By Fabiola Santiago Miami Herald
Travelers to Cuba and Cuban Americans, beware.
President Joe Biden, his administration, members of Congress, take note.
The Cuban government has struck a new repressive blow — and is reaching across the Florida Straits to impose repressive measures on U.S. citizens, too.
In a desperate bid to quash unprecedented opposition at home — and the visible mounting support abroad for dissidents — the Cuban regime has threatened to prosecute and jail any Cuban national living abroad who stands with them.
No matter U.S. residency or citizenship status, if and when people born in Cuba return to the island to visit, they will be arrested and tried if the person has participated in what the regime calls “subversive actions,” a top prosecutor for the regime said on Cuban television.
This can be anything from merely supporting a street protest on social media to physically attending an anti-regime rally on Calle Ocho.
Even if Cuban nationals don’t return to Cuba, he threatened, they will be tried “in absentia.”
And, if they travel to another country, Cuba will seek extradition to the island, said prosecutor José Luis Reyes Blanco, a department head in the Criminal Proceedings Directorate of the Attorney General’s Office.
“The laws allow the trial of people who are not in the country. Those individuals who fund, convene or coordinate these actions may be prosecuted in absentia. Or they can be extradited through international legal cooperation,” Reyes Blanco said on the television show Hacemos Cuba (We Make Cuba) on Caribe television.
His words, reported in Spanish-language media like el Nuevo Herald, spread through Cuban Miami like a roadside brush fire.
“Terrifying,” a Cuban American academic who frequently travels to Cuba told me. “It’s another repressive mechanism in their arsenal to try to intimidate people.”
It’s a push back against the power of social media to mobilize public opinion and against the power of a song, “Patria y Vida,” to rally the masses in a similar way to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.
Is Cuba’s overreach enforceable?
“It would be impossible to apply it to everyone,” the academic said, “but they will choose a few people as scapegoats and they can build a case out of nothing. They can put drugs in your luggage or a pack of dollars and claim it’s CIA money. It’s a sort of terrorist roulette to create a maximum state of terror. There is fear, a lot of fear.”
Silencing artists in Cuba & U.S.
The real reason the state is issuing such threats is to keep Cuban Americans in the United States from disseminating news about the dozens of dissidents, independent journalists and artists the regime right now has under house arrest, police posted at their doors.
Or, who are in arbitrary, Machiavellian detention.
One of them is San Isidro Movement founding artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, last year jailed for using the Cuban flag in his performance art and for his protest against a law that criminalizes making independent art.
On a hunger strike to protest the trespassing of government agents into his house to confiscate and destroy his critical artwork, Otero Alcántara, 33, was forcibly removed from his house. He has been hospitalized under heavy security for two weeks and remains incommunicado.
Throughout the hunger strike, Alcántara posted to social media poignant videos explaining to the world why he was willing to die. He’s so well-known, he’s now on Wikipedia.
Most importantly for the Cuban government, respected Cuban American intellectuals who aren’t right-wingers — and have traveled to Havana to participate in official events like the book fair and art biennial — have stood openly and firmly behind the humble San Isidro artist movement’s fight against censorship.
They’ve got the resources and stature and are using it to call international attention to Cuba’s brutal repression under new dictator Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel.
They created and distributed 27N, a manifesto, that eloquently outlines what a new, truly revolutionary Cuba should look like. On April 27, 20 Cuban intellectuals from the island and the diaspora live streamed a choral reading of the legendary mea culpa the Cuban government forced jailed Cuban poet Heberto Padilla to make against his own poetry.
Fifty years ago, the Padilla affair, as it was known, brought the end of support for Fidel Castro from major Latin American, European and American intellectuals like Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Sontag and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Today, from Miami to Berlin, museums and other art venues are disseminating the reading, “Padilla’s Shadow,” directed by New York-based Cuban artist Coco Fusco.
Looks like the Cuban regime, the world’s eyes on them, will have to hold hundreds of thousands of Kafkaesque trials.
Travelers to Cuba, beware.