Resisting Dictatorship in Latin America with Berta Valle, Hamlet Lavastida, Miguel Henrique Otero

A panel including the owner of Venezuela’s last remaining independent newspaper, Miguel Henrique Otero; the wife of imprisoned Nicaraguan presidential candidate, Berta Valle; and recently released Cuban political prisoner, Hamlet Lavastida; discuss the threat of dictatorship in Latin America with CNN’s Melissa Mahtani at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

Miguel Henrique Otero:

“Venezuela is a corporation of evil. Everything is illegal.”

“All the cocaine that comes to Europe comes from Venezuela. Not by the cartels. It’s the government.”

“I don’t know why the international community doesn’t take this as an important issue for the security of the rest of the world.”

Hamlet Lavastida:

“The Cuban government doesn’t care if the people are suffering or not.”

“I know from my time in prison that the military has a lot of resources, but the people do not. They have a nice life, but Cubans do not.”

Berta Valle:

“In the case of Nicaragua, we have tried to do our best to bring change.”

“We are fighting against a regime that controls the police, the military, and they also have a paramilitary. And we have civilians trying to fight with rocks or their voices, so it’s really impossible to fight against this level of repression.”

“7 of the 10 presidential candidates in the last election are in prison right now.”

“We couldn’t make this transition to democracy in a peaceful way, so right now we believe the international community is the only way to go to press the regime for change.”


Full Remarks


Hamlet Lavastida: Good Afternoon, my name is Hamlet Lavastida, I am from Cuba and I’m honored to be here. 

In September 2021, I was released from prison in Cuba after I signed a statement with my conditions of release. I agreed that I’d stay silent, that I wouldn’t talk about the Cuban government, or about my time in prison. 

But I’m here today to tell you everything. 

I grew up in Cuba in the 90s, and unlike previous generations, we never romanticized the Cuban Revolution. Because we could see it for what it was – brutal corruption. Fidel Castro would always say that we’re his family. But as a kid, I was like “okay, if we’re your family, where’s our food? You gotta provide for us.” Instead, we stood in long lines to buy bread, there was no meat, no oil. The best you could do was one egg. We thought it would be short-term. No. ‘93 passed, then ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, ‘97. That’s when the Cuban people really lost hope. One of my mom’s friends turned to prostitution to buy food for her family. It was the most shocking thing – I’ll never forgive Cuba for that. 

We lived on the west coast and we could pick up some FM radio stations from the U.S. It’s how I learned English – but it’s also the first time I heard Cuban exiles talking critically about Cuba. Inside Cuba, we understood what was happening, but we never talked about it. It was too dangerous to speak it out loud. Even when we saw thousands of people leaving in rafts. 

In 1998, I began studying at the Academy of Fine Art in Havana. I knew it could bring me trouble. But I started doing research on Cuban & Russian propaganda. I started noticing the people who disappeared from history books – the names no longer listed in the captions, the faces missing from a strategically cropped photo. The Revolution has a way of devouring its own children. 

Political propaganda & censorship are such integral parts of the Cuban experience that we barely think twice about it. And that’s why I decided to use my art to re-appropriate the language & imagery of their propaganda. 

But I knew my art wouldn’t be welcome in the country – so as my career grew, I repeatedly left the country for residencies and exhibitions. I knew, as early as 2003, that the Cuban authorities were surveilling me. 

Cuban artists & their supporters have faced intimidation & attacks by the authorities for years. But in 2018, the government issued Decree 349, a new law that prohibited all artists from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture. You couldn’t hire an artist without the government’s blessing, and artists couldn’t sell their work without permission either. 

In other words – they can censor absolutely anything they want. 

And we weren’t gonna stand for that. So alongside hundreds of other Cuban artists, musicians, and performers, the 27N movement was born. In April 2021, we wrote and signed a manifesto stating that we want to live in a country that’s inclusive, democratic, sovereign, prosperous, equitable, and transnational. And we demanded political freedoms, economic freedoms, the legalization of independent media, the right to assembly, and the right to collective organization. 

That same month, I debuted a solo exhibition at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien gallery in Berlin that consisted of two large-scale installations of paper cutouts. One was a massive transcript of a police interrogation of Cuban photographer Javier Caso in 2020. One was a letter written by Cuban poet Herberto Padilla in 1971 after a brutal 36 days of imprisonment where he was forced to denounce his own work as counterrevolutionary. They were 49 years apart – and yet it seemed like nothing had changed. 

