Why is Cuban Dissident Sonia Garro in Prison?

Sonia Garro has been incarcerated in Cuba for over a year. A member of the controversial Damas de Blanco, a group of women advocating for the release of political prisoners in Cuba, Garro and her husband were arrested in a violent police raid on their home in spring of 2012. She was behind bars for several months before she was issued formal charges. Originally accused of “terrorism”, she has now been charged with assault, generating public disorder and the attempted murder of one of the police officers involved in the raid.

Sonia Garro Alfonso from Tracey Eaton on Vimeo.

US journalist and transparency advocate Tracey Eaton interviewed Garro in 2012.

Ideology smolders, but information remains scarce
Cases like Garro's are notoriously difficult to parse by following media on either side of the Florida Straits. Cuban state media portray serious government critics as “mercenaries” supported by US government money, while US news outlets regularly serve up rumors that all Cubans are either brainwashed into subservience by the Castro government or clamoring for an ill-defined clean slate of freedom. Neither side is especially convincing.

It is difficult to find an explanation of precisely why Garro is in prison and what precipitated the raid on her home. Leading Cuban state media outlets Granma and Cubadebate have not uttered a word about Garro's case. Dissident networks and foreign media report that she has been an active anti-government activist since 2009 — her activities have ranged from starting an independent community center to joining the Damas de Blanco, a group that is known to be backed by US government money. It is illegal for Cuban citizens to receive financial support from the US government agencies — despite its questionable legitimacy under international human rights norms, this could serve as a justification for her arrest under Cuban law. But Garro is one of many women involved in the effort — it may be that there is something specific about Garro's activities that led to the raid on her home.

Unfortunately, there is little transparency around law enforcement and judicial processes in Cuba, thus search and arrest warrants, charges, and other documentation are unavailable for public view. Either way, the long period of time during which Garro was held without charges suggests that there may not be a strong legal justification for her incarceration. Without further information, it seems most likely that Sonia Garro is in prison because of her political activities.

Did she cross a line?
In an article for Diario de Cuba, Ivan García wrote,

Aunque nadie conoce a ciencia cierta cuál es la delgada línea que separa lo permisivo de aquello que el Gobierno considera delito. Sonia Garro tampoco lo sabe. Ella está convencida de que solo reclamaba sus derechos.

Although no one knows the exact science that determines the thin line separating what's permitted from what that government considers a crime. Sonia doesn't know either, but she is convinced that all she did was attempt to exercise her rights.

In popular conceptualizations of political speech in Cuba, writers often refer to this “line” that García mentions. This construct can be problematic in many cases, but when it comes to financial support, the location of the proverbial line is as clear as day.

Upon crossing this line, one becomes a “gusano” or traitor, suspected of subversive behavior. Those who cross this line risk losing their jobs, severing ties with family and friends, harassment by government loyalists, and sometimes legal action. Do the Damas participate because of their political beliefs, or mostly for financial gain? Or are they motivated by some combination of the two? It is hard to know.

Some Cubans avoid the political pitfalls of this paradigm by narrowing their critiques to areas of policy and regulation, rather than ideology. But others, particularly those whose lives have been irrevocably changed by harsh penalties for political activity and small crimes alike, generally seem more willing to risk the consequences both of making broad, sweeping critiques of the system as a whole, and of accepting foreign support that allows them to sustain their livelihoods, despite the ways that this can leave them marginalized within society. Sonia Garro took major risks by engaging in anti-government activities and joining the Damas group. And now she is paying a high price for it.


  • HumbertoCapiro


    AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Cuba urged to revoke repressive laws and release prisoners of conscience – 17 March 2010
    Amnesty International on Wednesday called on the Cuban authorities to
    revoke laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly and
    association and to release all dissidents unfairly detained by the

    The organization also urged President Raúl Castro to allow
    independent monitoring of the human rights situation in Cuba by inviting
    UN experts to visit the country and by facilitating monitoring by other
    human rights groups.

    The call came ahead of the 7th anniversary of the arrest of 75 Cuban
    dissidents around 18 March 2003. Fifty-three of those arrested continue
    to be detained. One of those arrested in March 2003, Orlando Zapata
    Tamayo, died on 22 February 2010, having spent several weeks on hunger
    strike in protest at prison conditions.

    “Cuban laws impose unacceptable limits on the rights to freedom of
    expression, association and assembly,” said Kerrie Howard, Americas
    Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “Cuba desperately needs
    political and legal reform to bring the country in line with basic
    international human rights standards.

    “The long imprisonment of individuals solely for the peaceful
    exercise of their rights is not only a tragedy in itself but also
    constitutes a stumbling block to other reforms, including the beginning
    of the dialogue needed for the lifting of the US unilateral embargo
    against Cuba.”

    Several articles of the Cuban Constitution and Criminal Code are so
    vague that they are currently being interpreted in a way that infringes
    fundamental freedoms.

    Article 91 of Cuba’s Criminal Code provides for sentences of ten to
    20 years or death for anyone “who in the interest of a foreign state,
    commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or
    territorial integrity of the Cuban state”.

    According to article 72 “any person shall be deemed dangerous if he
    or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct
    that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality”
    and article 75.1 states that any police officer can issue a warning for
    such “dangerousness”. The declaration of a dangerous pre-criminal state
    can be decided summarily. A warning may also be issued for associating
    with a “dangerous person”.

    Law 88 provides for seven to 15 years’ imprisonment for passing
    information to the United States that could be used to bolster
    anti-Cuban measures, such as the US economic blockade. The legislation
    also bans the ownership, distribution or reproduction of “subversive
    materials” from the US government, and proposes terms of imprisonment of
    up to five years for collaborating with radio, TV stations or
    publications deemed to be assisting US policy.

    Local non-governmental organizations have great difficulty in
    reporting on human rights violations due to restrictions on their rights
    to freedom of expression, association and movement. International
    independent human rights organizations, including Amnesty International,
    are not allowed to visit the island.



  • HumanWrites

    By now, it should be crystal clear to any rational person that the
    glorious aspirations for human dignity of the Cuban Revolution were
    shattered soon after January of 1959. It remains disturbing how many
    members from the progressive left throughout the world continue to
    insist otherwise, and still view the almost 55 years of Castro’s failed
    totalitarian experiment through such rose-colored glasses.

  • […] Link * Engelstalige tekst over de zaak van Sonia Garro bij Global Voices […]

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