Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, prominent Cuban pro-democracy activist, addresses the 4th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Moderator: We continue with Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina. As I said before, he is the President of the Movement of Young Cubans for Democracy, who was sentenced to 6 years in prison fighting for greater freedom in Cuba; he was tortured. He was invited to the 2nd Geneva Summit but the Cuban regime refused to let him out of the country. We complained, he was arrested and he was expelled from the country and is now living in Spain. We’ve asked him to speak about his personal situation, the situation in Cuba and the impact of the Arab Revolution on the democratic movement in Cuba. We are listening to you Mr. Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina.
Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina: Thank you. Before I begin, I would like to thank UN Watch for having so kindly inviting me to speak about the tragedies that Cubans are enduring. Moreover, I would like to thank all of you for having come here to hear me speak.
Since Fidel Castro handed over his totalitarian power to Raul Castro, the human rights situation has plunged in Cuba. The Cuban leader’s brush with death in 2006 due to illness, set off alarm bells and a reaction in security and intelligence circles in the military structure from which the regime had built its power base in 1959; more than half a century now. The rise of violence against human rights advocates, pro-democracy activists, and their family members respectively, not only revealed Cuban peoples’ vulnerabilities in relation to the universal rights proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948, but also scandalously flouts the Cuban people’s own Magna Carta. The Communist party, the repressive security and police forces, as well as other entities controlled by government officials throughout the national territory, gave their consent and support to these violations.
Over the last few years, the regime has been developing a kind of alternative structure to bolster the repression.  The creation of paramilitary groups, aimed to repress independent civil society, are spearheaded by rapid-response brigades, the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution, and the committees for the defense of the revolution. They were all appointed by Fidel Castro. He guaranteed them absolute impunity and gave his blessing to these infringements to the constitutional order, which aimed to protect this totalitarian regime in Cuba. General Raul Castro, moved by military pragmatism, made mention of this violence in a speech delivered before the National Assembly on August 1st, 2010, endorsing violations to the ‘socialist constitution,’ to defend the authoritarian regime. This was nothing spontaneous. The police and the freshly-trained military groups jointly struck out at the homes of regime dissidents in a barbaric attack, and totally disregarding the security of the highly vulnerable persons present who had nothing to do with the conflict. Old people, women, and children were trapped in the midst of a violent clampdown as the police, security, and government officials many stood by, allowing the law to be flouted. This ensured total impunity before the law. This law has turned into a law of the jungle and the perpetrators were given free rein to breach constitutional and legal precepts and cause great material and psychological damage to the victims and their property.
The repressive process set in motion – according to the most recent information by Information and Press Center [inaudible] – set in a motion a process that led to 1,499 arrests in 2010. These arrests were politically motivated. In 2011, some 3,838 members of the democracy movement were detained; a far higher number than ever recovered by the experienced independent human rights monitoring such figures for many years, including the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and The National Reconciliation or the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, and many others. Pro-democracy activists have continued to be jailed along with a forced deportation of many political prisoners. More than 100 were deported to Spain between 2010 and 2011. They were unable to return as long as the current state of barbarity and oppression continues in this biggest island of the Antilles. During the last year, three human rights advocates were assassinated by the political regime. Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia was beaten to death in a police station in the city of Santa Clara in May 2011. Laura Pollán Toledo was head of the pro-freedom movement, Ladies in White, and she died under very suspicious circumstances in the clutches of the state security mechanism. Williar Villar Mendoza died in his cell during a hunger strike. He has been deprived of running water and stripped of his clothing, and this provoked pneumonia and kidney failure, which killed him on January 19th, 2012. Female human rights advocates are increasningly subjected to sexual assault, showingly the increasingly aggresive criminal character of these Cuban masters of police repression.
Regrettably, I don’t believe that the revolutions in the Middle East have been able to have an impact on my own country’s situation because of the thick iron curtain that [was] set up. That is, the regime when they came to power, set up this iron curtain, blocking information and generating strong censorship. I don’t think that any of the democratic reforms carried out in Eastern Europe in the beginning of the mid 1980s until the collapse of the Stalinist bloc in Russia or the other form of colonized countries in the region, have any effect on us either. On the contrary, the regime manipulates these events and adapts its editorials and official news sources to foster “people’s indignation against liberal capitalism.” The Cuban regime has rather entrenched itself in its use of censorship and blocked the free flow of information. This is one of the cruelest structural and institutional blockades against individual discernment and free examination of social conscience in this country, in Cuba. It is for this reason that we don’t see any remnants of [inaudible] or Perestroika or Velvet Revolution or Orange Revolution or Prague Spring or an Arab Spring. The Cuban people remained trapped and subjected to one of the most refined and heinous policies of state terrorism, that has now been revamped under Raul Castro into a policy of state vandalism.
If we are to believe the reports that come to use from the island, in Cuba there has been no reforms, other than the domestic reforms that have been carried out to prop up the tyranny. Cuba needs deep changes in every sense. But if we are talking about human rights, the first thing that should be done is to immediately and definitively stop imprisoning people for their opinions and speech, collectively organizing or demonstrating, and free all political prisoners still languishing in the dictatorships’ prisons, which are centres for human extermination. The aggressive and inhuman Cuban criminal code should be repealed. A new constituent assembly should be convened; one that is based on the United Nations own Magna Carta. We should begin to rebuild this country, which is in ruins both economically, politically, and morally speaking. The Cuban people have the legitimate right to choose their own path to freedom and prosperity through genuinely democratic, free, pluralistic, and participative elections as a prior step to attaining a viable and participative economic mile.
