Today is the anniversary of an ignoble day in recent Cuban history.
Freedom is against the law in Cuba.
That was clearly evident during March 18-20, 2003, when Fidel Castro's secret police fanned out across Cuba and arrested 75 independent journalists, librarians, labor unionists, human rights activists and other dissidents. The victims of the "black spring" were tried on trumped-up charges of "anti-state" activities and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Fifteen of the 75 have been released for health reasons, but the remainder continue to languish in Castro's gulag.
Their only crime is that followed their consciences and spoke or wrote the truth about Cuba, a truth that made them the regime's greatest foes.
Here at Uncommon Sense, I have paid special attention to the plight of the two dozen independent journalists in Castro's prisons, through what I called the "March 18 Project." I had hoped to complete my profiles of these brave men in time for this anniversary, but other events in Cuba and elsewhere have kept me from finishing. However, I vow to continue until I have profiled each one or when Castro releases them — whichever comes first.
Dissident activists on the island have marked the anniversary by renewing their pleas for assistance and solidarity from the Cuban exiles and others overseas.
On Friday, the Christian Liberation Movement, headed by Oswaldo Paya, implored the United Nations and others to demand the release of more than 330 political prisoners in Castro's prisons.
Paya spoke specficially to the plight of the "Group of 75."
"They have already unjustly served three years in jail in inhuman conditions. Today marks three years of suffering for them and their families, and each day that passes makes the outrage that much greater," said a statement signed by Paya and other members of the group.
The story from EFE News continues:
The Christian Liberation Movement said that the prisoners had "worked peacefully and openly for the respect of human rights and peaceful changes in Cuban society." At the same time the opposition group decried the "subhuman conditions" in which the Cuban prisoners are living, and said that most of the political prisoners "suffer many serious illnesses that they caught or were made worse by the poor hygiene, deficient medical attention, lack of running water, overcrowding, verbal abuse and often physical abuse." "It is first of all up to the Cuban people to demand freedom for these prisoners who did nothing more than defend the rights of the Cubans themselves," he said.
Also issuing a statement were the Damas de Blanco,, or the Ladies in White, made up of the wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, etc. imprisoned dissidents.
They called for the release of the dissidents, and implored Cubans everywhere not to give up the fight for freedom and democracy.
"We are convinced that with the strength of our feelings and actions, Cubans overseas and in all parts of Cuba will reach liberty and democracy in our nation," the Ladies in White wrote in a letter to the international community.
Here is the lettter, in its entirety and in Spanish, via Accion Democratica Cubana:
MENSAJE DE LAS DAMAS DE BLANCO
Hermanas y Hermanos:
Hoy, junto a Ustedes, conmemoramos el Tercer Aniversario del apresamiento injusto de nuestros 75 seres queridos aquella Primavera Negra de 2003. Esas pacíficas personas han padecido un despiadado cautiverio por los únicos delitos de defender su derecho a la libertad de expresión, desear el bienestar de nuestro pueblo y amar la Patria.
El ensañamiento de las autoridades de Cuba demuestra impotencia ante la solidez diamantina de esos inocentes, la cual se acrecienta mientras mayores son las arbitrariedades y más duras las condiciones, incluidas las celdas de castigo, que pretenden doblegar sus convicciones; peor la asistencia médica; más severa la tortura psicológica y las amenazas contra ellos y nuestras familias.
Nosotras, las DAMAS DE BLANCO, estamos muy unidas los días 18, 19 y 20 de Marzo y, junto a ustedes, demandamos la libertad inmediata e incondicional de los 60 que permanecen en prisión. También exigimos que los12 que recibieron Licencia Extrapenal por motivos de salud no sean regresados a prisión. Asimismo, deben liberarse todos los prisioneros de conciencia y políticos cubanos, tanto quienes se encuentran desde hace años en las cárceles, como aquellos que han sido llevados a ellas más recientemente y que, en no pocos casos, ni siquiera han sido sometidos a juicios.
Estamos convencidas de que con la fortaleza de nuestros sentimientos y acciones, Ustedes allá y nosotras en todas partes de Cuba, alcanzaremos la libertad y la democracia en nuestro país.
Agradecemos profundamente la solidaridad y el calor humano que nos dispensan. En las prisiones, ellos tienen profunda fe y confianza de que su sacrificio no es en vano. Saben que no están olvidados y que labran un fututo luminoso para Cuba.
La Habana, 18 de Marzo de 2006
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Reporters Without Borders has an ongoing petition drive asking Castro to release independent journalists in prison. You can sign the petition here. (A technical note: Reporters Without Borders is based in Paris, so the confirmation e-mail you will receive after signing the petition will be in French. Just in case you don't read French, the confirmation e-mail asks you click on the link to complete the petition signature process. Castro won't receive your message until you click on the link.)
For more on the Cuban dissidents, including a chance to "adopt a dissident," see the Cuban American National Foundation's Web site.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is find and read the work of independent journalists still on the island. A place to find their articles, in Spanish, English and French, is CubaNet.