The release of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) leader José Daniel Ferrer, and of another three members of the movement, held since October 1 in prisons in Santiago de Cuba, apparently came about after pressure was brought by the European Union, according to information obtained by DIARIO DE CUBA.
Ferrer was jailed on October 1, and later tried on February 26, in a trial riddled with irregularities.
Prior to the proceedings the European Socialist Group travelled to the island and attempted to attend them at the Municipal Court of Santiago de Cuba, but they were blocked by Cuban authorities.
After this obstruction several members of the Socialist Group, including President Iratxe García (Spain), Vice-president Kati Piri, and EUROLAT President and MEP Javi López, three heavyweights on the European left, attended multiple meetings with high-ranking regime leaders, including the president of the National Assembly of Popular Power.
At these talks the ideological isolation to which the regime could be subjected if it did not quickly improve its human rights record was apparently impressed upon them. European lawsuits cited arbitrary arrests, pre-trial imprisonments, suppressed freedom of expression, restricted movement, and, in particular –thanks to Josep Borrell, senior representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy– the case of José Daniel Ferrer.
In fact, the day before the meetings Borrell demanded a fair trial for Ferrer and questioned the existence of due process in Cuba.
Subsequently, the Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy's team intervened vigorously, appealing to a wing with the regime "open to dialogue" – which, ostensibly, did not include Raúl Castro or José Ramón Machado Ventura.
After his release Ferrer stated that he had been taken to the Provincial Court of Santiago de Cuba, where judges informed him that he had been found guilty, and that his sentence was set at four and a half years, five for José Pupo Chaveco, and four for Fernando González and Roilán Zárraga.
They were then informed, however, that these sanctions had been replaced by house arrest measures.
"I told them that I did not accept that sanction, because we had not done anything, and that they could leave me in prison, because I was not going to comply with any of the provisions governing house arrest," said Ferrer.
Despite this, they gave him his clothing back, and took him home in a patrol car.
Ferrer stated that for him "overthrowing tyranny is a sacred question." He acknowledged that, "without the solidarity of many brothers within Cuba and abroad, I wouldn’t be alive, because its intention [of the regime] was to get rid of me and other activists in Cuba."
The regime, he said, "was looking for ways to evade international pressure" brought due to his imprisonment.
The arrest of Ferrer and three other activists, whom the regime accused of alleged infliction of injuries, unlawful confinement, and assaulting a citizen, triggered strong reactions abroad, with human rights groups like Amnesty International (AI) and institutions like the Organization of American States (OAS) requesting his release.
Authorities such as the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Dita Charanzová, and United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned that they were monitoring the detainees' situations, and called for their immediate release.
In its most recent report on the human rights situation in the world, the US State Department blasted the existence of "political prisoners" in Cuba and cited the case of Ferrer as an example.
"José Daniel Ferrer's name appears 17 times in this report. He is one of thousands of political prisoners who for years have been dragged, shackled, and beaten by the regime. Tomorrow he will be sentenced by a Cuban court, " said Pompeo, who called the charges against him "false."