Cuba Campaign Updates

Campaign Update, November 2009:


English PEN is alarmed by reports that renowned internet writer Yoani Sánchez and fellow bloggers Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo and Claudia Cadelo were abducted and beaten by state security agents while on their way to a demonstration in Havana on 6 November 2009.

We at English PEN are concerned that the attack may signal the beginning of a new wave of repression against the new generation of bloggers who until now have enjoyed relative freedom in a country where writers are commonly imprisoned for their work. We are therefore calling on the Cuban authorities to respond to the allegations of the attack and, if they are founded, to bring the agents responsible to justice. We also continue to call for the unconditional release of the 26 writers, journalists and librarians currently in prison for their writings.

Internet writers Yoani Sánchez, Claudia Cadelo and Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo were reportedly abducted and assaulted while on their way to a peaceful demonstration in the capital Havana on 6 November 2009. According to our information, the three were walking to a march against violence against dissidents when unknown men forced them into an unmarked vehicle. One of the men, whom the bloggers believe were plainclothes state security agents, reportedly warned bystanders not to get involved as the writers were “counterrevolutionaries”. The three writers were beaten and threatened before being released.

Sánchez, who says that she was told by one of her assailants that her “clowning around” was over, reportedly needed to walk with a crutch for several days after the assault. There has been no official comment on or independent confirmation of the attacks to date.

For more information and to send appeals on behalf of internet writer Yoani Sánchez and fellow bloggers Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo and Claudia Cadelo, please click here.


Campaign Update, July 2009:

On 16 January 2009, fifty years after Fidel Castro took power, English PEN launched our 2009 Cuba Campaign. The principal aim of the campaign is to bring greater freedom of expression to our fellow writers, journalists, novelists, poets and dramatists in Cuba.

The campaign was launched with a letter to The Guardian on 16 February, highlighting the poor prison conditions and the effects that these have on the health of cases of concern to PEN. This letter proved controversial in some quarters. Shortly after publication, Professor Michael Chanan responded with a letter ‘Cold war myths about Cuban jails’ (The Guardian, 21 February 2009) in which he refuted the allegations of poor prison conditions, and questioned the motives of our campaign.

Days later, in response to Professor Chanan’s letter, Terence Blacker wrote a piece, ‘We can’t ignore Cuba’s dark side’ (The Independent, 24 February 2009), in which he described Professor Chanan’s reaction as “bizarre and vaguely shameful”.

Nevertheless many people, ranging from PEN Members, the British Embassy in Havana, and a number of Cubans with whom we are in contact, have responded in a supportive and encouraging way to the campaign.

There were a number of reasons why we chose to focus on Cuba for this year’s campaign, not least because of the recent changes in power, both in Cuba and in the United States, which have led to the widespread belief that now may be a good time to push for greater freedom of expression on the island.

The WiPC’s Cuba campaign was also launched in conjunction with International PEN’s Freedom to Write in the Americas, which aims to highlight the persecution of writers and journalists in Latin America. Although the WiPC is working closely with International PEN on this regional campaign, we decided to focus on Cuba, where we have the greatest number of Honorary Members.

Our Cuban Honorary Members, Fabio Prieto Llorente, Léster Luis González Pentón, Normando Hernández González, José Luis Garcia Paneque, Julio César Gálvez Rodriguez, Adolfo Fernández Saínz, and Pedro Argüelles Morán, are seven of the twenty-two writers, journalists and librarians who remain detained following the Black Spring crackdown of March 2003. As such, on the sixth anniversary of the crackdown we asked members to write to the Cuban authorities protesting their continued detention. We were extremely pleased to learn some weeks later that Honorary Member Léster Luis González Pentón had been allowed to return to his family home for a total of three days, between 20 and 23 March, and that another case of concern, Pablo Pacheco Avila, was allowed to spend 24 hours at home with his family. We find these latest developments extremely encouraging, and have written to the Cuban authorities to acknowledge them.

We were also delighted to have the opportunity to meet with a representative from the British Embassy in Havana, who was extremely enthusiastic about the campaign and made some very useful recommendations. We will be working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office here in London, as well as the Embassy in Cuba, in order to ensure that our work, and theirs, is as beneficial as possible.

English PEN’s Campaigns Team will shortly be producing a press pack and hope to hold an event in the autumn. We sincerely hope that we can contribute to bringing about change in Cuba, as well as raise awareness about the situation in the UK. At the very least, we know that our campaign is appreciated by those who matter most:

“Every campaign you can do has an enormous value and avoids him to be forgotten….Thank you very much for your work helping the prisoners of conscience.” 

(Joana C. Fernandez, daughter of journalist Adolfo Fernández Saínz, who was sentenced to 15 years during the Black Spring Crackdown of March 2003.)


Time to close Cuba’s other prisons’ (The Guardian, 16 February 2009)

‘Cold War Myths About Cuban Jails’ (The Guardian, 21 February 2009)

‘We can’t ignore Cuba’s dark side’ (The Independent, 24 February 2009)

International PEN Freedom to Write in the Americas Campaign

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