Political Prisoners in Cuba and in the United States; Facts and Fiction, Part 1

By Gustavo A. Maranges on January 9, 2022

Protest for the freedom of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal in the US. photo: Bill Hackwell

In recent days, we have witnessed an avalanche of accusations by United States government officials against Cuba for allegedly holding over 600 political prisoners after the protests on July 11. Assistant Secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols and the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have been among those leading this campaign, alongside the US embassy in Havana.

These accusations conveniently hide many details we should not overlook. First of all, where is the information coming from? Is it true? Why are top US officials so eager to resurrect this campaign against Cuba? And, last but not least, how does the United States hold any moral high ground to judge anybody for holding political prisoners?

The oversized number of 600 political prisoners comes from a Spain-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called the “Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH)” and some others like Prisoners Defenders. Year after year, these organizations receive thousands of dollars from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which has become their main donor. So it is expected that this less than impartial group will provide information that will be heavily biased. Likewise, these organizations have been involved to the core in previous and ongoing campaigns to promote a regime change in Cuba, something that became a known scandal after the July 11 protests in Cuba when American and Cuban journalists tracked US taxpayers’ money up to these NGOs.

It is worth noting that many of these so-call political prisoners were involved in acts of vandalism against public property, and some others have admitted that they were paid for their violent and destabilizing actions exposing that they were not exactly a grassroots political opponents as they try to show. Rather they must be called by their real name: mercenaries, who are serving prison time as they would all over the world, including in the US. Just to give a clear example, we can look at the case of Jose Daniel Ferrer, apparently the top political prisoner from the US point of view. This operator is the head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a Florida-funded organization linked to violent acts on the island. Ferrer has denounced torture and psychological aggression, but his theatrics were exposed after authorities released a video showing how he injured himself by hitting his own head against a table in the interrogation room.

The State Department started a campaign against Cuba right after the July 11 events to demand the freedom of the protesters who remained in jail, which is a blatant act of meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs. They act as if Cuba doesn’t have laws and there are consequences if they are broken as it is in every country on the planet. High-ranking US officials, like the ones quoted above, have used Ferrer’s case to try and prove that Cuba does not respect due process. Nevertheless, they ignore that Ferrer refused to have any defense. Later on, he claimed himself to be a political prisoner, even after he had been incarcerated by breaking the house arrest he was serving time for after beating a man, which has nothing to do with politics.

For the United States’ own political interest it is better to ignore that many of their “political prisoners” are nothing less than the result of their own failed strategy to promote insurrection on the island on July 11. However, the current context offers a double gain for those US politicians: first, to try and show they do not abandon those who aligned with them inside the island, and second, it is the perfect excuse to back President Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan statements that justifies maintaining and increasing the strangling economic sanctions on the Cuban people.

Once again, the strategy is clear: they pretend to support the Cuban people when what they really mean is the opposition while hardening sanctions that stifle the Cuban economy and the government’s capacity to outpace the current crisis. It is not new at all, it rather is an old and recurrent tactic of the United States to fight progressive movements and those they consider rogue States, namely Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Nicaragua.

Despite the US accusations, Cuba is a country that has tirelessly fought to close Guantanamo Bay prison, where dozens of people have been incarcerated and tortured for decades without a trial under alleged charges of terrorism. And let’s not forget the case of the Cuban Five; political prisoners who served 16 years in US prisons on unprovable conspiracy charges for political reasons. However, US statements are even more cynical if we take into account that many American civil rights and anti-racist activists found refuge in Cuba after being politically pursued in the US, as is the case of Assata Shakur a former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army.

The US has no moral high ground to accuse anyone, even less Cuba, of holding political prisoners. A 2018 report by National Jericho Movement concluded there were at least 523 political prisoners in the prisons of the US. In the same vein, in July 2021, the Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) updated its list of political prisoners, many of whom were sentenced to life. However, US officials are raising the alarm because Cuban courts issued 5 to 15-year sentences for people who decided to overthrow a democratic government. It seems like a joke, but it is not.

The US often attacks as its best defense to cover up its own oppressive nature. It accuses the whole world of Human Rights violations and political repression while implementing the most elaborate ways of doing just that at home.

However, regardless of the numbers, the worse part of the political prisoner issue in the US is the treatment they receive in the jails,  its vast prison network, and the cruelty of a system designed to tear people down and annul their ideas. Little known is that there is a vibrant political prisoner’s movement there that knows that the bars can’t stop fair causes and the drive for justice. We will elaborate on this in the second part of this article in the coming days.

It is evident that anti-Cuban politicians in the US have a lot of sway on the national stance towards the island. Now after their failure to gain an advantage from the July 11 protest and the one they called for on November 15 that never happened, they are scrounging around to create the image of a dictatorial regime. This sets the tone for the internal opposition to harass and accuse any international media of siding with the government if it explains the truth about those that flagrantly broke Cuban law.

This is a well-designed campaign where the United States is in charge of funding and giving international relevance, while the internal opposition is used to create the arguments, legitimatize the speech, and, at the same time try to poison the Cuban people, inside and outside the island. Unfortunately, they have made some progress so far, but the more we spread the reality of the Cuban people, the fewer chances they will have to succeed. This, together with the actions by the Cuban government to show the transparency and independence of the judiciary, are the two best ways to dismantle this new undercover attack to end the Cuban Revolution.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano –  English