September 19, 2022, 3:00-6:00 p.m. EDT
Under the framework of the UN General Assembly, the event “Human Portraits: Stories from Political Prisoners in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela” brought together representatives of governments, international organizations, civil society organizations, and academia to better understand and discuss the current situation of Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan political prisoners by hearing firsthand testimony from victims and their families, as well as local organizations fighting daily to protect the rights of this vulnerable population. The event was organized by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) in coordination with Cuba Decide (Cuba), Sé Humano (Nicaragua), and Justicia, Encuentro y Perdón (Venezuela).
PADF Executive Director Katie Taylor and USAID Assistant Administrator (AA) of the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean Marcela Esobari provided opening remarks. Under the context of the theme of this year’s UN General Assembly, “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges,” Taylor emphasized how the interconnected dynamics of these three countries and continued assaults against fundamental human rights pose a threat to democratic stability in the region. Moreover, AA Escobari spoke of the society-wide impact of unjust detentions, used as a tool by these regimes to degrade the human spirit, silence dissent, and maintain power, and underscored USAID’s commitment to supporting victims and their families, as well as using international pressure to raise the cost for these regimes’ ongoing crimes.
These remarks were followed by a first panel, moderated by Venezuelan Commissioner to the United Nations Miguel Pizarro, where the children of three political prisoners were given the opportunity to share their stories and highlight the dismal and torturous conditions of their parents’ detention. The panelists, representing each of the three countries, provided emotional accounts of how the injustices occurring throughout the region destroy and tear apart entire families. A second panel, moderated by International Human Rights Consultant Paulo Abrão, focused on civil society’s role in advocating for the rights of political prisoners and providing legal and psychosocial support to their families. The three panelists—Rosa Maria Paya, Victoria Cardenas, and Martha Tineo—shed light on the nuanced yet parallel situations of political prisoners in each of their countries and called on the international community to act on behalf of the voiceless.
Between panels, the event provided space for two keynote speakers—Esteban Rodriguez, a former Cuban political prisoner now in exile in the United States, and Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs Emily Mendrala. Rodriguez moved the audience with a passionate firsthand account of how he was arrested and subsequently tortured by the Cuban regime for his beliefs, forcing him into exile as his only resort for freedom to keep fighting for democracy in Cuba. DAS Mendrala followed this important testimony by commending the crucial work of civil society in supporting victims and families while raising much-needed awareness of the situation of political prisoners; the important role of the international community in holding each regime accountable; and reiterating the US government’s support for democracy in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. As a final call to action, PADF’s Regional Director, Carolina Brea, closed the event with the presentation of a video urging for the need to protect the rights of political prisoners as these regimes continue to empower one another in committing crimes against humanity.
As a means to pay tribute to the men and women who currently find themselves unjustly imprisoned for exercising their basic human rights, the event showcased portraits of almost 1,000 current political prisoners from all three countries vis-à-vis a photo exhibit for in-person attendees and a slideshow for virtual attendees. Additionally, virtual reality technology at the event allowed participants to immerse themselves into the lived experience of a political prisoner detained in Venezuela, encouraging empathy, recognition, and the search for justice.
Published on September 29, 2022.