When I returned to Cuba on June 20th, they sent me to a quarantine center for six days, even though I was vaccinated and had a negative COVID test. When I was released from quarantine, I was arrested immediately and sent to Villa Marista prison. 

They accused me of “instigating to commit a crime” because of an idea that I shared with 27N in a private chat to stamp Cuban currency with logos of San Isidro & 27N. That idea never happened – but I was arrested just for thinking it and just for saying it. 

For the next few weeks, they interrogated me every single day. Inside that world, I could see that even though the economy is in shambles and Cuban people are suffering extreme poverty, the Cuban police state has access to all the resources it needs. 

Then, on July 11th, thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest the government’s handling of COVID-19, the failing economy, and the crackdowns on free speech and peaceful assembly. It was one of the largest demonstrations Cuba had seen in decades. They detained hundreds of peaceful protestors and charged them with crimes like “public disorder” and “contempt.” 

After the protest, my interrogators escalated their threats, suggesting that I could be tried for “instigating rebellion,” which carries a 15 to 20-year prison sentence. 

After that first month, I started to think I was moving to prison, that I’d never be released. Sometimes I think I’m still there. When you’re an artist you develop a certain sensibility for sound, music, beauty, horror, terror. Prison is the worst place for a person, and for an artist, even worse. 

They held me in a small prison cell with three other inmates on the top floor of the security headquarters. They never leave you alone because they knew you could commit suicide. The lights were on 24/7. A TV in the hallway played Cuba television & propaganda all day long. I saw other prisoners losing their minds and at a certain point, I started hearing voices too. 

In interrogations, they tried to force me to confess – first, saying that I’d taken orders from the U.S. State Department. Then, I was being managed by secret agents in Poland. I refused. 

In early September, I contracted COVID-19 and was sent to the prison infirmary. Then, I learned that the police had made a deal with Katherine to move to Europe in exile. Because my son lives in Poland, they tried to play it off like I went there voluntarily – but everyone knew it wasn’t true. Twenty agents escorted us directly to José Martí airport without saying goodbye to our families. They agreed to extend my Cuban passport for 2 years, but with a warning – if I continue to criticize the government and you try to return, Villa Marista will be waiting for you. 

Today, I live in Germany and continue to work for a democratic Cuba. And I believe that’s much closer than you think. The reason the government is acting so strong is that they know they’re losing. That soon, an independent tribunal will summon them and they will suffer. Until that day, I will never stop talking about Cuba. And I will never stop making my art. 

Thank you. 

Berta Valle: It’s an honor for me to appear before you today to bring awareness to the ongoing crisis of democracy and human rights in Nicaragua.  

In 2019, my husband Félix Maradiaga stood here on this same stage and said that he saw the “seed of hope” being planted in Nicaragua. 

Today, he’s in prison. And I’m here to continue his fight against the cruelest human rights abuses my country has ever seen. 

I met Félix when I was X in Ciudad Dario in the mountains of Nicaragua. My hometown is named after the poet Ruben Dario, who’s famous for beautiful lines like: “Eres un universo de universos y tu alma una fuente de canciones. You are a universe of universes, and your soul a fountain of song.” Each year, we held a celebration in his honour, where the young women of the city would dress up in beautiful clothes to read his poetry. And four men would vote to decide – “Who is Ruben Dario’s muse?” That year, I was one of the muses, and Félix was a judge. Believe it or not, he gave me the lowest score of any of the judges – but I forgave him. Because after that first meeting, we fell in love. 

Some months later, I moved to the capital city with Félix. I was the first woman in my lineage to go to university and I was there on scholarship, studying economics. But then, the owner of a TV station in Managua saw me in a beauty contest & he invited me to audition for his station. I had zero broadcasting experience but I got the job and for the next 12 years, I was on TV everyday reporting the news. 

As a journalist, I had a front row seat to the regime’s abuse. Our journalists would pitch story ideas about government scandals or corruption. And then the station owner would receive a phone call – “shut it down.” The government censored us again & again. I felt horrible – like I was guilty of helping Ortega. 

