On December 29, the Cuban activists Leonardo and Alberto Ramírez Odio and their father, Alberto de la Caridad Ramírez Baró, were arrested for a simple action. The men were taken into custody for carrying a sign in protest of the Cuban government that read “Change.”
The brothers were called to the police station supposedly to reclaim items that had been confiscated during a previous search. When they got there, they were taken to different police stations, where they were held for a total of 96 hours. The police first released Leonardo, then Alberto, and finally their father.
The brothers, members of the Committee of Citizen Human Rights Defenders, have been imprisoned by the Cuban government before. In July 2017 they were detained for demanding freedom, the end of the Castro dictatorship, and introduction of democracy. They displayed signs on the terrace of the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba with signs saying “58 years of scams, hunger, and misery,” “The people demand liberty, justice, democracy,” and “Long live the right of expression, opinion, and of the press.” They were held for three months and were released in October.
According to Leonardo Ramírez, their arrest was a way of sending a warning to the family, “for one, that we shouldn’t perform another subversive act or we would go to prison, and for another, that we should get to work or go to prison.”
The regime’s state security forces often use short and arbitrary arrests to intimidate dissidents and prevent them from meeting with each other and planning. The problem has only been increasing in recent years. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN, by its Spanish initials), estimates that in between 2010 and 2017, there were 51,833 arbitrary detentions of dissidents. This trend continued into 2017, with the CCDHRN estimating 5,155 arbitrary detentions with political motives, with at least 316 of these occurring in December alone.
To further intimidate dissidents, as of January 1 of this year, a new law allows the nation to deny citizenship to the children of dissidents who live outside Cuban borders. The law states that if the parents of a child interested in gaining citizenship “has committed acts or preformed actions against the political, social, and economic foundations of the Cuban State,” their application is subject to review. Many have spoken out against the law, including Rosa María Payá, who feels that “it is another demonstration of political ‘apartheid’ imposed by the dynastic regime of Havana over all of the Cubans.”
José Daniel Ferrer, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, told Martí Noticias that the real intention of the state police forces in arresting the Ramírez brothers was to “avoid protests against the government on the date that the Castro tyranny celebrates another anniversary of their coming to power”—namely January 1, the date of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Given that Raúl Castro will be passing the nightstick on to his successor as President of Cuba in April, we are likely to see even more temporary detentions.
According to Archivo Cuba, the Castro regime is responsible for the politically motivated deaths of 12 people in 2017, which they say is only “the tip of the iceberg” of human rights violations. All of the deceased have ties to the opposition, including two doctors who died while participating medical work overseas, sent by the Cuban government. All of the victims are said to have died of “undetermined causes.”
Just a week before the Ramírez arrests, dissident artists were arrested while rehearsing their play 4.48 Psychosis, which critiqued the Castro regime’s treatment of patients in the Mazorra mental hospital, which is known for politically motivated psychiatric evaluations and confinement. This comes just months after Daniel Llorente was placed in Mazorra without charges after running with an American flag ahead of the annual May Day parades. Llorente is still at Mazorra, recently stated that he has been kidnapped by Raúl Castro.
Although their imprisonment aimed to threaten the brothers and serve as a warning to other dissidents, it is not likely to hinder their efforts. After their first arrest, Alberto Ramírez declared that he wouldn’t give up protesting because it was “his fight that Cuba knows its rights.”