Cuban parents of protesters barred from meeting US group

HAVANA — On the day that Migdalia Gutiérrez was to meet with an American delegation in Havana, Cuban state security was waiting for her outside her home in a white car at 6 a.m. sharp.

Gutiérrez and at least five other relatives of participants in the 2021 protests in Cuba were temporarily detained and barred from visiting the delegation on Wednesday, according to US officials and activist groups on the island. Her son and hundreds of other protesters are serving long prison sentences after joining protests last year. Cuban officials did not directly accuse them of protesting, but rather of disturbing public order, theft and other crimes.

“It’s not convenient for them for us to talk about the July 11 protests and what’s going on with our children,” the 45-year-old mother told The Associated Press. .”

“But we’re not going to stop talking,” she said.

The detentions have drawn strong criticism from the US government, coming amid bilateral efforts to ease US-Cuban relations. As of Thursday morning, Gutíerrez said she and others had still not been able to meet the American visitors.

Cuban officials did not respond to a request for comment.

On July 11 and 12, 2021, thousands of people demonstrated across Cuba, voicing grievances against the government ranging from food shortages to economic unrest. The protests were the largest in decades and were harshly suppressed. Many young people are among those serving prison sentences.

Gutíerrez’s son, Brusnelvis Cabrera Gutiérrez, was sentenced to 10 years, she said. Now 22, he has been in prison for a year.

Gutíerrez and other parents who are outspoken critics of Cuban authorities say they continue to be harassed and followed, which is not out of the norm in a country where political expression is tightly controlled.

She was part of a group scheduled to visit on Wednesday with a US delegation led by Emily Mendrala, assistant assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The delegation traveled to the island to discuss migration issues with the Cuban government amid one of the largest migrations from Cuba to the United States in decades. It was the second such meeting in a week and the two countries had expressed optimism about future collaboration on Tuesday.

But Gutíerrez said the officers detained her as she left the house and detained her for five hours, causing her to miss the appointment.

Cellphone video and footage that Gutíerrez shared with the AP shows the state security car waiting outside his home on the outskirts of Havana, and two officers leading him away. Other parents have been blocked from their homes, said the opposition organization Justice 11J, which defends those tried or serving prison sentences in connection with the protests.

Gutíerrez and the other parents were released later that day, according to the organization. Judge 11J said eight parents were detained or stranded; US officials said at least six were.

The detentions have drawn heavy criticism from President Joe Biden’s administration. Brian Nichols, the State Department’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted Wednesday that “preventing parents from talking about their imprisoned children is unfair and inhumane.”

“These families have the right to speak to the international community and anyone else they choose about the condition of their loved ones,” he said.

The government’s treatment of protesters has always been a sticking point for the Biden administration as it moves towards improving relations with the communist-ruled island.

A total of 790 people who took part in the 2021 protests face prosecution for sedition, violent attacks, public disorder, theft and other crimes, according to the latest figures released in January by Cuba’s attorney general’s office. .

More than 500 are serving prison sentences, according to figures from Justice 11J.

Cuban authorities attributed the sedition charges to “overt violence” during the protests, noting that some protesters threw rocks at hospitals, gas stations and other facilities, and also looted.

But Gutiérrez – along with many other family members of those serving sentences – maintains that his son is not a criminal. She said he was sitting on a motorbike nearby during one of the protests.

“He never hurt anyone,” she said.


Associated Press reporter Andrea Rodríguez contributed to this report.


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