gathering and disseminating news within
the country and for the rest of the world" according to their website.
Hablemos Press journalists are regular victims of short-term arrests and
harassment related to their work. Prior to his September arrest, Calixto
Ramón Martínez Arias had been detained without charge on a number of
occasions in 2012. On 11 September 2012 the director of Hablemos Press –
Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez – was forced into a car and reportedly
beaten as he was driven to a police station. Before being released, he
was told that he had become the "number one dissident journalist" and
would face imprisonment if he continued his activities.
Amnesty International believes no prisoner should be confined long term
in conditions of isolation and reduced sensory stimulation, and that
conditions of detention should conform to the UN Standard Minimum Rules
for the Treatment of Prisoners and other international human rights
standards. Amnesty International believes that if solitary confinement
is used, strict limits should be imposed on the practice, including
regular and adequate medical supervision by a doctor.
Hunger strikes are often used in Cuba by political dissidents and other
activists as a way of protest, and demonstrate the situation of despair
and hopelessness that they face when victims of unfair and prolonged
incarcerations. For further information, see: Cuba must release prisoner
of conscience on hunger strike
In September 2012 Jorge Vázquez Chaviano carried out a hunger strike
after the Cuban authorities failed to release him following the end of
his 18-month prison sentence. In recent years hunger strikes have led to
the death of two prisoners: Orlando Zapata Tamayo (see: Death of Cuban
prisoner of conscience on hunger strike must herald change,
in February 2010, and Wilmar Villar Mendoza (see: Cuban authorities
'responsible' for activist's death on hunger strike,
in January 2012 – both prisoners of conscience.
Name: Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias
Gender m/f: m
Further information on UA: 25/13 Index: AMR 25/002/2013 Issue Date: 14
Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias © Hablemos Press
http://amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR25/002/2013/en/f2ef351c-54ab-43cb-a99e-0c39b3e9adab/amr250022013en.html Continue reading
Cuban activists talk about lack of basic freedoms, 10 years on from mass
"The catalogue of repression and harassment suffered by José Daniel
Ferrer García since his release illustrates the current strategy by the
Cuban authorities under which activists are arrested for short periods
of time to discourage them from speaking up about the state of human
rights in the country."
Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.
Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer García can hardly remember a time when
the authorities were not monitoring and blocking his movements and phone
Coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba,
UNPACU), an unrecognized organization that seeks democratic change by
non-violent means, José Daniel has been arrested on numerous occasions
as punishment for his activism.
From his early days as an activist in the 1990s he was used to being
arbitrarily detained on a regular basis for short periods and was
constantly threatened with prison.
So when he was told by two state security officials on 15 March 2003
that he only had a few days to stop his dissident activities or he would
face a long time in prison, his reaction was to laugh.
"They had threatened me so many times, with so many years of prison that
I no longer took them seriously," he said.
Three days later, however, on 18 March 2003, in what was later dubbed
the "black spring" by those affected, José Daniel was arrested as part
of a group of 75 political dissidents in an unprecedented crackdown on
the dissident movement on the island.
They were all detained on spurious charges related to state security and
following summary trials were sentenced to long prison terms of up to 28
José Daniel was sentenced to 25 years under charges of "acts against the
territorial independence or integrity of the state". During his trial,
the prosecution pushed for the death penalty, the maximum sentence for
that "crime". All he had been doing was help to organize a campaign
calling for a referendum on legal reform to seek greater personal,
political and economic freedoms in his country.
Amnesty International declared them all "prisoners of conscience" as
they had been sentenced solely for the peaceful exercise of fundamental
During his time in prison, José Daniel was moved to several prisons
across the country – which made visits from his wife and three children,
But in July 2010, following the intervention of the Cuban Catholic
Church, authorities in Cuba agreed to release all those of the 75 who
remained in prison, amongst them, José Daniel.
The political dissidents were set free under "licencia extrapenal" a
conditional release meaning that the charges against them were not being
dropped but that they were allowed to spend the remainder of their
sentences outside prison. Most activists, however, were forced into
exile in Spain.
José Daniel refused to leave Cuba and was finally released in March 2011.
