Caribbean Theater

Cuba: dissident artists get prison terms

The Popular Municipal Court of Central Havana on June 24 sentenced artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez to five and nine years in prison, respectively. Activist artist Otero Alcántara was sentenced for contempt, public disorder, and "insulting symbols of the homeland"—a reference to his public performances involving the Cuban flag. Rapper Maykel Castillo was found guilty of contempt, public disorder, and "defamation of institutions, heroes and martyrs." The latter charge relates to a meme Castillo posted on social media last year criticizing Communist Party leaders. The two have 10 days to appeal their sentences.

Cuba approves harsh new penal code

The National Assembly of People's Power, Cuba's parliament, on May 15 approved a new penal code as part of judicial reforms initiated after the adoption of a new constitution in April 2019. President Miguel Diaz-Canel and former President Raul Castro, who governed from 2008 to 2018, attended the session. The new penal code reinforces sanctions for acts linked to economic and administrative corruption, with broadened scope for new economic actors. It also incorporates new penalties to address gender-based and family violence. Controversially, the new code tightly controls unauthorized contacts with foreign organizations and individuals, and explicitly bans foreign financing of civic activities. Under the new code, those who give information to international organizations, associations or other individuals who have not been authorized by the government, face severe penalties. These include 10-30 years imprisonment and, in extreme cases, the death penalty.

Dutch citizen detained in Suriname war crimes case

A Netherlands court on Feb. 7 set aside a bid for amnesty and ruled to continue pre-trial detention of a Dutch ex-army member suspected of war crimes, including the murder of civilians, during Suriname's internal war. The 55-year-old Suriname-born Dutchman was arrested in Amsterdam in October 2021 on the basis of an investigation indicating that he murdered several Surinamese civilians in 1987 in the area of Brownsweg, Brokopondo district.

Cuba: prisoners on hunger strike as mass trials begin

Reports from opposition activists in Cuba indicate that trials are opening in several cities for some 60 who were arrested during last year's protest wave that began July 11, now popularly known as "11J." The defendants are said to include at least five minors as young as 16. Those facing charges of "sedition" could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. More than 620 detainees are ultimately to stand trial over the 11J protests. Ten prisoners in Holguin who were already convicted and face high sentences are reported to have started a hunger strike. Sentences in their cases are expected next month. Trials are also said to be underway in Santa Clara, Mayabeque and Havana. (NYT, Al Jazeera, Havana Times)

Imprisoned Cuban rapper on hunger strike

Supporters of imprisoned Cuban rap artist Maykel Castillo Pérez, better known by his stage name "El Osorbo," warn that his life is in danger one week into a hunger strike, and that he has been removed to a "punishment cell" where he is being held incommunicado. Academic and fellow dissident Anamely Ramos said that when she last heard from him, he was being taken to a prison doctor with swollen lymph nodes. Castillo is a leader of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of Cuban dissident artists and intellectuals, and co-author of the viral song "Patria y Vida," which became an anthem of the mass protests across the island in late July. He has been repeatedly arrested since 2015, including for protesting the controversial Decree 349, which places restrictions on artistic expression. He has been held at the maximum-security Pinar del Río prison since his May 31 arrest for the vague crimes of "resistance" and "contempt." He launched his total hunger and thirst strike on Nov. 11, in protest both of his own detention and the general crackdown on freedom of expression in Cuba. (CiberCuba, Periódico Cubano, PEN America)

Cuba: pre-emptive repression stifles protests

Plainclothes State Security agents began to gather in downtown Havana early on Nov. 15, the day a "Civic March" had been called by opposition networks. In addition to heavy deployment in the parks and squares, armed agents were stationed on the rooftops around the iconic Capitolio building. What the opposition website 14ymedio called pro-regime "vigilante groups" also gathered on street corners. According to the Havana-based independent human rights organization CubaLex, police arrested 11 people, while some 50 identified as key organizers were effectively "besieged" inside their homes to forestall any public gathering. Those arrested had apparently attempted to gather in defiance of the pre-emptive security measures. Some went out into the streets dressed in white, the color that organizers of the call had promoted. A small group of young people were detained on the Paseo del Prado while shouting "Patria y Libertad", slogan of the protest wave that shook Cuba in July.

Haiti: gang warfare hinders earthquake recovery

More than 500,000 people are in need of emergency assistance in Haiti's southern peninsula, where last week's 7.2-magnitude earthquake has killed more than 2,100 people and injured more than 12,200. Aid and medical efforts are hampered by debris-strewn roads, rain from Tropical Storm Grace, a shortage of working hospitals, and gang violence. The private Bernard Mevs Hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where some of the injured have been sent, was closed Aug. 19 as part of a two-day shutdown to protest the kidnapping of two doctors. In recent years, Haiti has been beset by violent gangs who patrol many of the country's transport routes. Some villagers were also reportedly blocking aid shipments, saying they were also desperate for help. The southern peninsula has yet to recover from Hurricane Matthew, which killed at least 546 people in 2016. Prime Minister Ariel Henry has promised to speed up aid efforts—more than 30,000 families have been displaced, and there are fears of cholera due to lack of safe water, sanitation, and shelter. The United States has deployed several helicopters, aircraft, and the USS Arlington to help with relief efforts. France also sent a ship with humanitarian cargo, a helicopter, and more than two dozen soldiers.

Podcast: how do we respond to the Cuba protests?

In Episode 80 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the actual politics of the Cuban protests—and how much of the response by supposedly progressive forces in the United States has been highly problematic. While opposing the embargo, and the inevitable attempts by US imperialism to exploit and co-opt the protests, we must guard against words and actions that abet the repression. Hundreds have been detained and at least one person killed as the protests have been put down by security forces. By uncritically rallying around the regime and portraying the protests as CIA astroturf, we not only make ourselves complicit with rights abuses—we help bring about exactly what we fear, showing the protesters that their only allies in the US are on the political right. 

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