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Tania Bruguera, Cuban political performance artist who has been repeatedly arrested for her work, addressed the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracysee quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Monday, June 8, 2021

On being harassed by Cuba’s State Security:

“Imagine yourself walking on the streets with a friend and suddenly, a car stops, and four people emerge from the car and force you to get inside of it. Once you are inside; you realize that those with you are state security agents. You arrive to a police station, and they make you remove your clothes, they interrogate you, they dont allow to make a call and noone knows where you are.”

“Imagine that you are having lunch and the police break into your home and take you before you have a chance to put your shoes on. Shortly thereafter you find yourself in a prison cell with common prisoner awaiting trial for completely fabricated charges.”

“Imagine seven months have passed by and although you have not committed any crime you are prevented from leaving your home to buy a bread or to take out the trash. Imagine that state security agents are standing guard outside your house twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”

“Imagine that people you know are afraid to lend you the phone line under their name for you to use because they know that electronic surveillance is one of the priorities of the Cuban government.”

On Cuba’s denial of basic freedoms:

“Imagine being the target of a government that, having lost its legitimacy, rationalize its excessive use of force by criminalizing people who are just asking for their basic human rights.”

“Imagine that you have no right to challenge your government.”

“A country where independent journalists are persecuted, where citizens’ access to independent media via internet is blocked, where citizen journalism is penalized to such an extent if you post a statement on Facebook that is critical of the government, you will be sought out and fined more than your monthly salary.”

“Imagine you are an activist and because of that you are a treated as a non-person, as someone without rights.”

“The Cuban government does not solve its problems, it simply expels those who keep remind them there are problems to solve. They do not want anyone that criticize or opose their political system.”

On physical assaults against Cuban activists:

“You request that school bus service for local kids not be removed, so they don’t have to walk several miles to get an education. As a result of your request, you receive anonymous threats. One day a common prisoner that has been released under mysterious circumstances attacks you and you lose an arm.”

“You are a human rights defender and you get ill and you do not come out of the hospital alive or that you are taken into the prison hospital and they inoculate you with HIV.”

On government corruption:

“A country that receives food donations from international organizations which are supposed to be distributed for free and instead they are sold for hard currency is special stores that most citizens cannot access because their do have not dollars.”

“The government that once denounced those emigres as traitors now profits from large commissions on their remittances but does not accord them any rights.”

Cuba as a prison:

“Imagine that all of this happens on an island that has been sold to you as the paradise of social justice, but it is really an island-prison and it is called Cuba.”

On the reality of Cuba today:

“In Cuba you are not only persecuted in person but on the internet.”

“Laws are created to protect those in power, not to make the lives of the people more secure.”

“Cuba is a country where the only thing that operates efficiently is the department of state security.”

“All political demonstrations and expressions of dissent are treated as common crimes because the Cuban government has declared that its socialist system is inviolate and unchangeable.”

On resilience of the Cuban people:

“Cubans are losing their fear of speaking out and they are showing it.”

“The Cuba of today has neighborhoods where citizens go out into the street and demand the police forces leave.”

“Neighbors band together to free activists that are being arrested by police.”

“The sense of injustice is penetrating all spheres of society and the government is becoming increasingly isolated.”

“People have changed the government slogan Fatherland and Death for one that is more attuned to their aspirations: Motherland and Life, because what we the Cubans want is to live in dignity.”

Testimonio completo en Español / Full remarks in Spanish (see below for English)

Imagina que vas caminando por la calle con una amiga y de pronto un carro particular se detiene, salen cuatro personas vestidas de civil y te entran a la fuerza, sin explicación alguna. Ahí entiendes que se trata de la seguridad del estado. Llegas a una estación de policía donde te desnudan y te interrogan sin antes leerte tus derechos, no te permiten hacer una llamada y nadie sabe de tu paradero. Imagínate que eres uno de los 170 presos políticos que existen en Cuba hoy.