Since his release, he has continued to suffer from harassment – mainly
in the form of short-term detentions aimed at preventing him from
carrying out his activism, including attending private meetings and
public events. His home has also been raided by state security forces
and his computer confiscated.
In August 2012, he was arrested for 36 hours in the province of Holguín,
before being released without charge. In April 2012, he was held for 27
days for "public disorder" in his home province of Santiago de Cuba and
only released on the condition that he renounce his political activism,
something he refused to do. Two months earlier, he had been arrested in
Havana and held incommunicado for three days.
"The catalogue of repression and harassment suffered by José Daniel
Ferrer García since his release illustrates the current strategy by the
Cuban authorities under which activists are arrested for short periods
of time to discourage them from speaking up about the state of human
rights in the country," said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty
According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights – an organization
denied legal status in Cuba - there were at least 504 arbitrary
detentions this February, while the unofficial news agency Hablemos
Press has reported that 40 independent journalists and bloggers have
been arbitrarily detained this year so far.
A new law came into force in January which has removed the need for
Cubans to have a permit to travel abroad, making it easier for Cubans to
leave the island and for Cubans living overseas to return.
Blogger Yoani Sánchez and the spokesperson of the NGO Ladies in White,
Berta Soler have both recently been allowed to travel abroad, something
which seemed impossible only a few months ago.
When he learned about the lift of Cuba's travel ban, however, José
Daniel knew that the historical change would not make much difference to
him. The fact that he is still serving his sentence means he cannot
apply for a passport until it ends in 2028.
Amnesty International says José Daniel and his fellow activists were
imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions and
their sentences should be voided immediately.
And for the activists imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown and forced
into exile, including journalist Pablo Pacheco, the ease in travel
restrictions will be unlikely to allow them and their families to return
Pablo was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison under a law which
prohibits the passing of information to the United States that could be
used to bolster anti-Cuban measures, and was released in July 2010,
under the condition that he and his family would move to Spain.
"Prison conditions were terrible – solitary cells with no sunlight and a
toilet in the same cell. I lost 30 lbs and suffered long-term damage to
my knees. My family was only allowed to visit once every three months,"
he said to Amnesty International.
Pablo can still vividly remember the last day he spent in Cuba.
He was transferred directly from prison to the airport, where he met his
wife and son. He spent nearly two years in Spain and then moved to Miami
because the economic crisis in the European country left few job
opportunities for him and his wife.
Pablo told Amnesty International that he wants to return to Cuba as his
family and friends are there but that he will not be ready to return
until the country turns into a real democracy.
Trumped-up charges on offences such as "disrespect", "public disorder",
"contempt" and "dangerousness" are still being used by the Cuban
authorities to prosecute government opponents.
Amnesty International has recently named two imprisoned activists as
"prisoners of conscience" – held solely because of the peaceful
expression of their opinions.
Journalist Calixto Martínez Arias, a founder member of Hablemos Press,
was arrested on 16 September 2012 near Havana airport by the Cuban
Revolutionary Police. He was investigating allegations that medicine
provided by the World Health Organization to fight a cholera outbreak
was being kept at the airport, as the Cuban government were allegedly
trying to down-play the seriousness of the outbreak.
When he complained at the police station about his detention, he was
beaten and pepper-sprayed, and then called out "down with Raúl", "down
with Fidel" and was subsequently charged by the police with showing
"disrespect" towards President Raúl Castro and Fidel Castro.
Calixto – who has yet to be formally charged by the public prosecutor –
began a hunger strike on 6 March 2013 in protest at his continued detention.
Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz is currently serving a three-year sentence
having been detained on 25 December 2010 at his home in Holguín for
playing songs by a Cuban hip-hop group, whose lyrics criticize the lack
of freedom of expression in Cuba and dancing in front of his house
whilst holding the Cuban flag. He was sentenced for "insulting symbols
of the homeland" and "public disorder".
For José Daniel, the 10 years following the crackdown has seen no
improvement in the human rights situation in Cuba. The ease in travel
restrictions is "just a smoke screen. It will still be the Cuban
government who decides who can and can't leave. All the while other
fundamental freedoms are still being repressed and that repression is
"Civil society in Cuba has already lost its fear to speak out", said
Pablo Pacheco, "and the world needs to support their efforts".
http://amnesty.org/en/news/cuban-activists-talk-about-lack-basic-freedoms-10-years-mass-crackdown-2013-03-18 Continue reading
Cuba confirms 51 cholera cases in Havana
Cuba's health ministry has confirmed a cholera outbreak in Havana with
51 people infected - the biggest incidence of the disease there in decades.