By 2016, Félix and I were both well known around the country. Me for my reporting. Félix for his human rights work & advocacy. That year, the Independent Liberty Party nominated me to represent Managua in the National Assembly as part of its National Coalition for Democracy. I accepted their offer and resigned from the TV station. But before my election even took place, Ortega’s loyalists in the Nicaraguan supreme court conveniently disqualified our political party. That same year, Daniel Ortega installed his wife as his Vice President. 

Félix began investigating corruption for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy. And soon after, Ortega announced reforms to Social Security that would increase taxes & decrease benefits for Nicaraguans. Across the country, people took to the streets to protest. The police responded by violently attacking unarmed protestors. In November 2018 alone, they killed so many people. 

As prominent members of the opposition, I knew our lives were at risk. So Félix and I made the impossible decision to take our 7-year-old daughter Alejandra & his mother to the U.S. Félix stayed behind in Nicaragua to continue his academic work & political activism with the Civil Society Leadership Institute. But when he testified before the UN Security Council about Ortega’s abuses, the regime issued a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of organized crime and financing of terrorism.” Ortega’s supporters found Félix and beat him so severely that he was hospitalized. I told him he had to leave – so he escaped to the U.S. to be with me & Alejandra temporarily. 

In 2019, when the protests died down, he went back to Nicaragua to continue working as a leader in the Blue & White National Unity opposition group. In 2021, Félix announced that he was running for President in the November elections. We knew it was a huge risk, but then on June 8, Félix was arrested. For 84 days, I had no idea where my husband was. I didn’t even know if he was alive. 

In August, we found out that he was in Chipote prison, along with other opposition leaders, including Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, Dora Maria Tellez, and Hugo Torres Jiménez. They sleep on cold concrete slabs without sheets or blankets. They’re verbally abused, mocked, and psychotically tortured. Félix has always been an athletic person. He practiced martial arts, he’d run 100km races. He’s one of the youngest people imprisoned – but from what we’ve heard, he’s lost 50 pounds and is painfully skinny. Roger Reyes, lawyer in prison with my husband, begged the guards for psychiatric treatment when he started losing his memory. He can’t remember the names of his daughters. Some days he doesn’t even remember that he has children at all – and he’s just 38 years old. 

In November, the regime announced that Ortega won the election. But don’t be mistaken – there’s nothing democratic about his regime. He’s banned all independent political parties. He’s arrested journalists and shut down media organizations. Today, Nicaragua is the only country in Latin America without a print newspaper. This is a totalitarian one-party state, where dissent is not allowed and critics are silenced. With the help of authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, and Venezuela, Ortega and his family control Nicaragua’s economy, and they’ve amassed an enormous fortune. Meanwhile, our citizens live in poverty and more than 200,000 people have fled the country, desperately seeking jobs, housing, and food elsewhere. 

In February, Félix was sentenced to 13 years in prison in a sham trial held not in a court, but in prison. I don’t know when I’ll be able to see him or speak to him. But I know what my husband would say – that in spite of everything, he believes in democracy, and he believes that the answer to Ortega’s violence is non-violence. Félix has always said, “for non-violence to be successful, we need international solidarity. We need attention from the world.” I ask that you don’t forget the millions of Nicaraguans suffering under this regime. I ask that you don’t forget all the families torn apart by Ortega. All the children growing up without parents. 

My daughter is just a few years old and now, she’s growing up without a father. Before he was arrested, Félix called Alejandra every night to talk with her & play with her. He sent me all these short little pre-recorded videos on WhatsApp – play this video for Alejandra if she’s sad. Play this video when it’s her birthday, when it’s Christmas. He made videos for me too, saying “I miss you, I love you, I’m not there today but I’ll be there with you soon.” Every time we cry, we take out the videos & we listen to his voice. 

I know our family will be reunited one day. And I know Ortega’s regime will fall. The future of Nicaragua is democracy. And for that, I will never stop fighting. 

Thank you. 

Miguel Henrique Otero: In May 2015, I was in Israel with my wife when I got a call from my lawyer. Do not come back to Venezuela, he said, they will arrest you immediately. I figured it would be over soon, that in just a few days I could go home. I was wrong. It’s been 7 years. 

