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Miami nonprofit’s team of volunteer lawyers advocates for SOS Cuba detainees, prisoners

MIAMI – A Miami nonprofit organization assembled a new legal team to advocate for the Cubans who continue to be punished for demonstrating against the communist-run island’s government. Besieged by COVID, Cubans are facing shortages of food and medicines, intermittent power outages, repression, and death.

Movimiento Democracia, or Democracy Movement, is helping to file petitions to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, on behalf of the new generation of political prisoners. The group’s various efforts also include sending an envoy to the Vatican with a request to intercede.

“We are here to maintain the identity and the physical presence of those who have disappeared,” said Augustin “Gus” Garcia, the co-founder of the Democracy Movement.

Santiago Alpízar, who has practiced law on the island and Florida; Nicolas J. Gutiérrez, the former chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, and Edgar Mili met with the leaders of the Democracy Movement during a news conference at the Rivero/Mestre Law Firm in Coral Gables.

Alpízar, who was born in Placetas, Cuba, has law degrees from the Central University “Marta Abreu” of Las Villas and the Florida Coastal School of Law. He said that under the new Cuban Constitution every Cuban who is living outside of the island has the right to present petitions to “the powers of the State” and there have been about 2,015 so far this year.

Garcia and Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the Cuban exiled leader of the Democracy Movement, announced the team of 23 lawyers is the largest since the organization’s inception in the 1990s. Sánchez said it’s also the beginning of an ambitious humanitarian plan for more volunteers to step in “when the collapse of the dictatorship begins” in order to help avoid chaos.

“We are here not just to shout Cuba Libre, but to make Cuba Libre,” Garcia said.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the Cuban exiled leader of the Democracy Movement, talks to reporters during a news conference on Tuesday at the Rivero/Mestre Law Firm in Coral Gables. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Sánchez said the call to join the effort is urgent. He said he is worried about the wellbeing of two Cuban dissidents: José Daniel Ferrer, 51, of Palma Soriano, a city in the Santiago de Cuba province, and Félix Navarro, 68, of Perico, a city in the Matanzas province.

“Those who are inside Cuba are being repressed, some of them are incommunicado, or unaccounted for,” Sánchez said. “Some of them have been killed in very grotesque manners.”

Despite witnesses who had videos alleging otherwise, the Cuban government denied there were reports of arbitrary arrests, police brutality, or extrajudicial killings. Officials on state-run television questioned the reliability of reports from human rights organizations on the number of SOS Cuba protesters arrested.

Cubalex, a nongovernmental organization based in the U.S., estimates 770 people were arrested in connection to the July protests and 550 are in prison. Garcia said some of them are Cubans with dual nationalities from Spain and Italy.

ARRESTS CONTINUE

Human rights activists reported summary trials and arrests related to demands for political change continued this month. Cuban officers arrested Ruhama Fernández, a YouTube influencer from the Cuban city of Palma Soriano, in the province of Santiago de Cuba, Cubalex reported on Tuesday.

Cubalex, a nongovernmental organization based in the U.S., reported on Tuesday Cuban officers arrested Ruhama Fernández, a YouTube influencer also known as “ruhsantiago.” (YouTube Ruhama Fernández and Google Maps)

The 22-year-old dissident has said her parents live in the United States, Communist Party members don’t allow her to get a college education, to travel out of the island, and regularly harass her.

“It is very exhausting and that is why we need freedom because I do not want my children to have this fight tomorrow,” Fernández said in one of her recent videos in Spanish.

On Monday, Fernández published a brazen “Do not insult our intelligence” editorial to criticize Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, his “damn socialism” and the biased treatment of pro-government demonstrations during the pandemic. On Sunday, she published “Santiago took to the streets and this is how I lived it.”

“We did not vandalize ... We absolutely did not hit anyone. On the contrary, we were beaten and we were repressed,“ Fernández said, adding she felt ill during a march on July 11 in Palma Soriano.

AFTERMATH OF PROTESTS

In response to the SOS Cuba protests and the Cuban government’s crackdown, President Joe Biden added more sanctions to the ones former President Donald Trump imposed. His administration promised to find ways to circumvent the Cuban government to provide uncensored internet service and a system for remittances, money sent by U.S. relatives to Cuba.

Officials in Cuba started to allow travelers to bring food and medicine without paying import duties, legalized enterprises with up to 100 employees and pushed a vaccination campaign with the Abdala and Soberana 2 vaccines. Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, and a few activists in the U.S. sent aid, including boxes of syringes.

Sánchez is among the Cuban exiles who don’t think any of this is enough. They want communism eradicated from Cuba and for Biden to have a more aggressive intervention to make that happen. The Democracy Movement’s new legal team also counts on William Sanchez, an attorney who is not related to Sánchez. He has an immigration practice in Miami-Dade County and wants to run against Sen. Marco Rubio next year.

For more information about how to join the effort, contact the members of the Democracy Movement at movimientodemocracia@gmail.com.

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Last week President Joe Biden heeded the call to reach out to Cuban Americans. He did so on a conference call that had no prior public notice and no read out of the conversation afterward.

Coverage on July 16

Coverage on July 15

A man waits to be attended at a pharmacy amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Old Havana, Cuba, Thursday, July 15, 2021. Cuban President Miguel Daz-Canel for the first time is offering some self-criticism while saying that government shortcomings in handling shortages and other problems played a role in this week's protests. (AP Photo/Eliana Aponte) (Copyright 2021. The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on July 14

Dulce Diaz, center, and her brother Carlos Diaz, left, demonstrate, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, as people rallied in support of antigovernment demonstrations in Cuba. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Coverage on July 13

Demonstrators sit on the median separating the north and south bound lanes of the Palmetto Expressway, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Miami. The demonstrators voiced support for Cubans, who had taken to the streets of several communities around the communist nation on Sunday to air grievances over poor economic conditions, among other complaints. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Coverage on July 12

Cuban exiles rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood in support of protesters in Cuba, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Miami. Sunday's protests in Cuba marked some of the biggest displays of antigovernment sentiment in the tightly controlled country in years. Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of U.S. sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump's administration. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Coverage on July 11

FILE - In this July 11, 2021 file photo, people protest in front of the Capitol in Havana, Cuba. A report released Wednesday, July 21, shows philanthropic funding to promote global human rights reached a record $3.7 billion in 2018. The report by the philanthropy research organization Candid and Human Rights Funders Network says nearly half of the donations came from 12 foundations and most of the contributions were earmarked for programs in North America. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

For more about the situation in Cuba, visit the Local 10 News’ “en español” page.


About the Authors:

Trent Kelly is an award-winning multimedia journalist who joined the Local 10 News team in June 2018. Trent is no stranger to Florida. Born in Tampa, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he graduated with honors from the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.