Cuban leader denies harassment of dissidents — while holding opposition leader in jail

During a visit to Ireland, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel denied his government harasses dissidents, even though a prominent member of the opposition has been detained for three weeks with no charges.

“We, under our politics and feelings, do not exclude anyone,” Díaz-Canel said at a gathering with Cubans living in Ireland held Monday night. “What happens is that there are Cubans who have excluded themselves... In Cuba, everyone is not revolutionary, nor is everyone with the revolution, and nobody is persecuted for being with the revolution or not.”

Díaz-Canel answered a comment by Annarella Grimal, a Cuban who has lived in Ireland for a decade. The Cuban leader made a two-day visit to that country as part of a tour that includes Belarus and Russia.

“We need tolerance more than unity,” Grimal told Diaz-Canel. “If a person does not think like the people who are in the government, it does not mean that they are bad people. We need to include all Cubans. We cannot make ideology the center.”

Grimal also questioned government regulations preventing some Cubans, including doctors who abandoned government missions, from returning to the country for eight years.

“I don’t have to support socialism to listen to you and tell you, for example, that the salary increase [to state workers] seems very good to me, but it doesn’t seem so good to me that there are Cubans who are not allowed entry to Cuba,” she told the Cuban leader.

Grimal later declined to comment on the exchange, but posted the video on Facebook. She said she feared reprisals for her statements.

“I got the impression that the president didn’t like it,” Grimal wrote.

Grimal said that after the exchange, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, who was also attending, asked for her name and surname after she again referred to the eight-year ban.

“The first thing I thought was that I would be blacklisted,” she wrote, “that I would be included in the same list that today prevents my cousin from seeing his only daughter, the same blacklist that prohibits thousands of Cubans from attending a funeral of a loved one, or being at her mother’s birthday.”

Díaz-Canel’s comments come at a time when José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the opposition organization Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), is being held with no charges at an undisclosed location.

State security agents arrested Ferrer and five other activists on Oct. 1 at UNPACU headquarters in Santiago de Cuba. Although it is a right included in the new constitution approved this year, a court denied the appeal for habeas corpus presented by his family.

Relatives, activists and international organizations such as Amnesty International and the Organization of American States have called for his release.

“Cuban authorities have harassed and intimidated José Daniel Ferrer García for more than a decade due to his political activism,” Amnesty International wrote in a letter sent to Díaz-Canel. “His detention follows the naming by Amnesty International of six prisoners of conscience in less than two months.”

Since Díaz-Canel was selected as Raúl Castro’s successor in April 2018, activists and human rights defenders have denounced an increase in repression not only against dissidents but also against independent journalists, artists and academics.

Human rights organizations estimate that there are about a hundred political prisoners on the island. The Cuban Human Rights Observatory, based in Madrid, reported that there were at least 481 arbitrary arrests on the island in September, the highest figure so far this year.

“We call on the Cuban regime to immediately release human rights defender Jose Daniel Ferrer, arrested October 1 on false pretenses,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter. “The United States and human rights organizations around the world are monitoring Ferrer’s case — one of more than 100 political prisoners held in Cuba.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

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Nora Gámez Torres estudió periodismo y comunicación en La Habana y Londres. Tiene un doctorado en sociología y desde el 2014 cubre temas cubanos para el Nuevo Herald y el Miami Herald. También reporta sobre la política de Estados Unidos hacia América Latina. Su trabajo ha sido reconocido con premios de Florida Society of News Editors y Society for Profesional Journalists.