Imagina que estás sentado almorzando y la policía irrumpe en tu casa y te lleva detenido sin que te de tiempo siquiera a ponerte los zapatos, y de pronto estás con presos comunes esperando un juicio por cargos completamente fabricados. Imagina cómo te sentirías si supieras que no tienes protección legal porque los abogados trabajan bajo las órdenes del gobierno, y responden no a sus defendidos sino a los intereses del Estado.

Imagínense un lugar donde la excepción es que la policía te permita salir de tu casa. Imaginen que ese estado de sitio se extiende siete meses y que, sin haber cometido delito alguno, estás impedido de ir a comprar el pan o a botar la basura. Imaginen que en la puerta de tu casa hay una patrulla de policía y agentes de la seguridad del estado en guardia día y noche para que ni siquiera se te ocurra pensar que puedes salir de tu casa. Imagínate siendo detenida por pedirles una explicación.

Imagínense que estando bajo privación ilegal de la libertad además te corten la conexión telefónica y los datos móviles por meses, mientras tus amigos también están siendo acosados o detenidos. Imaginen que cada vez que uno compra una línea de servicio telefónico te la intersectan, que cada vez que vas a hablarle al mundo de lo que sucede en Cuba la única empresa telefónica que hay, que es del gobierno, te quita las comunicaciones. Imagina que las personas tienen miedo a darte una cuenta de teléfono asociada a su nombre porque saben que la vigilancia electrónica es hoy una de las prioridades del gobierno cubano.

Imagínense encender la televisión y ver en el Noticiero Nacional expuesto tu número de teléfono privado con tu nombre al lado y tu dirección particular con datos personales, mientras un presentador enfatiza que, en efecto, ese es tu número y en ese lugar te pueden encontrar. Y unas horas después tienes tu teléfono lleno de mensajes de odio por personas que no conoces. Imagínate saber que la gran mayoría de esos mensajes son generados por agentes del gobierno haciéndose pasar por personas del pueblo para justificar después cualquier acto violento que pueda perjudicar tu integridad física. Imagínate que una persona desconocida, de pronto, en la calle, venga corriendo hacia ti para herirte con un arma blanca como consecuencia de los mensajes de odio generados por el gobierno.

Imagina ver en el noticiero tu correspondencia privada descontextualizada, editada, manipulada, interpretada de manera tal que sirva a una narrativa que no tiene nada que ver ni con tus intenciones ni con tus acciones ni con tu forma de pensar. Imagínense siendo el foco de odio de un gobierno que ha perdido su legitimidad e intenta sostenerse creando una falsa sensación de peligro ante personas que en realidad sólo reclaman sus derechos más elementales.

Imagina que no tienes derecho a réplica.

Imagina que pones una querella ante la justicia por difamación hacia tu persona por parte del gobierno y que es rechazada usando el argumento del derecho que tiene el gobierno a la libertad de prensa -pasando por encima la violación a tu privacidad, el asesinato a la reputación y los daños morales-, en un país donde los periodistas independientes son perseguidos, donde los medios de prensa independiente son bloqueados para que no tengan visibilidad en el territorio cubano, y donde el periodismo ciudadano es penalizado a tal punto que si pones un post en facebook incómodo para el gobierno te multan con un monto que excede el salario promedio de un cubano que trabaja para el Estado, y si no la pagas en un tiempo determinado eres apresado.

Imagínate que mueres en una huelga de hambre en una prisión.

Imagina que eres negro y pobre y te mata un policía con un disparo por la espalda. Y el gobierno  justifica este acto culpando al asesinado porque se dio a la fuga. Imagina que la policía vuelve a matar a otro joven negro y pobre y quien ose denunciar y manifestar este hecho en público es llevado preso. Imagina que eres mujer y te viola un policía o te asesina tu pareja y ni siquiera eres considerada una estadística de feminicidio. Imagina que eres de la comunidad LGBTIQ+ y sólo si te asocias a la organización dirigida por la hija del ex-presidente del país eres reconocido y escuchado. Imagina que eres activista fuera de la sombra de la institución y por eso eres considerado un no-ciudadano, alguien sin derechos.