Today, I live in Spain and I run Venezuela’s largest independent newspaper remotely. El Nacional was founded in 1943 by my father, a journalist, and my grandfather, an entrepreneur, in 1943. And we’ve always been an opposition paper – so when Hugo Chávez first ran for president in 1998, we backed him. He won in a landslide. I met him numerous times, and at first, it didn’t seem like anything was terribly wrong. He was charming, charismatic, a great communicator. He was on record, defending our right to free speech. 

But by 2001, he’d changed. He was obsessed with staying in power and he lashed out at anyone who challenged him. He used his Sunday Night “Hello President” news segment to attack newspapers & journalists personally. He told the country that I wasn’t worthy of my father’s legacy. The last time I ever spoke to him, he called me screaming about an article we’d published. He insisted that our reporting was a lie – that his police hadn’t murdered four innocent people. I stood my ground, and told him that if he wanted to talk to the reporter he could. I handed her the phone & she agreed to take Chávez to their graves. It didn’t change his mind. 

After the 2002 coup attempt against him, he put new exchange controls in place to skyrocket the price of paper. What once cost X now costs 10X. I knew that most newspapers couldn’t survive under these conditions – and many went under. Luckily, publishers in other countries came to our rescue – we received shipments of paper from Mexico City & from Bogotá. And we kept publishing – even when our journalists were harassed, even when they threw rocks at our building, and even when one of his supporters set off a bomb outside our office. The bomber was arrested, but released a day later without a charge. 

Chávez knew that to stay in power, he needed to follow Cuba’s model. So he cosied up to Fidel Castro & called for “Communication Hegemony.” He strengthened ties with China & Iran and he made a $2.9 billion arms deal with Russia. Of course, all these countries – Cuba, Russia, China, Iran – are world-famous for their propaganda. 

I knew things were really bad in 2007, when Chávez shut down Radio Caracas Television, RCTV. At the time, it was Venezuela’s largest independent TV station with 10 million viewers – nearly half the country. Thousands of protesters took to the streets – but it didn’t matter. His administration launched their own propaganda channel in its place the following day. 

In a few short years, Chávez’s regime effectively destroyed independent TV & radio. And while his people starved, he used state money to buy up media outlets. A year before his death, his administration asked me to sell the paper – and I refused. 

In 2013 Chávez died & Vice President Maduro took over. By then, Venezuela no longer had an independent judicial system. It was almost like the president had every judge on speed-dial. It didn’t matter whether a judgment was constitutional or not. When the president’s administration calls, you do as you’re told. 

In 2015, we republished an article from ABC Spain about Diosdado Cabello, a high-ranking military general & the president of the National Assembly. The article reported that the U.S. Government was investigating Cabello for trafficking cocaine in coordination with the FARC, Colombia’s guerrilla army. And yes, all of this is true – if you go on the The U.S. Department of State website right now, you’ll see a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest. But it doesn’t matter what is true or not under Maduro’s reign. Cabello sued our paper & two others for slander. And it was then that I received a call from my lawyer – don’t come back to Venezuela. 

I was shocked – but I never once doubted our decision to publish. And I never once considered stopping. So I continued to run the newspaper from abroad. And in 2017, the judges reached a decision – we owed Cabello 1 billion dollars. Yes, 1 billion dollars – but with hyperinflation, that amounted to about 12,000 USD. Cabello wasn’t happy with that decision either – he ordered the Supreme Court to open a new trial. They changed the verdict from 12,000 USD to 13 million USD. We asked them to justify that number – and they couldn’t. So, the Venezuelan army seized our building & removed every last person inside. They said the building belonged to Cabello now – it was part of his repayment. 

Luckily, our reporters were already accustomed to working from home by this point in the pandemic. All our servers were offshore. We stopped printing physical papers in 2018 because of the lack of newsprint. So everything is online, our servers are in the U.S., and our journalists can continue their work no matter what Maduro tries. In February 2022, the government blocked our website – and our Venezuelan readership dropped to nothing. So, we educated our readers on how to use a VPN to evade their internet service provider. 

I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and the work we’ll continue to do, at El Nacional. Chávez and Maduro have tried everything they can to destroy independent journalism, but we will not let it happen. Because what they’ve done to this country, the level of suffering, of destruction, it’s like a war. They’ve driven 6 million people to leave the country, they’ve destroyed our economy, they’ve let our people starve. Today 95% of the population lives in poverty. The average Venezuelan family lives on $20 a month. Not an hour, not a day, a month. 

