Cuban officials prevented dissident Daniel Llorente, trapped in a psychiatric ward despite no official diagnosis or legal charges against him, from seeing his son this weekend after he made a sign reading “down with Raúl Castro’s dictatorship” and held it up within the facility.
Llorente has been in police custody since May 1, 2017, when he was publicly gang-beaten and arrested for waving an American flag before the annual parade to celebrate communism on “International Workers’ Day.” Authorities dropped the charges against him but declared him to be mentally ill for having professed a belief in God and refused to free him.
According to the Cuban publication 14 y Medio, Llorente was forced into isolation for a week after authorities found a cell phone in his possession, which he snuck into the mental institution to speak to his son. Llorente also used the phone to record videos denouncing that Castro was keeping him “hostage” and torturing him in the facility, and used it to call Miami-based Cuban interest outlets to update them on his status.
In a video recorded secretly on his cell in January, Llorente said, “I am being held hostage. … Raúl Castro, you know I have no psychiatric problem of any kind.”
Llorente had also violated facility policies by scribbling quotes by Cuban founding father José Martí across the walls. Martí is considered the most respected writer and political thinker in Cuban history, so much so that the Cuban government has co-opted his legacy of promoting democracy and misinterpreted his writings to support the Castro regime. During his visit to Havana in 2016—which resulted in a significant spike in arbitrary arrests and beatings of dissidents—President Barack Obama misquoted Martí to the Cuban people in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the regime.
Last week, Llorente protested his isolation by making a sign reading “no to injustice, down with the dictatorship of Raúl Castro” and holding it in silence in the facility’s patio, according to 14 y Medio. He found out shortly thereafter that he would not be able to receive a visit from his son, Eliecér, that weekend.
“My father is acting this way because they are also not abiding by the law in keeping him locked up, but [the supervisor of his ward] told me that they sent a request to the court to free him but it has been denied,” Eliecér Llorente told the outlet. He added that, after authorities found his father’s secret phone, he himself was called into a police station and threatened to be charged with “disobedience,” a crime in Cuba.
Llorente openly dissents with the regime but is not a member of any dissident organization, so he has no group clamoring for his release or providing legal aid. It is unclear how much legal aid could help him, however, as he is not facing any charges against the state. At the beginning of the month, Llorente once again requested a release and was told that the supervisor of his facility did not have the authority to free him, even though doctors had also found no evidence that he was mentally ill.
Llorente is being held at the Hospital Psiquiátrico de La Habana Comandante Doctor Eduardo Bernabé Ordaz Ducunge, known commonly as “Mazorra.” The institution has a long history of use to trap and abuse dissidents after the Revolution. Many survivors have testified to suffering electroshock and other torture tactics while detained there.
A month after being forced into Mazorra, Llorente began but was ultimately forced to conclude a hunger strike. He has also refused medication that he believes to be sedatives intended to keep him quiet and only eats the food his family provides, refusing “to eat from the hand of the oppressor,” according to his son. Cuban dissidents in Miami say they have intelligence that indicates Llorente has also been subject to electroshock, as many in Mazorra have throughout the decades the Castros have been in power.
Llorente has requested political asylum in the United States, but the Trump administration has not processed his request despite signs that he is in imminent danger and subject to torture and abuse.
Llorente’s arrest following a free run waving the American flag in Havana and a brutal videotaped beating became one of the most dramatic images of 2017. Llorente, an avid supporter of the United States, has referred to the country as “the greatest defender of human rights, hope, freedom, justice, brotherhood, and the pursuit of happiness” in the world. Prior to his arrest on May Day, Llorente was arrested in 2016 for attempting to greet the first U.S. cruise ship arriving in Havana since the Revolution by waving his American flag and shouting “yes we can!”, the slogan of the Obama presidential campaign. For his efforts, plain-clothed Castro agents berated him with racial slurs.
Speaking to a camera, Llorente said during that attack, “I use whatever flag I want because I am free. I am not a hypocrite, not like all the Cubans marching yesterday [the 2016 May Day march]—all those Cubans are hypocrites … I don’t fear the government.”
Failing to silence Llorente, Cuban state media was forced to acknowledge him after the May Day protest, calling him an “annexationist” and a criminal.