Imagina que tu hija estudie periodismo y sea perseguida y expulsada de la universidad por pensar diferente, logre salir del país como su única opción para terminar sus estudios,  que al graduarse compre su pasaje de regreso y que el gobierno no la deje entrar al país, así simplemente, porque el gobierno no quiere personas dentro del país que le son incómodas, porque el gobierno cubano no quiere a personas que critican y se oponen a su sistema político.

Imagina que tu hija muere debido al desprendimiento de un pedazo de edificio en amenaza de derrumbe que le cayó encima mientras jugaba en la acera, y luego que has ido a pedir cuentas en todos los lugares por la falta de atención del gobierno a la situación de la vivienda, luego de que todo el aparato burocrático se desentienda, desesperado sales a la calle a pedir justicia y te meten preso.

Imagina que hacen de tu vida un infierno legal por querer darle la educación en la que crees a tus hijos.

Imagina que crees en el sistema, te postulas y te eligen representante de tu localidad rural, y empiezas a pedir por las vías establecidas que no quiten el autobús para que los niños no tengan que caminar kilómetros para ir y venir de la escuela primaria, y que el resultado de tu gestión sean amenazas a tu persona y que un día un preso común liberado misteriosamente te ataque y pierdas un brazo.

Imagina que eres un activista defensor de los DDHH, caes enfermo y no sales del hospital vivo, o que cuando te lleven al hospital de la prisión te inoculen el VIH.

Imagina que todo esto se ha normalizado por el gobierno y que la culpa siempre es de las víctimas.

Imagínate un país que recibe recibe donaciones para ser distribuidas gratuitamente y se las vende al pueblo.

Ahora imagínate que todo esto pasa en una isla que te han vendido como el paraíso de la justicia social pero que en realidad es una isla prisión y se llama Cuba.

Todo esto pasa en Cuba, donde no es raro que metan en hospitales psiquiátricos a los que luchan por sus derechos, como si desear la libertad política y pedir derechos humanos fuera un acto demencial.

Donde por muchos años tenías que dejar de comunicarte con tus familiares que abandonaban el país para no perder tu trabajo, porque eran catalogados como traidores,  hoy esos emigrados el gobierno los ve como una de las fuentes principales de ingreso de las arcas del pais, aunque no les dé derechos de ningún tipo como ciudadanos cubanos.

Es en Cuba, donde no sólo eres perseguido físicamente sino también en las redes sociales, donde el gobierno tiene departamentos para crear fake news y un ejército virtual listo para atacar a quien ose publicar alguna crítica, denuncie la represión, las ilegalidades y la impunidad con la que opera el régimen. Es en Cuba, donde la impotencia ante el impacto de la opinión crítica en las redes llevó al gobierno cubano a amenazar en la Televisión Nacional con la realización de juicios en ausencia y extradición para aquéllos que les hagan críticas en redes sociales y vivan fuera de Cuba.

Es en Cuba donde las leyes son creadas para mantener a los gobernantes protegidos y en el poder y no para que el pueblo viva de una manera más segura. Cuba, un país donde nada funciona excepto su policía política.

En Cuba, como en la película Minority Report puedes ir preso no por lo que has hecho sino por lo que el gobierno infiere que puedas hacer, y para ello hay una ley de actividad predelictiva que en realidad se utiliza para inhabilitar a los activistas y a los defensores de DDHH, porque, en Cuba ni siquiera tienes el derecho a ser reconocido como activista ni como defensor de los DDHH, en Cuba las manifestaciones políticas se juzgan como delitos comunes. Porque el gobierno cubano no quiere reconocer ante el mundo que existen personas y grupos de personas que están luchando por sus derechos en su país.

Nada de esto es nuevo, hay una larga historia que se repite. Las presentaciones anteriores de cubanos que han venido a este foro, las denuncias que han hecho, pudieran volverse a narrar hoy, porque por parte del gobierno nada ha cambiado. Pero hoy el pueblo de Cuba no es el mismo, los cubanos empiezan a perder el miedo y lo manifiestan.

