Cuban Activist Freed in Obama Deal, Then Arrested Again, Now in Grave Condition
The Obama administration is calling on the Cuban government to free a political prisoner -- one of the dozens released from prison a year ago as a rapprochement gesture, only to be re-arrested a few months later.
Vladimir Morera Bacallao, 53, is reportedly near death due to the hunger strike he started behind bars in October.
Morera Bacallao, a labor activist, was arrested in April in the run-up to the regime's sham municipal elections for posting a sign outside his home stating: "I vote for my freedom and not in an election where I cannot choose my president."
A month ago, he was sentenced to four and a half years behind bars.
Around the same time, another one of the political prisoners whose release was hailed by the Obama administration as a grand gesture of the Castro regime toward human rights was sentenced to another prison term. Jorge Ramirez Calderon received two and a half years behind bars for "joining a peaceful protest asking for improved sanitary conditions and water in his community," the State Department acknowledged at the time.
"Respect for human rights is a cornerstone of our foreign policy, and we call on the Cuban government to respect its citizens’ rights to free expression and peaceful protest," the State Department said Nov. 24.
Morera Bacallao was transferred from his prison cell to an intensive care unit last week. At today's State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the activist is in "very serious condition."
"The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating physical condition of Vladimir Morera Bacallao, who has been on a hunger strike since October to protest his imprisonment for peacefully expressing political dissent," Toner said. "Mr. Morera Bacallao was one of 53 prisoners of concern released shortly after the December 2014 announcement of the president's new policy direction on Cuba, but detained again in April of 2015 for hanging a sign outside his home in protest of municipal elections."
"...The United States urgently calls on the Cuban government to release Mr. Morera Bacallao."
Amnesty International noted on Dec. 10 that 1,477 arbitrary politically motivated arrests by Cuban officials in November -- "the highest monthly total in many years."
“For weeks on end, the Cuban authorities have used a spike in arrests and harassment to prevent human rights activists and dissidents from protesting peacefully," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) noted that during President Obama's time in office "activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza died under uncannily similar circumstances" as hunger-striking Morera Bacallao. "Activists Laura Pollan and Oswaldo Paya also perished at the hands of Castros' thugs during this administration."
"Morera Bacallao has risked everything for the basic right to have a voice in his government. His unjustifiable imprisonment and mistreatment are further indictments of the brutal malevolence of the Castro regime, and the utter failure of Obama's appeasement of Cuba's dictators," Diaz-Balart wrote on his Facebook page. "I urge human rights organizations and the Obama administration to bring attention to the urgent case of Vladimir Morera Bacallao, and to demand that he receive immediate medical attention. We must not remain silent while another courageous activist hovers on the brink of death."