But I believe that [at] the present time, a very grave situation is [unfolding] in my country when we consider that innocent lives are being lost, and the regime seems to be [getting] away with it. This is what happened in the case of freedom fighter Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whom they let die in hunger strike, denying him the fair and humane prison conditions he asked for; pr with the scandalous repression against the Ladies in White, or the strike of journalist Guillermo Fariñas Hernandez, whom the military Junta has threatened in full view of the critical and watchful eyes of the international community. Against this grim backdrop, the regime has deported more than 100 political prisoners with the help of the Criollo clergy and their ideological fore-fibres; the diluted and complicit Spanish lat-wing as they try to smooth over tensions and hide their shame.
Concerning access to internet, the first invitation I received once I arrived in Spain was to the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany, where I briefly summed up some – because I don’t know all – of the obstacles and hindrances the regime poses on Cubans to block access to the cutting-edge technology and enabling society to attain a better understanding of the vast information universe and cyberspace. It’s no secret that for the past 50 years in my country, the right to the free flow of information and communication has been abolished and this even so-called “legally-enforced ban” applied to the island and to the power structures. The most regrettable part is that this policy of disinformation, extortion, and censorship imposed on the people of Cuba has reaped greater havoc on the young people of the island who have been victims of wholesale indoctrination, behavioural mimicry, and blind servility, that stultifies and erodes their human dignity and sweeps them up in an existential and moral crisis that spreads like cancer throughout the Cuban social fabric. The Castro regime offers limited and selective digital information so as to prevent any alternative search or open exchange with the modern world. In the last few years, a type of critical, digital, civic movement has been building up in my country, comprised of bloggers, independent journalists, and other stakeholders in civil society who have fought long and hard to pull down the iron curtain and gain access to information networks to denounce what is happening in the land, information that the Cuban regime is shrouding in silence. Many of these public communicators continue to be persecuted, harassed, physically assaulted, and even worse, imprisoned till death. Moreover, the small spaces where these information ghettos over their services and operate are placed under continuous surveillance, with small video cameras placed under computer-tops to reproduce and copy the access keys of cyber militants. Other more hermetically sealed enclaves of these emerging services, like universities, businesses, industries and ministries are monitored by so called nodes or filters, that is a kind of digital police that controls what comes in and goes out towards or from cyber militants. Thanks to the solidarity shown by some of the diplomatic core in Cuba, we have been able to open some internet services and give Cubans a respect of their political or other affiliations access to them. Other opportunities will arise to help us break the censure barrier.
During the years I was a freedom fighter working within Cuba, I set up an initiative to ‘South Africanize’ the situation in Cuba. The whole world came out once again against racial apartheid in South Africa and thus they have even more reason today to condemn the discriminatory system predominating today in Cuba. In addition to the country’s prevailing racial prejudice – and note that 90% of the prison population is made of black or mixed-blood prisoners – the police carries out relentless attacks against renowned social movements such as the racially Black Rastafaries, who do not even contest the regime or get involved in politics. Yet, the regime hands down sentences for them, ranging from 2-4 years of jail, accusing them of being a social danger. There is also tourist apartheid and student apartheid. We should recall that in Cuba, according to Fidel Castro, universities are only open to revolutionaries. This means the regime lackeys, that is Marxists and Leninists, those are the only ones. There is also legal apartheid since poilitical dissidents never get to benefit from the legal guarantees that would spare them from arbitrary action from the police. Nor are they judged from courts that are independent from totalitarian power. No, the courts are like Roman arenas, when the hapless souls fall upon the clutches [and] are pounced upon. I can continue citing a slew of examples of social discrimination [and] exclusion undermining the Cuban people’s dignity and freedom.
For more than 20 years, I have been fighting against this regime of barbarity and oppression. I have had to pay a high personal price. More than 10 years in jail of this totalitarian regime, I have been subjected to torture; in jail I had two fractures of bones in my face carried out by another prisoner working for the head of the jail and the head of counter-intelligence services. I had ill treatment endlessly. And for eight months, I was put with common criminals who were contaminated with tuberculosis. I was the victim of many arrests, arbitrary arrests, of beating, attacks against my home, my children, my daughters, my old and ill parents, jeopardizing their very lives. I was subjected to this terror and torture in prison for 20 years while I fought for civic rights and freedom in Cuba.
I’d like to conclude by saying that my case is not an isolated one. Many Cubans have lost their lives because they wanted to fight for some freedom and to give some hope to the Cubans. The civilized and democratic world is at a fork in the road and must follow one of two paths, that of the victims or those who are oppressing and annihilating the Cuban people. Sooner or later, the oppressors, like others before them, will become, on a chronistic relix, to be relegated to the museum of infamy. The civilized world should demand at the United Nations that the Cuban regime should not be a part of the security council or the council of human rights because this regime condemns the freedoms of the Cuban people. 14 times they were condemned for human rights and it’s immoral and unethical that the Cuban regime should remain as a member that stands as an advocate of human rights throughout the world.
I would like to repeat, there are two paths before us, side of the oppressors or the side of the victims.
Thank you. May G-d bless you all.