A group of 89 pro-democracy dissidents, members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), asked President Donald Trump in an open letter published Monday for his support for their campaign against a Communist Party referendum to impose a new constitution on the country.
The Castro regime scheduled the referendum to adopt the new constitution, written by the Party, for Sunday, February 24. Police and paramilitary have systematically targeted any individual who publicly states they will vote against the new constitution, or not vote at all in protest, with beatings, arrests, and state violence. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the Cuban “president” who answers to dictator Raúl Castro, stated on Twitter last week that he was prepared for when the Cuban people would “approve” the new constitution on Sunday, not allowing for the possibility that Cubans could vote “no.”
UNPACU launched a campaign this month to urge Cubans to vote “no,” triggering widespread violence against UNPACU members by state police.
“We have seen during the last week heavily armed forces of the Ministry of Interior violently raid fourteen homes of its members, knocking down doors and barging in while families are sleeping,” the group tells President Trump in their open letter. “Children, elderly and pregnant women have been dragged out of bed, minors stripped naked and searched and countless items stolen including medicine, food and personal effects. Actions that without a doubt qualify as state terrorism.”
The letter also highlights the use of state force to keep UNPACU members from leaving their homes and the group’s headquarters.
“Since February 11th, the regime’s repressive forces have permanently surrounded the organization’s headquarters and have arrested those that attempt to enter or exit. For example, a 16-year-old has been beaten and detained as he left the headquarters in search of food for his 23-month-old niece since food items were stolen during the raid,” the letter reads. “Although repression has been occurring with unusual fury in the last few days, actually since our campaign for the ‘NO’ to the Constitution began, the regime has increased its attacks against us.”
The signatories to the letter – 89 UNPACU members who have committed to a hunger strike against the regime – “respectfully ask that [Trump] join us in denouncing the fraud of the illegitimate Constitution.”
When the head of UNPACU, José Daniel Ferrer, announced the hunger strike this month, the group had 23 participants. It has since expanded an includes prominent activists like Tomás Nuñez Magdariaga, who completed a 62-day hunger strike last year, and Zaqueo Báez, the protesters famously beaten and arrested on video in front of Pope Francis for saying the word “freedom” too close to the papal convoy in 2015.
UNPACU has begun releasing a series of videos of the hunger strikers explaining the reasons for their protest. “I am on hunger strike to end communism,” one says to the camera. “I am on hunger strike to reveal the lies and farce of the Cuban regime,” another declares.
Those who cannot join the hunger strike but are in solidarity with the project have also produced video messages. Below, an UNPACU member expresses her support to colleagues, noting she is not participating in the hunger strike because she is five months pregnant. Despite her health status, she says she, too, was a victim of police brutality for publicly stating she would vote against the referendum.
— José Daniel Ferrer (@jdanielferrer) February 16, 2019
Other dissidents and unaffiliated Cubans who publicly expressed disapproval of the new constitution have complained of beatings, arrests, and threats. Speaking to 14 y medio, a Cuban independent newspaper, activists said police threatened to “lock [them] in a dungeon” if they did not stop campaigning for the “no” vote, which any Cuban can legal cast in Sunday’s election. Ferrer, the head of UNPACU, was beaten and arrested for displaying a poster reading “I Vote No” in a public park.
February 24, the date of the referendum, is the 23rd anniversary of the murder of Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales – four Cuban-American pilots working for a project called Brothers to the Rescue in which they would fly over the Caribbean looking for Cuban refugees adrift to save their lives. Fidel Castro ordered their planes shot down over international waters, an international crime, but President Bill Clinton did nothing to bring the Castro regime to justice.
The day before, February 23, the Cuban dissident movement observes the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in a Cuban prison in 2010 of a hunger strike against the regime. He spent the last seven years of his life behind bars for opposing communism.