December 12th, 2006 04:42 EST
Photos Show Pain of Cuban Political Prisoners and Families
Washington -- Photos that show the hurt felt by families of political prisoners in Cuba are on exhibit at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington.
Thirty portraits of individuals holding small photos of husbands, brothers, children and parents who have been jailed by the Cuban regime make up the exhibit. “The thing that stands out … is the look of sadness in the eyes of family members,” said Ambassador John Maisto, U.S. permanent representative to the OAS.
Maisto attended the exhibit opening December 7, which occurred just ahead of International Human Rights Day, December 10. He praised the work of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and pointed out that earlier in 2006 the commission issued a report that criticized the “permanent and systematic violation of the fundamental rights of Cuban citizens.”
The photos will be displayed at OAS until December 15 and then continue to travel around the world until all Cuban political prisoners are released, according to Frank Calzon, executive director of The Center for a Free Cuba, which created the exhibit. The exhibit’s other sponsors are the National Democratic Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, Reporters Without Borders, and People in Need.
Caleb McCarry, the State Department’s transition coordinator for Cuba, called the exhibit “an extraordinarily eloquent statement of the suffering of Cubans who are family members of those who remain in prison simply because of their beliefs.” He said the photos send an important message, “particularly at this time of change in Cuba.”
In addition to the photos, the exhibit features a black-and-white slide show of scenes from contemporary Cuba -- farmers, musicians, people at the market, 1950s-era automobiles, children, elderly people, men riding an oxcart, storefronts and a cemetery headstone with the message, “Gracias a Amelia por haber sacado a mis hijos Osiel y Rosemary de pais.” [“Thanks to Amelia for taking my children Osiel and Rosemary out of the country.”]
Petr Kolar, permanent observer to the OAS for the Czech Republic, said “it is important to show the stories of real people oppressed by the regime,” but said he holds out hope that a transition to democracy in Cuba is possible. “My country is a living example that it can be done, and we really believe that Cubans will live in a free and prosperous society because they deserve it,” Kolar said.
The exhibit, Cubans and Their Loved Ones: A Photographic Exhibit of Political Prisoners and Their Families, opened following the December 6 release in Cuba of Cuban dissident Hector Palacios Ruiz because of health problems. He was one of 75 pro-democracy activists arrested in a March 2003 in a crackdown of dissidents by dictator Fidel Castro and is the 16th from that group to be released on health grounds.
Calzon told USINFO that Palacios’ release was “good news, of course. But the problem is not simply obtaining the release of one prisoner. There are about 300 political prisoners.”
Not only do the prisoners themselves suffer, he said, but “the families of the prisoners are discriminated against -- they’re fired from their jobs, their children are kicked out of school.”
State’s McCarry said, “All political prisoners in Cuba should be released unconditionally.”
The Cuba section of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2005 report can be found on the commission’s Web site. An online version of Cubans and Their Loved Ones is available on the Web site of The Center for a Free Cuba.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Cuba and the United States.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)