For too long, we Venezuelans looked at other countries and we said, “Venezuela is not Cuba.” What happened to them cannot happen to us. But it did. And now, perhaps you are looking at Venezuela, and thinking “What happened to Venezuela can’t possibly happen to us.” But I’m telling you it can. Right now, several Latin American countries are courting politicians just like Chávez – [examples]. Do not follow in our path. 

Our country is on the brink of collapse. It could explode at any moment. But I believe, when it does, that democracy will prevail. And that I’ll be on the first flight back to my country, back to my children, and back to my people. 

Thank you. 

Moderator, Melissa Mahtani: Thank you to all three of you for sharing your stories. You know, it’s interesting to see the similarities between them; all of these leaders trying to silence free press, any kind of political opposition, any kind of freedom of speech. But, the other similar thing between all of these three countries, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, is to support Russia, Iran, and China – these three countries. 

Do you think, Miguel, [that] the West needs to do more to unite against all of these countries, so that they can promote democracy everywhere? 

Miguel Henrique Otero: Well, the problem with Venezuela is a very dramatic one, because Venezuela is a corporation of evil. Everything is illegal. When they have an alliance with these people, they give away land, part of the country. They work with Iranians for the illegal extraction of gold. Cubans own our intelligence department, I mean the military intelligence is run by the Cubans. So it’s not a normal relationship with all these countries – it’s an alliance which makes these countries work inside Venezuela with Chavistas people. 

How can we make the world understand that this is a problem for their security? I mean, all the cocaine that comes to Europe comes from Venezuela; not by the cartels, it’s the government who works with the Cuban guerrillas and it’s the government who makes the commercialization of the cocaine in Europe. They have training camps of Hezbollah, I mean, the situation of Venezuela, the reality of Venezuela is very, very complicated, and I don’t know why the international community don’t take this as an important issue for the security of the rest of the world. 

Moderator: When the western countries do unite and they try and do something, so for example, in the case of Nicaragua as we’ve just seen, there were elections there which have been condemned, the answer from Daniel Ortega is, it’s the West trying to impose their will on a country, and if a country wants to change, it needs to come from within. So, what do you say to that, Berta, about Nicaragua? 

Berta Valle: I believe that the change has to come [from] within the country, because it reflects the willing of the people. In the case of Ncaragua, we have tried to do our best to have this change in the country, and you can see it in 2018, when the protest started very spontaneously. That year we had more than 350 people killed by the regime, so these people gave their lives for this transformation to happen in Nicaragua. But we are fighting against a regime that controls the police, the militaries and they also have paramilitaries, and we have civilians trying to fight with rocks or, you know, their voices. 

So, it’s really impossible to fight against this repression, this level of repression. I mean, we can see in the last elections, seven of the ten presidential candidates in the country are in prison right now, so we couldn’t make this transition to democracy in a peaceful way through elections, so right now we believe that the international community is the only way to go in order to press the regime to make a change. And when I say press the regime, it’s like Daniel Ortega and his regime have to be [held] accountable for all the violations that they have committed. So there’s where the international community can help us and can enforce the Nicaraguan people that are seeking democracy and freedom to do their work within the country. 

Moderator: Well right now we’re seeing the west unite very much against Russia in terms of the war. That, obviously, is a different situation, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, but the sanctions that they’ve placed on Russia are obviously having an effect on all of Russia’s relationships. When it comes to Cuba, who obviously has very close ties with Russia, we’re already seeing in Cuba that there’s a shortage of food we’re seeing that the sanctions on some of the Russian public and the travel ban is having an effect on tourism in Cuba. 

Hamlet, do you see this as a potential opening for democracy within the country? The trickle down of the sanctions on Russia that are having an effect on Cuba, do you think that this could lead to, maybe, an opening of democracy following the protests we saw in Cuba from the people last year? 

Hamlet Lavastida: I mean, it’s very complex because at the same time the Cuban government has incredible experience dealing with sanctions, and also how [to] overpass them. 

