Berliner Tageblatt - Families of Cuban protesters left devastated by harsh sentences

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Families of Cuban protesters left devastated by harsh sentences
Families of Cuban protesters left devastated by harsh sentences / Photo: ©

Families of Cuban protesters left devastated by harsh sentences

Luis Frometa Compte, 59, had been back in the land of his birth for just 40 days when unprecedented anti-government protests broke out all over the country in July 2021.

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The forestry technician had been living for 37 years in Germany when he decided to visit his homeland, staying with his sister Virgen Frometa.

He had gone out to buy rum when he joined a protest and started filming it on his mobile phone.

Less than a week later, plain clothed police officers arrested him at his sister's house, and he has since been sentenced to 25 years in prison for "sedition."

"I am asking for my brother's immediate release," said 56-year-old homemaker Virgen Frometa. "And for all the prisoners" arrested following the protests.

"There is a revolutionary suffering inside of me," she told AFP, wiping back the tears in her eyes.

The government response to the protests left one person dead, dozens injured and almost 1,400 detained.

According to the Miami-based Cubalex NGO, more than 700 of them remain in detention.

"No-one starts a revolution without weapons by talking, nor by protesting, nor by saying four things that no-one liked, nor by filming," said Frometa, raising her voice.

- 'They didn't kill anyone' -

Five doors down in the poor neighborhood of Guinera, on the outskirts of Havana, laborer Emilio Roman, 51, is also suffering.

His three children have been convicted of sedition.

Yosney Emilio, 25 and his sister Mackyani Yosney, 23, have been sentenced to 12 years each while Emy Yoslan, 18, was given seven years.

On July 12, 2021, the Roman family was celebrating a birthday.

Mackyani went out to buy cigarettes and on the corner came across the throngs of protesters.

"She was enthralled," as were her brothers, said Roman.

During the two weeks of their trials in January, Roman stayed at the door of the court.

"I didn't have the strength to go in to watch the injustice being committed against all these youngsters," he said from his modest cement house where the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom share the same single space.

The verdict was pronounced on March 16. Cuba's Supreme Court handed down sentences of six to 30 years to 128 protesters accused of sedition and theft.

Those sentenced had taken part in protests in Guinera and the Diez de Octubre municipality, where some of the most violent demonstrations happened.

The heavy sentences shocked many on the island nation, including singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, a fervent defender of the Cuban revolution.

"Sentencing people to 15, 20 and 30 years for public disorder? That does not seem fair to me," Rodriguez said on the Cubadebate website.

"If they committed the acts of violence they have been accused of, then I agree they should be judged and the appropriate punishments applied. But as far as I know, they didn't kill anyone."

Around 90 homes in Guinera have seen at least one family member arrested.

- 'Disproportionate sentences' -

Disillusioned, Roman wants his children to leave Cuba, as thousands of others have done in recent months.

"I don't want them to spend one more day in this disgraceful country," he said.

During his daughter's sentencing she was accused of participating "in the grouping of people leading the disturbances using weapons capable of killing, injuring and damaging with force, such as rocks, poles and bottles, including in the form of explosive devices."

In videos, Mackyani can only be seen "with a bottle in her hand," insists her father.

As for her brothers, they were accused of "throwing rocks and bottles at interior ministry agents."

In response to criticisms, prosecutors claim to have acted transparently and with respect for the rule of law, something disputed by many Cubans.

They accuse protesters of being politically motivated.

"We were able to prove" that there were people who wanted to provoke "a military intervention in Cuba by the United States," prosecutor Yohandris Lopez, told state media outlets.

On Wednesday, the European Union expressed its "great concern" over the "disproportionate" sentences.

Both the EU and US have urged Cuba's authorities to release "political prisoners and those detained while exercising their right to meet and express themselves."