Hoy existen imágenes del pueblo abucheando al presidente  mientras visita a los damnificados  de un tornado en una zona vulnerable de la capital.

Hoy existen imágenes de más de 300 personas paradas frente a un ministerio exigiendo que se les escuche.

Hoy existen imágenes de cubanos por todo el mundo pidiendo simultáneamente con los que están dentro la libertad política para los cubanos.

Hoy hay datos de la corrupción en las altas esferas del poder.

Hoy hay registro de la persecución y el acoso a los activistas.

Hoy ya no se puede ser ingenuo ni indolente ante las acciones del gobierno cubano para con los defensores de los derechos humanos y los activistas. Hoy la comunidad internacional es también responsable de lo que nos pase a nosotros los activistas en Cuba. La comunidad internacional es también responsable de cada prisionero político en Cuba, de que los activistas Luis Robles, Thais Mailén Franco, Inti Soto, Luis Angel Cuza, Yuisan Cancio, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Osorbo y demás presos de conciencia estén hoy desprotegidos legalmente por hacer algo que en cualquier lugar del mundo es legal y común: expresarse y manifestarse libremente.

La comunidad internacional tiene que salir de una vez y por todas de su letargo, de su visión edulcorada de Cuba y empezar a ver la realidad de mi país hoy.

Porque Cuba hoy es también un barrio donde salen sus vecinos a protestar por las injusticias. Cuba es también esos vecinos que zafan de las manos de la policía a un activista y evitan que lo metan en una patrulla. Cuba son personas que defienden a un vendedor ambulante ante la injusta actitud de un policía. Los cubanos han empezado a dejar de tener miedo y saben que pueden enfrentar lo injusto y ganar y eso es contagioso.

Hoy en Cuba las quejas de los cubanos comienzan a transformarse en acciones cívicas.

Cuba hoy es diferente porque algún policía comienza a avergonzarse de detener a gente inocente, porque ellos también empiezan a necesitar un cambio, porque más y más personas han dejado de creer en un sistema que no funciona. Porque la injusticia ha llegado ya a todos los niveles de la sociedad y el gobierno se queda cada vez con menos adeptos.

Cuba hoy es también muchos activistas con intereses diversos que han encontrado un objetivo común: el derecho a tener derechos.

El gobierno cubano es hoy una caricatura post-irónica, pero no nos confundamos, el gobierno cubano es una dictadura militar en el uso más estricto de la palabra. Y ante eso el pueblo ha cambiado la consigna impuesta por el Estado:  Patria o Muerte por su anhelo más profundo que es Patria y Vida, porque el cubano quiere vivir y vivir con dignidad.

Hoy también, mientras mando esta grabación pienso en mis compañeros activistas presos, en las posibles consecuencias de participar en este tipo de evento, en la vulnerabilidad que sentimos a diario, pero hay algo que me da fuerzas porque sé que es un grito colectivo: Patria y Vida.

***

Full remarks in English

Imagine yourself walking on the streets with a friend and suddenly, a car stops, and four people emerge from the car and force you to get inside of it. Once you are inside; you realize that those with you are state security agents. You arrive to a police station, and they make you remove your clothes, they interrogate you, they don’ t allow to make a call and noone knows where you are.  Imagine that you are one of the 170 political prisoners in Cuba today.

Imagine that you are having lunch and the police break into your home and take you before you have a chance to put your shoes on. Shortly thereafter you find yourself in a prison cell with common prisoners awaiting trial for completely fabricated charges. Imagine how would you feel if you know that you have no real legal protection because your appointed attorney works under direct orders from the government. Cuban lawyers may represent their defendants, but they work in the interest of the State.

Imagine a place where it is the exception rather than the rule that the police let you leave your house. Imagine seven months have passed by and although you have not committed any crime you are prevented from leaving your home to buy a bread or to take out the trash. Imagine that state security agents are standing guard outside your house twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You can’t even dream of going out. Imagine going to prison because you asked to explain why they were subjecting you to such treatment.

