In the cities of Havana, Santa Clara and Holguín, 57 Cubans, 14 of them teenagers, are being tried this week with prosecutorial requests for up to 30 years in prison. All of them for peacefully participating in the # 11J protests or sharing videos on social media.
Under the de facto government of Fulgencio Batista, the participants in the assault on the Moncada Barracks organized by Fidel Castro in 1953 not only shed the blood of the defenders, but also occupied the Saturnino Lora hospital in violation of international humanitarian norms, taking the sick as hostages.
Castro, as the leader of this bloody action, had the right to defend himself and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but he only served 22 months, which he spent in fairly comfortable conditions, separated from common prisoners, enjoying among other facilities a radio, an electric stove and permission to cook, library, as well as implements to play ping-pong and volleyball. Journalists of that era such as Juan Emilio Friguls, from Diario de la Marina, and Marta Rojas, from Bohemia magazine, were able to cover the incidents of his arrest and trial.
On the other hand, neither the foreign press nor the independent media have access to the trials that are being held for the 11J protesters. A video filmed by relatives and friends of the accused has shown how the Santa Clara Provincial Court has been cordoned off with a yellow tape, as is done with a crime scene. And in fact it is, but the Castro dictatorship will not allow independent witnesses of the irregularities that are committed, how they violate even their own laws, how the prosecutors, judges and in many cases defense lawyers, all State employees, are only staging a farce to adjudicate previously determined sentences.
In a testimony offered to our colleague Luis Domínguez, a former member of the repressive apparatus tells how the Heads of the Ministry of the Interior in Cuban provinces have established the so-called tripartite meetings held by MININT, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Court-as well as the Criminal Processing Body of the territory, a witches Sabath where the sentences are really dictated even before the trial begins and with minimal or no evidence, if the original political offence is replaced by a common one. Just in case, to ensure the support of the legal framework, Counterintelligence agents are instructed to recruit some judges to make things easier.
So it is not convenient for the dictatorship that the world can see these processes. Against the independent press reporting they use their entire repressive arsenal, from brief arrests or home retention to beatings and imprisonment, as happened to journalist Roberto Quiñones Haces when in 2019 he tried to cover a trial at the Guantánamo Provincial Court against two pastors who wanted to educate their children at home.
Some relatives of the 11J detainees are imploring the foreign press to cover the trials. But the accredited press has also been the target of attacks and is held by the noose of the International Press Center (CPI) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This body has always been directed by professional spies, usually colonels from the Intelligence or Military Intelligence Directorates with diplomatic coverage, such as José Ramón Cabañas, José Luis Ponce Caraballo and Gustavo Ricardo Machín Gómez Currently it is directed by Alberto González Casals, a Lieutenant Colonel of the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
The CPI vets foreign journalists and discards the accreditation of those it considers critical to the Cuban government. In order to carry out journalistic work in Cuba, it requires a D-6 visa that can be suspended, revoked or not extended, including the expulsion of the correspondent, if it considers that he /she has carried out “actions that are improper or unrelated to his profile and work content, as well as when it is considered that he lacked journalistic ethics and / or did not conform to objectivity while doing his/her job “.
Breaking these strict, but deliberately vague regulations can result in a reduction of the agency’s staff or in losing its office in Cuba. In a recent case, on the eve of the Civic March for Change convened last November by the Archipelago platform, the CPI withdrew the credentials of five journalists from the EFE agency, and then only returned them to two, the only ones that continue until the present day.
These Stalinist trials carried out in Cuba against the J11 protesters are a tragedy, but equally tragic is the suffocating atmosphere of censorship in which they take place.
The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba is supporting the demand of Cuban civil society for these arbitrary trials to be broadcast live on radio and television, while granting the foreign press and diplomatic corps full access. On the other hand, FHRC is uploading a profile of the current director of the CPI, Alberto González Casals, to its RepresoresCubanos.com database.
There’s a reason for the right to free expression and free flow of information ─article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights─ to be considered the most important of all: it is our insurance for being able to enjoy all the others.