Cuba Vandalizes Pro-Democracy Poster in Peru, Blocks Dissidents from Americas Summit

Llegada a Perú de la delegación de la sociedad civil cubana que participará en #CumbreDeLasAméricas
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The official communist Cuban delegation arrived in Lima, Peru, this week for this year’s Summit of the Americas, chanting pro-Castro slogans and defacing art calling for a free society on the island.

Dissidents hoping to attend the summit have complained that the government has blocked them from traveling or forced the summit to relegate them to distant tangential events to prevent them from receiving international attention.

The Summit of the Americas typically occurs every three years and welcomes members of the Organization of American States (OAS). Due to its status as a dictatorship, Cuba is banned from the OAS, but received its first-ever invitation to the summit in 2015 at the behest of leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, and Peru, and amid a campaign to legitimize dictator Raúl Castro under the Obama administration (only Venezuela and Bolivia currently maintain far-left leaders). This will be Cuba’s second time attending the summit.

A communist youth coalition waving the Cuban flag landed in Lima, the host city of this year’s event, on Monday, chanting the slogan “don’t mess with Cuba” and claiming to represent civil society.

Cuban sympathizers appear to have vandalized a poster protesting Cuba’s presence at the summit in the city, showing a photo of one of the many violent arrests of Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and reading, “Cuba: Enough! Corruption, repression, and impunity. STOP violating human rights.”

By Wednesday morning, the billboard had been torn apart and the hashtag, in Spanish, #dontmesswithcuba spray painted where the poster used to be. Leaders of the communist youth groups invited to attend the summit have complained that the presence of dissidents would force them to share a stage with “mercenaries” and that pro-democracy voices “do not represent any legitimate Cuban organization.” Ronald Hidalgo Rivera, the head of the Union of Young Communists, described the dissidents in one interview as “terrorists.”

Berta Soler, who appears on the vandalized poster, was banned from leaving the island to attend the event. Cuban agents also prevented a diverse set of dissident leaders from traveling to Peru, including anti-communist punk rock artist Gorki Águila; santería priest and leader of the Free Yorubas of Cuba Jonniel Rodríguez Riverol; and the theater artist Adonis Milán, among others.

Milán and Águila had been invited to attend an official event at the Summit of the Americas, the Civil Society and Social Actors Forum that typically takes place before the day the summit officially begins, which this year would land on Thursday.

Some dissidents who managed to fly to Lima despite being told not to bother applying for a visa found themselves harassed and disturbed by both Peruvian and Cuban authorities.

Guillermo Fariñas, a human rights leader who has conducted over 20 hunger strikes and received awards for his activism, said authorities threatened the use of force against him for appearing at the summit headquarters. “A security guard, without knowing that I am a Sakharov Prize winner, threatened me with force if I did not leave immediately,” Fariñas, a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, wrote on Twitter.

He added on Wednesday that Peruvian authorities apologized and claimed they believed him to be a pro-communist agitator. Fariñas also protested of problems that persisted beyond the harassment. He told the Spanish newswire service EFE that organizers of summit events invited him to participate in a forum, but did not tell him until he arrived that it would be on Native American affairs, of which he knows “next to nothing” about.

“In Cuba, there have not been indigenous people for a long time,” the psychologist said. “It is very strange. It is a way to keep me out of circulation. I think the long arm of the Cuban dictatorship is responsible.”

The U.S. State Department has condemned Cuba’s limitations on the speech rights of dissidents.

“The State Department has received numerous, credible reports that the Cuban government prevented, and continues to prevent, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit of the Americas,” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Tuesday. “Cuban authorities prevented these individuals’ travel through arbitrary stops at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals’ homes to warn them against trying to leave the island.”

“The United States condemns these actions. We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right,” she asserted. “The United States stands with the brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime.”

Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan is scheduled to meet with some of the dissidents attending the summit.

A group of dissidents, including many blocked from attending the summit – Soler, her husband Ángel Moya, Águila – have released a letter urging that those attending to place human rights at the forefront of their agenda. Praising President Donald Trump for running the only government in the hemisphere that “has behaved coherently by putting a brake to the absurd agenda legitimizing the regime pushed by President Obama,” the dissidents write,

Cubans need and requeest the region to take a positive step by:

  • not recognizing the Castro dictatorship and its dynastic succession
  • demanding freedom for political prisoners
  • accepting the Cuban opposition as a legitimate political actor
  • creating a coalition of countries that exert pressure through economic and political sanctions

During the last Summit of the Americas in 2015, Cuban government agents physically assaulted dissidents who attempted to honor a bust of Cuban founding father José Martí in the host country of Panama. Cuba also joined Venezuela in staging an outraged walkout when the topic of human rights surfaced during the summit talks.

Venezuela has been disinvited to this year’s summit, though dictator Nicolás Maduro has insisted he will attend it, anyway.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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