Imagine that you are unable to leave your home and that you have no telephone or internet for months. On top of this you know that your friends are being harassed and imprisoned. Imagine that each time you try to tell your story to the world your internet service is cut off by only phone company in the country, which happens to belong to the government. Imagine that people you know are afraid to lend you the phone line under their name for you to use because they know that electronic surveillance is one of the priorities of the Cuban government.

Imagine turning on the TV to watch the only national newscast in your country and suddenly finding that your personal telephone number with your name next, the address of your house and your personal information is on the screen. A news anchor stresses to listeners that indeed it is your number and here they can find you. Several hours later your voicemail fills up with hate messages left by people you do not know. Imagine knowing that most of those messages are generated by government agents passing themselves off as “the people” so if someone harms you physically afterwards, they can attribute to the aggression to civilians. Imagine that someone on the street whom you don’t know runs towards you with a machete in his hand because of the hate speech generated by the government.

Imagine watching a national news program in which your private correspondence has been taken out of context, edited, and interpreted in such a way to serve a narrative that has nothing to do with your intentions, your actions or your way of thinking. Imagine seeing the newscaster point to fake documents that bear the logo of your organization. Imagine being the target of a government that, having lost its legitimacy, rationalizes its excessive use of force by criminalizing people who are just asking for their basic human rights.

Imagine that you have no right to challenge your government.

Imagine that you file a defamation case against your government and it is rejected because according to the court the government has the right to a free press — in a country where independent journalists are persecuted, where citizens’ access to independent media via internet is blocked, where citizen journalism is penalized to such an extent if you post a statement on Facebook  that is critical of the government, you will be sought out and fined more than your monthly salary. If you do not pay the fine you will go to prison.

Imagine that you die on hunger strike in prison.

Imagine that you are Black and poor, and a policeman kills you. The government justifies the killing even if you were unarmed and shot in the back. Imagine that the police kill a poor young Black man and if anyone dares to say something or demonstrate publicly, they are arrested. Imagine you are a woman, and a policeman rapes you or your partner commits femicide and you are not even a statistic because your government does not keep records of such violence.  Imagine that you are part of the LGBTIQ+ community and you can only be heard if you are part of the organization lead by the daughter of the ex-president of the country. Imagine you are an activist and because of that you are a treated as a non-person, as someone without rights.

Imagine that your daughter studies journalism and was persecuted and expelled from her university because of her opinion, that she leaves the country because that is her only way to complete her studies. Then when she graduates and buys her ticket to come back the government doesn’t allow her to return to her own country. The Cuban government does not solve its problems, it simply expels those who keep remind them there are problems to solve. They do not want anyone that criticize or oppose their political system.

Imagine that you have a daughter who dies because the balcony of a building falls on her while she was playing on the sidewalk. After you have inquired everywhere you can think of to find out who is accountable for the unsafe living conditions that people contend with to no avail, you desperately go out to the street to ask for justice and you end up in jail.

Imagine that the authorities make of your life a living legal hell for wanting to educate your kids according to your way of seeing the world, according to your beliefs.

Imagine that you believe in the Cuban political system, and you are elected as a representative in your local rural area. You request that school bus service for local kids not be removed, so they don’t have to walk several miles to get an education. As a result of your request, you receive anonymous threats. One day a common prisoner that has been released under mysterious circumstances attacks you and you lose an arm.

Imagine that you are a human rights defender and you get ill and you do not come out of the hospital alive or that you are taken into the prison hospital and they inoculate you with HIV.

Imagine that all of this is treated as normal by the government. The victim is always presented as the one responsible for whatever has happened.

Imagine a country that receives food donations from international organizations which are supposed to be distributed for free and instead they are sold for hard currency in special stores that most citizens cannot access because they do have not dollars.

Now, imagine that all of this happens on an island that has been sold to you as the paradise of social justice, but it is really an island-prison and it is called Cuba.

