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Themes Messages to Dissidents » Bertha Antunez

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Interviewed March 2011

Bertha Antúnez Pernet was born in 1959 to a family of limited means. She began to become politically aware in 1990 when her brother, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (“Antúnez”), was unjustly charged with “enemy propaganda” for saying in a public square that Cuba should experience the same political changes that were taking place in Eastern Europe. He was incarcerated and then charged with additional political offenses during his confinement, which extended his sentence until 2007.

Antúnez Pernet became increasingly aware of the gravity of the human rights situation in Cuba through visiting her brother in prison and learning about the conditions to which he and other prisoners of conscience were subjected.

In 1997, Antúnez Pernet and other family members of political prisoners founded an organization called the National Movement of Civic Resistance Pedro Luis Boitel to fight ill-treatment in prison. By 1999, the movement had collected over 5,000 signatures for a general amnesty of political prisoners in Cuba. It has also carried out protests in front of various prisons throughout the island. 

I would like to send a message to the international community on how to do the right thing for the Cuban people. And this is very simple. I would say to them that they must support the Cuban people in different ways. The Cuban people need -- and the opposition on the island needs -- for them to support them with resources, that they support them spiritually, that they spread that voice of pain and that eagerness for liberty and Democracy all over the world.

They should say it to all people in the world, and they should say, "We must help those people. Those people must be free." Or that they ask themselves why the Cuban people are not free? According to the responses, they should decide to help the Cuban people. I think this is the time to help them.

They are ready to receive help. This is the time. And all the people of good will of the world, all those democratic governments, all those NGO organizations like Amnesty International and others, that they realize in this moment that this is the time to help the Cuban people. Lend your hand to the Cuban people who, for more than 50 years have been suffering a horror, a dictatorship by people who have always hated their own people and have not wanted to do right by them.

They should not put themselves on the side of a tyrannical government like the Castro brothers' government. They should not believe the lies that are told by the government of Fidel Castro. They should not believe in the supposed changes they say they will make. They should not believe in relations, in improvements for the people, because none of that is true. And the saddest thing is that the world knows -- even the allies of the Cuban government know -- how evil it is. 

Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.

Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.

Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.

In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.

While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.

Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.

Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.

The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.

Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.

More on this theme from Bertha Antunez

Bertha Antunez: Time to Support the Cuban People “The saddest thing is that the world knows, even the allies of the Cuban government, just how evil it is.”