Evangelical Pastor And Activists Detained In Cuba
Political Prisoner Fears For His Life
11/24/07 CUBA (BosNewsLife) — An evangelical pastor and several other human rights workers have been detained in Cuba shortly after security forces broke up a meeting commemorating political prisoners in the capital Havana, BosNewsLife learned from activists Saturday, November 24.
“Cuban government repressive forces brutally beat members of families who live in a poor neighborhood in Havana and destroyed the furniture and personal belongings of a human rights defender. The activists arrested are threatened with being prosecuted,” said Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, a blind Christian lawyer who leads the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights and the Human Rights Rapporteur Council in Cuba.
He said the problems began late Thursday, November 22, when over 30 officials of “the Cuban political police and Cuban State Security violently invaded,” the San Miguel del Padron area of Havana.
They were seen “ransacking the home of 30 year- old activist, Juan Bermudez Toranzo, where a vigil on behalf of all Cuban political prisoners was taking place.” Police, he said, “brutally beat all families and neighbors present, including women and children.”
He added the activist “was dragged along with his two year-old son from his bedroom to the street outside where he was thrown into a patrol car with other activists of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights.” The situation of the baby was not immediately clear.
Pastor Yordis Ferrer, who leads a Pentecostal congregation, and four activists were taken away at a local police station where they remain “under investigation,” Gonzalez Leiva said. He said Ferrer was detained, when he “came to the aid of Juan Bermudez Toranzos wife Nery as repressive forces where beating her up.”
Cuban State Security officials reportedly advised “Nery to begin looking for a lawyer since formal accusations are on the way for those arrested,” added well-informed Gonzalez Leiva, who himself has been detained for his involvement in human rights activities the authorities regarded as undermining state security.
The other detainees were identified as representatives of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights, including Osmar Osmani Balman del Pino, a delegate of the group in the municipality of San Miguel del Padron and fellow officials Jose Luis Rodriguez Chavez and William Cepero.
Relatives and family members staged a protest outside the police station to demand their release, BosNewsLife learned. “These dedicated human rights defenders are in prison only for their activities on behalf of the rights of poor Cubans who, like them, live in impoverished neighborhoods” Gonzalez Leiva explained in a statement.
Bermudez Toranza founded an independent labor union supporting Cubans who try to make a living despite being prohibited by the government from obtaining a license to work. In addition he has been involved in providing aid to impoverished children.
His latest activity, a vigil for political prisoners, came on the heels of news that 41-year old jailed journalist Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta is fearing for his life. “Im letting it be known that my state of health is failing at an extremely dangerous pace. My physical well-being remains under the Sword of Damocles, and I could die,” he said in transcript obtained by BosNewsLife.
“My days are slowly coming to an end because of the various dangerous illnesses from which I suffer: high blood pressure, a right bundle branch block in my heart, hypertensive retinopathy, a heart murmur, a pyloric-duodenal prolapse, chronic dermatitis, asthma, cervical arthritis, lumbo-sacral arthralgia, vitiligo, kidney and liver disorders, and an obvious immunological deficiency. Im extremely underweight, which is quite worrisome,” he said.
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison during the March-April 2003 crackdown on dissidents and is confined in the same compound with “dangerous convicts” condemned to death and to life imprisonment, investigators and activists told BosNewsLife earlier this year.
Herrera Acosta is among over 20 journalists who were arrested in the March 2003 government-led crackdown on dissidents and still being held in prison. Mostly accused of being “mercenaries in the service of a foreign power”, they were handed down sentences from 14 to 27 years in prison.
However, the journalist said that although, “I am very physically weak, Im strong spiritually. I know nothing is in vain…” Cuban leader Fidel Castro has denied human rights abuses and the existence of dissidents in the country. He has described those detained as “mercenaries of the United States.”
The 81-year-old Fidel Castro is recovering from a series of intestinal surgeries that forced him to temporarily hand over power to his brother Raul Castro in July 2006. Officially he is still president, while his brother the ‘acting president’. Dissidents suggest it remains to be seen what a post-Fidel Castro Cuba would look like.