A country where for decades you had to cease communication with your relatives abroad or you would lose your job, and where nowadays you depend on remittances from those same relatives. The government that once denounced those emigres as traitors now profits from large commissions on their remittances but does not accord them any rights.

All of this is happening in Cuba. where is becoming more and more common to see those who ask for their rights are treated for mental illness and put in psychiatric wards. as if aspiring for political freedom or demanding for human rights were a demented behavior.

In Cuba you are not only persecuted in person but on the internet. The government has farms for fake news and an online army ready to strike against anyone who dares to criticize the state or asks that those in power be held accountable for their actions or engages in activism. This is Cuba, where the internet has proved to be such a threat to the government that it announced on National TV trials in absentia and threatens to extradite Cubans who live outside that criticize the government from afar.

This is Cuba where laws are created to protect those in power, not to make the lives of the people more secure. Cuba is a country where the only thing that operates efficiently is the department of state security.

In Cuba, just as in the film Minority Report you can go to prison not for what you have done but for what the government thinks you may someday want to do. There is a law for that. In Cuba you don´t even have the right to be recognized as a human rights defender or an activist. All political demonstrations and expressions of dissent are treated as common crimes because the Cuban government has declared that its socialist system is inviolate and unchangeable. In Cuba all laws and all the resources to protect the empowered and to silence those who dare to think differently or dare to expose the stark differences between the luxurious living conditions of political class and the hardships ensured by the working class that stand in line for hours in search of food.

None of this is new, the history of injustices is long and repeats itself. The past presentations here at the Summit by my fellow Cubans, their denunciations could be retold today because the government has not changed. But what has changed in that the people of Cuba are not the same, Cubans are losing their fear of speaking out and they are showing it.

Today we can see that our president was booed by Cuban citizens when he visited a neighborhood that was hit by a tornado.

Today we can see that more than 300 people stood in front of the Ministry of Culture for more than twelve hours demanding to be heard.

Today we can see Cubans around the world are asking, together with those inside the island, for political freedom.

Today we have evidence of corruption in the government.

Today we have an extensive database detailing the harassment and persecution of activists and human rights defenders.

Today we can’t be naïve nor indolent in front of the actions towards activists and human rights defenders by the Cuban government.  The international community is also responsible for what happens to us activists in Cuba, the international community is also responsible for each political prisoner in Cuba, for the imprisonment of Luis Robles, Thais Mailén Franco, Inti Soto, Luis Angel Cuza, Yuisan Cancio, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Osorbo and all the prisoners of conscience that are legally vulnerable for doing something that in any other part of the world could be seeing as normal: saying what they think freely in public.

The international community has to wake up and realize that the dream of Cuba it has clung to what was created in the 60´s is not the Cuba of today.

Because the Cuba of today has neighborhoods where citizens go out into the street and demand the police forces leave. It is a place where neighbors band together to free activists that are being arrested by police. Cuba is also the people who are defending a street vendor from an unjust fine levied by police. Cubans are losing their fear and they are becoming aware of their ability to confront injustices and prevail, and that is a contagious feeling.

Today in Cuba complaints are being transformed into civic actions.

Today Cuba is different because it has also happened that a policeman feels shame when he has to take you. That policeman has started to think as Cuban and not only as the repressive agent of the state. They also need a change, because more and more people have stopped believing in the political system in Cuba. The sense of injustice is penetrating all spheres of society and the government is becoming increasingly isolated.

Cuba is also today many activists with diverse interests who have found a common goal: the right to have rights.

The Cuban government today is an ironic caricature, but we should not forget that the Cuban government is a military dictatorship. Faced with this, people have changed the government slogan Fatherland and Death for one that is more attuned to their aspirations: Motherland and Life, because what we the Cubans want is to live in dignity.

Today, also, while I was recording this presentation, I was thinking about my fellow activists in prison, about the potential consequences that I will have to confront for participating in events like this one, the vulnerability that we feel daily. But I take strength in joining with others the words “Patria y Vida”.