After 24 hours without information on his whereabouts, the arrest of the vice president of the Cuban Libertarian Party-José Martí, Heriberto Pons, was confirmed. He was captured at party headquarters in Havana on the morning of August 20, along with three other activists.
They had met to formulate a statement on Decree 349, by which the Cuban dictatorship intends to mandate that all artistic expression be regulated and approved by the state: under the auspices of the directive, all independent art is forbidden and legal justification is offered in the legislation to legally prosecute anyone who questions the regime through art, or disobeys the decree.
Once the meeting was over, they offered a toast for to commemorate the birthday of the party vice president. It was at that moment that state security forces stormed the house and captured him, along with the activists Eduardo Ramos Balaguer, Israel Reyes Montero, Yaima Martinez Borroto, and Isabeht Cuella Carrasco.
Also inside the house were Olga Herrera Dias, Raime Peña Echevarria, and Roberto Torrez Rojo. They were subsequently expelled from the property, and until now no one has been able to enter the party headquarters, which is also the home of the party president and vice president.
Through a statement on its website, the Mises-Mambí Institute notified that it has little news about the detainees, but will make public any news it receives.
Since its founding in May 2017, party members have been subject to harassment by authorities and arbitrary arrests. Party member Manuel Velásquez, for example, was under arrest for months, and Ubaldo Herrera is still in state custody.
Also, the party secretary, Yanet Padrón, has been in custody since July, after having spent a year appealing the sentence against her.
Now, members of the party are being ensnared in a wave of targeted persecution against anyone who protests against Decree 349. Although it has yet to take effect, the measure has already deprived dozens of political activists of their freedom, which affirms the totalitarian nature of this measure.
Concerts and events envisioned to serve as public demonstrations of the rejection of censorship against artists have already been prevented and thwarted. In the words of the police, “Cuba will not be another Nicaragua, where the civil protests are so multitudinous that the state security forces and paramilitaries loyal to the Marxist revolution lash out at demonstrators.”
The current body count in Nicaragua stands at 317, according to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; this does not take into account the abortion induced in prison, at the hands of paramilitaries who kicked a young pregnant woman in the stomach during police interrogations.
The wave of arbitrary arrests indicates that it is a preventive strategy to avoid uprisings and thus ensure that Cuba does not become another Nicaragua. But these modern day freedom fighters are not going away quietly. They will continue their struggle for economic freedom and democracy.
In the words of the president of the Cuban Libertarian Party-José Martí, “The more they attack us, the more it means that we are doing things right”. They expose the fear the regime has of citizen action.
This is just the latest attack on artistic freedom in the Caribbean island nation. Rapper Angel Yunier, who goes by the stage name “El Critico del Arte” was arrested by state authorities, and went on a hunger strike to protest his detention.