An official statement said health workers had detected an increase in
"acute diarrhoea" in some districts, which has been established as cholera.
The source has been identified as a foodseller who caught cholera during
a previous outbreak in eastern Cuba.
Doctors have been going house to house in Havana areas, checking for
The official confirmation follows several days of speculation about an
upsurge in diarrhoea in the capital, where the BBC understands a
46-year-old man died of suspected cholera earlier this month.
In the central Havana district of Cerro, where the outbreak is believed
to have begun, cafes and restaurants have been closed and only the sale
of sealed food and drink is permitted.
The outbreak was detected on 6 January. According to the health
ministry, measures taken since then mean the disease is in its
People are being urged to take care with hygiene and in the preparation
Cholera is carried by contaminated water or food. It causes severe
dehydration through diarrhoea and can prove fatal if untreated.
Until last July, Cuba had not experienced any significant outbreak since
well before the 1959 revolution.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21023366 Continue reading
Cholera fear in Cuba as officials keep silent
By Sarah Rainsford BBC News, Havana
Uvaldo Pino was a neighbourhood barber in Cerro, one of the poorer and
more overcrowded districts of Cuba's capital, Havana.
In late December, the 46-year-old fell sick with vomiting and diarrhoea
and died in hospital on 6 January.
The barber's family say he had two separate tests and both came back
positive - for cholera.
"We don't know how he was infected," his sister, Yanisey Pino, told the
BBC at the family's home, a few blocks from the capital's Revolution Square.
"He was treated, he had all the medicine, but his organs didn't respond.
It was too late."
Yanisey added that her brother was a heavy drinker and had checked
himself out of hospital the first time he was admitted.
A week after Uvaldo's death, Cuba's health ministry has not yet made any
public pronouncement. But there are increasing signs that the barber's
case is not an isolated one.
'Dozens' of admissions
Doctors are now making door-to-door enquiries in Havana and anyone
displaying possible cholera symptoms is being tested. Suspected cases
are being sent to the Tropical Medicine Institute, the IPK.
"All our wards are dealing with this issue - they are almost full," an
IPK employee told the BBC by telephone, before saying she was not
authorised to comment further.
Another staff member, contacted later and also not authorised to speak
to the media, said the IPK did not have any confirmed cases of cholera
at this point.
But Yanisey Pino says her brother was diagnosed with cholera both by his
local hospital and the IPK.
The day Uvaldo died, health workers visited the family where they live -
in several cramped houses around a small yard. Relatives and neighbours
were issued antibiotics as a precaution.
The area has been disinfected and water samples were taken for testing.
Meanwhile, nearby bars and cafeterias have been closed or instructed not
to sell food or drink that is not pre-packed.
Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, there are similar scenes.
One resident, Yudermis, fell sick just before the New Year, along with
four other relatives including her seven-year-old son. The family
assumed they had food poisoning but Yudermis says her cousin then tested
positive for cholera at their local clinic.
"The health workers then came here asking questions, like if we had
diarrhoea," she explains inside their rundown family home as her son,
now fully recovered, plays nearby.
"They sent us all to hospital by ambulance and the tests came back positive.
"There were a lot of people at the IPK," Yudermis adds, describing
dozens of admissions while she was being treated, and not all from her
own district of Cerro.
"I was in a bad way. It was frightening. But we're fine now."
Before she fell sick, Yudermis had never even heard of cholera, which is
rare in Cuba.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes cholera as "extremely
virulent". Carried by contaminated water or food, it causes severe
dehydration through diarrhoea and can prove fatal if untreated.
Until last summer, there had been no significant outbreak on the island
since well before the revolution.
But in July the health ministry confirmed that three people had died of
cholera in the east of the country. A contaminated well was identified
as the source.
In Havana, Cuba's bustling and crowded capital and a key tourist centre,
strict measures are in place to contain the latest suspected outbreak.