So this is one thing, but already we have certain sanctions with the United States towards Cuba, and in regard to the Russian sanctions and how it could affect Cuba, well, now there are some reports that there is no basically no more traveling from Russia to Cuba because some of the airflow that was operating to Cuba is not going there anymore, and also, the lack of a food. I think the Russians will also [have] a huge impact on that and of course, there is going to be some situation there, especially in the military groups, that they basically are receiving everything from Russia, but also the society, unfortunately. 

But, I think that the situation in Cuba is that they will try to manage that, because the Cuban government, they never cared about if the country, if the people are suffering or not, and in their image, they always start trying to say that there are basically big sanctions, but in the end, they [will] receive a lot of goods from those countries. 

What I can tell you is [from] my personal experience, I know when I was in that prison that the military, they have a lot of resources, but the people do not. So basically, they are like two societies, or two hierarchies. You see that the society of the military, or this, you know, this kind of apparatchik, that they have a nice life, but the human society doesn’t, and they put the blame on the rest of the world. But the situation is so complex, because we are dealing with 63 years of how they can wash their image. It’s so complex, they are dealing with situations like that and also like a double image that they were playing, the Cuban government, [they] also know how to deflate those things, but we are waiting just [for] a generational change, because ‘Generation Historic’ are still in power. 

So yes, it will affect – 

Moderator: But it may affect the people more. 

Hamlet Lavastida: Yes. 

Moderator: And you know, talking about the people, Miguel, you mentioned how many Venezuelans have left the country. We’re seeing an interesting phenomenon with the people that have left and obviously, you know, I can’t speak for all of them, but we are seeing that many of them don’t vote for democratic candidates in the countries that they go to, they tend to vote for the strong men. 

Do you think people in Venezuela have just given up in their belief in democracy, or why do you think we’re seeing this? 

Miguel Henrique Otero: Well, when they voted for Chavez, Chavez was not a strong man, he was democratic. I mean, people vote for democracy. Our people are democratic. Sometimes there are a lot of problems and people believe they need something strong, but democratic. 

Right now, of course, it’s a different situation, so anything that changes Venezuela, everybody will go after them. [Whether] It’s a coup, or a democratic election, whatever happens. But, our people are democratic, I mean, we’re having [situations] like that all the time. 

The problem with that, I’ll tell you what the problem is. The international democratic community believes that in a situation [such] as Venezuela, you have to dialogue with them and they have the mentality of democracy, and this is a criminal corporation. There have been six dialogues; one in Republica Dominicana, one in Bahamas, one in Mexico, [but] nothing happens because they won’t go out on a dialogue, they won’t accept a democratic election. They will do anything to stay in power, anything, because they know that the moment they leave power, they will go into jail, by the United States, the DEA, anything. 

The only way you can take them out, is in sort of evil, something more violent, [as] they won’t leave power like a democratic world believes they will give power. 

Moderator: It’s a very sad situation to see what’s happening in Venezuela, and it’s a bad situation that’s just got worse. Berta, just quickly, can you talk to me a little bit about the personal toll? You know, you are separated from your husband, you have a child, all three of you are separated from your countries, I mean, none of this is easy, but how do you keep yourself optimistic? 

Berta Valle: Well that’s kind of hard sometimes. I rely on my spiritual life [which] is where I get strength every time I feel that, you know, there’s no hope. So faith, for me, has been very important and from what I heard from Felix it’s also the same inside when you don’t have anything to rely on. But then, being a mother and a wife with this situation, it’s really hard because i have to take care of Alejandra and Felix’s mother in the U.S, I also have to do international advocacy for my husband and the rest of the political prisoners, and then I have to find how to sustain ourselves economically, not only in the U.S, but also in Nicaragua because, you know, there are other expenses to pay there 

So, it’s really hard, and in particular in our culture where men are seen as the providers, you know, when Felix was with us, he was helping me with a lot of the expenses, but now I’m in [it] myself. So thank god there are people that have been very helpful to me, but still it’s a huge responsibility to get from one day to the other. 

And the other part that is really hard as a mother is to see how my daughter is struggling and recently we ended [up] receiving psychiatric treatment, because she entered into this kind of anxiety and depression for her father. And seeing that and dealing with that was very hard. And sometimes I find myself saying, “you know what, I think my daughter is more important than anything else”. But then you realize that you do what you do because of them, because we hope to leave to them a better place, a better country, where she can get all the opportunities that she deserves, and all the Nicaraguan people deserve. 

