The Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) is a non-violent pro-democracy group that has consistently been the target of government repression. Due to their work, UNPACU members have been harassed and arbitrarily detained at an alarming rate since the organization’s formation in 2011. As of April 1, 2019, there are 56 UNPACU members currently detained as prisoners of conscience—accounting for over half of Cuba’s political prisoners, as identified in a list published by UNPACU.
Government authorities use a range of intentionally vague laws to imprison democracy activists. Among other laws, these include:
- “Precriminal social dangerousness”—imprisonment on grounds that although an individual has not committed a crime, authorities believe they are likely to commit a crime in the future. This charge has carried sentences as high as 17 years.
- “Attack”—a vague charge applied when an individual has acted in an “intimidatory” manner towards a government official.
- “Contempt”—a charge applied when an individual has insulted or offended the “honor” of a government official.
State security forces have actively suppressed UNPACU’s right to assemble in both public and private spaces, most recently in the lead up to Cuba’s constitutional referendum on February 24, 2019. Civil society members who expressed a dissenting message, promoting #YoVotoNo (#IVoteNo), faced grave consequences, including beatings and arrests.
On February 11, 2019, security forces raided fourteen homes belonging to members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a leader of the #YoVotoNo campaign. They confiscated laptops and cellphones and arrested any individuals who attempted to leave the homes, including minors and family members of UNPACU representatives. According to recent reports, up to 20 UNPACU members were detained during this time. In protest, 123 UNPACU members observed a hunger strike in the days before the referendum. As of February 26, 2019,–two days after the referendum had been held—police continued to “permanently surround” the homes.
The Cuban regime has a long history of repression against UNPACU and has targeted the organization in a similar manner in the past. On September 22, 2016, security forces detained 24 activists who were attempting to participate in an UNPACU meeting. Three months later, assault forces raided the homes of eight UNPACU members, arresting 22 people total. Security forces also detained 150 activists who were participating in peaceful protests across Cuba on March 27, 2016.
Jose Daniel Ferrer founded UNPACU in 2011, shortly after serving 8 years in detention for his activism during Cuba’s Black Spring—a widespread crackdown on dissidents, activists, and intellectuals in 2003. He was imprisoned in response to his work on the Varela Project—a petition to guarantee the right of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in Cuba. The petition, which collected more than 25,000 signatures, sought to undermine the unchallenged power of the Communist Party by demanding a multi-party system with open elections.
The Cuban government has attempted to dissolve UNPACU by harassing its leadership and subjecting its rank and file members to short-term detentions, physical violence, psychological pressures, and other forms of harassment. Ferrer has been detained numerous times and subject to smear campaigns to discredit the movement.