"We can't sell anything that's not in sealed bottles until further
notice and all food sales have been suspended," explains Tony, at the
Cerro Moderno cafe, a short walk from the home of Yudermis. Its fridge
is now empty and the grills cold.
Local doctors confirmed this is standard procedure for several blocks
around every location where someone tests positive for cholera.
"If they take all the right measures, we'll be fine," Tony shrugs,
adding that everyone has been given antibiotics as a precaution.
"I took my pills straight away!" says Angel, as he buys cigarettes at
"I don't know what cholera is and I don't want to find out. People here
are using chlorine and boiling their water. You have to take care."
Pharmacies across the city are now selling water purification drops,
rationed to two small bottles per person.
But in the tourist heart of Old Havana, cafes and restaurants remain
open and the streets are still full of mobile food and drink vendors.
Most say they have heard rumours of a cholera outbreak in Cerro and are
taking extra precautions, but none have received any official instructions.
The WHO stresses "public communication" as a key tool in controlling any
In Havana, that task has so far been left to local doctors who are very
connected to their communities.
But as rumours fill the information void, concern on the streets is growing.
"I'm racking my brains trying to understand why there's nothing on TV
about this," says Yanisey Pino, echoing many peoples' comments.
"Why don't they say something? Inform people, like in other countries,
so they're not afraid and can protect themselves! But there's no
information at all."
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21002191 Continue reading
After a year away, Cuba returns to the list of countries imprisoning
December 11, 2012 13:56
Human rights defenders, political dissidents and journalists have been
threatened, beaten and arbitrarily imprisoned in Cuba recently, and the
widespread government crackdown continued on International Human Rights
On the 64th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
over 100 activists were detained and up to 150 others were put under
house arrest, including members of the Ladies in White, women who
campaign for the release of relatives imprisoned by the government,
reports the Miami Herald.
Protesters were harassed by police in Havana and detained for hours
after staging rallies and marching outside two churches, one in Havana,
and one in the eastern town of El Cobre.
The State Department issued a statement Monday saying the US was "deeply
concerned" about the Cuban government's actions.
"We call on the Cuban government to end the increasingly common practice
of arbitrary and extra-judicial detentions, and we look forward to the
day when all Cubans can freely express their ideas, assemble freely and
express their opinions peacefully," said State Dept. spokesperson
Victoria Nuland, according to AFP.
More from GlobalPost: Cuba: When bureaucrats attack
Cuba has been increasingly harsh on activists and journalists. This year
alone has seen over 5,600 cases of detention or imprisonment, according
to rights advocacy group the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
Most notably, Cuban journalist Calixto Martinez Arias, who reported on a
2009 cholera outbreak and in September wrote about shipments of medicine
expiring, was imprisoned in September and has been on a hunger strike
Martinez Arias is being held in solitary confinement and spoke with his
news agency, the independent Centro de Información Hablemos Press about
the inhumane conditions in Cuban prisons, which the Committee to Protect
Journalists recorded and posted on their blog [in Spanish].
According to IFEX.org, another political prisoner, Alexander Roberto
Fernández Rico, informed Martínez Arias' news agency in November that he
"was being held naked in a 'punishment cell' and being given only a
liter of water per day."
Cuba reappeared on the CPJ's list of countries that imprison journalists
this year after a year off it, one of the only countries in the Americas
to still regularly appear.
However, political dissidents see significant, on-going brutality by
secret police and plain clothes officers, according to the Cuban
Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation
More from GlobalPost: With new travel rules, most Cubans are free to go.
Will they return?
"Recent years have seen a growing trend toward police violence during
detentions, despite the dissidents' entirely peaceful behavior," the
commission said in its monthly report in November.
The commissions's leader, Elizardo Sanchez, a leading opposition figure,
reported similar treatment to Time magazine and said he was personally
attacked in Havana, and another activist, Guillermo Farinas, was
allegedly set up on by police weilding wooden sticks.
In a letter to Cuban Interior Minister Abeladro Colome and the
international press, Sanchez complained about the situation, saying
"Arbitrary arrests, physical aggression, threats and humiliations
against peaceful citizens are counterproductive to the necessary
alternative that is a national dialogue."