Exile group targets alleged human-rights abusers in Cuba now living in South Florida

Juan Antonio Blanco, director ejecutivo de la Fundación por los Derechos  Humanos en Cuba.
Juan Antonio Blanco, director ejecutivo de la Fundación por los Derechos Humanos en Cuba.

A Cuban exile group is forwarding complaints to federal authorities about alleged human-rights violators in Cuba who now live in the United States, with the goal of deporting people who participated in acts of violence and harassment on the island.

The idea behind the project is not to launch "a witch hunt" but "to change the focus of the victims" to those who are guilty of repression, and to give a response to those who have said they have seen people in South Florida who harassed or mistreated them in Cuba, Juan Antonio Blanco, director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, told el Nuevo Herald.

Blanco said he had given information about several cases to an investigations unit in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Since it was created in 2004, ICE has deported more than 590 people who committed human-rights violations in other countries or who are suspected of having done so.

According to Blanco, members of the ICE unit "are willing to expand the range and take a look at these cases. It is not that they are going to investigate crimes committed in other countries, but they can review the immigration files of these people, who would not have been accepted into the country if they had told the truth."

"People who have lied to the authorities have committed a federal crime," which could end in jail sentences, fines or deportation, Blanco said.

During a press conference on Thursday, the group released the names of two alleged human-rights violators who now live in Tampa and Gainesville and who were identified by several people in affidavits in Mexico, Chile and the United States.

According to a copy of the affidavits obtained by el Nuevo Herald, one of the accused men was a police officer in Cárdenas, in the province of Matanzas, and allegedly sexually harassed one of the complainants and fabricated charges to imprison her.

Two other people accuse the same man of being "one of the most repressive officers of the mid-80s to the '90s" and of carrying out "hundreds of arbitrary detentions, [and] beatings."

A couple of human-rights defenders who now reside in Chile accuse another man, also a policeman in Cuba, of having beaten them and having called for acts of repudiation against them.

One of the accused men was contacted by reporter Ricardo Quintana of Televisión Martí and admitted to having been a policeman in Cuba, but denied having participated in repressive acts. He also said that he did not inform the immigration authorities of the United States that he had been a police officer in Cuba.

El Nuevo Herald is not publishing the names of the two accused men because they could not be reached for comment, and because federal authorities did not confirm that they were being investigated. Pedro L. Rodríguez, a member of the FHRC's board of directors, said the group had not contacted the alleged violators in the process of verifying the accusations.

Jennifer Elzea, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency can not confirm or deny ongoing investigations.

According to Blanco, the authorities warned the group that holding a press conference could alert the alleged criminals, who might then flee the country.

It is not clear how the FHRC will choose what type of complaints it will forward to the authorities or whether it is sufficient to have belonged to a military or repressive organization — such as the Ministry of the Interior or the Rapid Response Brigades, an organization dedicated to repressing opponents or dissenters — for the case to be considered.

"The legal aspect is not in the nature of the crime committed," Blanco said, "but in that they hid being part of repressive bodies and having participated in acts of violence."

"If someone falsely accuses one of these people, he would be committing perjury," said Blanco, who clarified that the Foundation for Human Rights would not be making complaints but only serving as a "conduit."

"The one who denounces is the one who signs the complaint," he stressed. Previously, Blanco led a similar initiative to identify human-rights violators living in Cuba. In 2016, he sent several of them a Christmas postcard with the following message:

"We are aware of the actions you are taking against your Cuban brothers. During this holiday season we are calling on you to reflect and rectify."

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres