The United States demanded answers from Cuba on Tuesday about the ongoing detention of eight activists they say are political prisoners captured by the country’s communist regime.
In an open letter to Cuba’s foreign minister published on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Cuba had refused to respond to numerous inquiries about the eight detainees, who are some of the over 100 political prisoners in Cuba.
“I am now asking you to provide a substantive explanation of the detention of the political prisoners on the attached list,” Pompeo wrote. “First, I ask whether your government continues to incarcerate those listed as charged with ‘pre-criminal dangerousness.’ Second, I ask for an explanation of the charges and the evidence against the other individuals.”
Those imprisoned include a range of journalists and political dissidents, namely Yosvany Sanchez Valenciano, Melkis Faure Echevarria, and Yanier Suarez Tamayo of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU); Jose Rolando Casares Soto and Yamilka Abascal Sanchez of the Cuban Youth Dialogue; Eduardo Cardet Concepcion of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL); journalist Yoeni de Jesus Guerra Garcia; and Martha Sanchez of the Ladies in White movement. Cuban prisons are notoriously harsh, with inmates often suffering from malnutrition and physical and mental abuse at the hands of authorities.
“The United States recognizes the sovereign right of every state to try and to convict individuals for violating criminal laws, provided they are afforded fair trial guarantees by an independent and impartial tribunal,” Pompeo wrote. “That principle, however, does not justify the imprisonment of Cuban individuals for simply exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of religion, expression, assembly, or association.”
“We urge you to live up to the assertion made during your October 24 press conference that the Cuban government is willing to engage with us on any topic including human rights,” he concluded. “We are ready to do so.”
Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, director-general of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s U.S. affairs section, described the letter as an “act of propaganda,” as the regime continues to deny the existence of any political persecution.
“The government of the United States is acting dishonestly when it expresses concern about human rights in Cuba or any other place,” he said. “The supposed letter from the Secretary of State and its public handling are just acts of propaganda.”
Tensions over the political prisoners boiled over at the United Nations General Assembly in October, when the Cuban delegation interrupted a meeting by shouting insults over the speakers, a tactic typically used by communist authorities to intimidate their opponents into silence.