So just to conclude, meeting people like the ones that we met at this Summit, every one of you that are fighting for human rights people, that care about human rights and the situation of dignity in the world is just energizing, so I hope that we can come together, just like all these dictators are working together, to make the world a better place for everyone. 

Moderator: So I know we’re out of time so I’m just going to ask one final question. Hamlet, you spoke about the unprecedented protest that took place in Cuba last year, in July, and this really was something that the country’s never seen before. Does this make you optimistic that change could happen in your lifetime, because just before you said it sometimes takes generational change? 

Hamlet Lavastida: Yes, because it was the first time that something like that happened in Cuban history. Some people try to think that there was something there [before], but no, it’s unprecedented. It’s unprecedented in decades, it’s the first time that something like that happened and in a geographical way. So it made me find hope in a Cuban society, because if you think that after 63 years of elaborate and, you know, sophisticated brainwashing schools, you know, the Cuban government has emphasized the political culture of Sovietism somehow, and emphasized in that doctrine. 

In the end, if you see thousands of people in the whole island asking for freedom, and also freedom, as I mentioned many times has a surname, you know, when we said freedom when we said ‘Libertad’ it’s not just a structural thing, it’s just ‘Libertad Politica’ – it’s just plain like that, in Cuba it’s like that. 

So after seeing that, after seeing how powerful they are with this indoctrination system and also in intelligence, you know, [seeing] victims of this art in Venezuela and Nicaragua and so on and so forth and [in] half of Latin America, and you see the people raising and gaining political conscience about what they want, you understand that this sleep cell is awakening in Cuban. 

So we have the DNA, ‘hace a DNA’ as we say in Spanish, of freedom, democracy, liberty, republicanism and basically, basic fundamentals human rights and civic duties that are the same in London, in New York or, I don’t know, here in Geneva. So this really brings you hope, it brings you hope and also brings hope to them also I think, because Cuba, as Jose Maria was saying yesterday, is like basically the front line. These people are well-prepared and well trained and they have a lot of arms and they have a lot of an incredible mechanisms and indoctrination and also they have a lot of secrets; they can blackmail all those candidates or those Leftist groups, the political groups that they want to establish and empower.  So yes, I see hope, and also, I mentioned it, but this kind of struggle between this analogic society that represent the Cuban government, the Cuban historic regeneration of the Cuban government and this digital-[age], although they are trying to go to this digital space, they don’t know how to do it – it’s beyond their logic, so they commit many mistakes. So you know, it’s a change of balance, people are really tired and it’s weird to see how people are rising and rising again after almost seven decades. 

How do they understand that balance, what happened to them? I think what happened to them is that they understand and they demand and they want democracy. This is why I have to keep optimistic. 

Moderator: Absolutely, and as you said, the countries are so intertwined, so once it happens somewhere, then hopefully, in one of these countries, the rest will follow. 

Thank you very much for your time, we are out of time, we’ll have to continue this conversation.  

Thank you. 


Speakers and Participants

Hamlet Lavastida

Cuban artist, former political prisoner, founder of artist-led San Isidro Movement

Berta Valle

Nicaraguan journalist, wife of opposition leader and former political prisoner Félix Maradiaga


Political Prisoners

Geneva Summit 2016 Courage Award with Antonietta Ledezma

Antonietta Ledezma, daughter of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, in jail on politically-motivated charges, addresses the 8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On her father’s arrest: “The last 15th of February of 2015, 120 armed policemen smashed into my father’s

From Moscow to the Middle East: The Silencing of Critical Voices with Kacem El Ghazzali, Lukpan Akhmedyarov, Guy Mettan, Pyotr Verzilov

A panel including one of Kazakhstan’s most prominent independent journalists and former editor-in-chief and reporter at Uralskaya Nedelya, Lukpan Akhmedyarov;  Moroccan human rights activist and intellectual, Kacem El Ghazzali; journalist and former Executive Director of the “Club Suisse de la Presse,” Guy Mettan; and Russian performance artist, political activist, and

Authoritarianism and Political Dissidents with José Gabriel Ramón Castillo

José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Cuban human rights activist, who was expelled from the University of the Orient in 1993 after founding the first human rights organization in the Eastern region of the island, and was arrested and tortured in the 1990s, addresses the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and