Exclusive: Transnational Repression Reaches USA Under Biden as Cuban Dissidents Branded 'Terrorists'

Cuba’s Communist Party has long disparaged legitimate political opponents as “terrorists,” but giving the slur a “legal veneer” by formally accusing U.S.-based journalists, activists, and others of the crime elevates the threat to their persons, human rights activists told Breitbart News.

The Castro regime published a list of 61 people, many of them U.S.-based anti-communist activists, and 20 organizations it branded “terrorists” in the official gazette of the Ministry of the Interior in December.

The gazette specified that the people identified were “sought by Cuban authorities for being tied to acts of terrorism,” defined in part as “conduct that threatens the constitutional order and normal use or function of media.” The gazette publication did not offer any evidence against the accused, explain whether the accusation was a formal prosecutorial action or not, or state if Cuba was seeking the extradition of those targeted.

The list included several journalists, YouTube personalities, and activists prominent in America’s Cuban exile community, among them radio host Ninoska Pérez Castellón, Alain “Paparazzi Cubano” (who broke the story of Cuban teens scammed into fighting in Ukraine), and online program host Alexander Otaola, who is currently running for the mayorship of Miami, Florida, on a platform of turning Miami into a “communist-free zone.”

Cuba is a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism with close ties to international terror groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Hezbollah.

File/A man cheers to people marching through the streets of Miami, Florida, to commemorate last year’s historic protests in Cuba on July 11, 2022. Hundreds of members of Miami’s Cuban community took to the streets on July 11 in the US city to commemorate the historic protests held a year ago in Cuba against the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel. (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

The seemingly official designation of “terrorist” for a group of people including journalists and human rights activists raised concerns that the regime may soon pursue Interpol red notices for the individuals, a formal request for their arrest by member states. Red notices severely limit the ability of recipients to travel internationally and have for years been identified as useful tools in silencing dissent by authoritarian regimes.

Interpol is far from immune to communist regime influence. In 2018, China abducted the president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, disappearing him into its labyrinthine “legal” system and pressuring Interpol to promote Beijing-friendly officials.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations also made a move suggesting it was seeking aid from the administration of leftist American President Joe Biden in pursuing the “terrorists.” The ministry announced following a meeting with Biden administration officials in February that it handed over a list of the “terrorists” to its American counterparts; the Biden administration confirmed it was “aware” of the list, but did not elaborate at the time.

The State Department issued a much more forceful statement to Breitbart News this week, stating it is “actively looking into the situation and exploring options to address any potential misuse of the INTERPOL system aimed to silence perceived dissidents for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, the coordinator of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance and a Breitbart News contributor, told Breitbart News on Wednesday that the publication of the terror list was part of “an overt and covert campaign of intimidation on U.S. soil,” emphasizing, “no U.S. government should stand for this.” Gutiérrez-Boronat appeared on the list.

“There is no separation of powers under the Cuban totalitarian system. There are no grand juries. The state is all-powerful,” Gutiérrez-Boronat emphasized. “Once a person is ‘indicted’ it’s tantamount to being found guilty of the charges presented. Judicial power is completely subordinate to the Council of State.”

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, coordinator of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, and other protesters convene outside of the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, Mexico, on November 21, 2022, to protest communism.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, coordinator of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, and other protesters convene outside of the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, Mexico, on November 21, 2022, to protest communism. (Courtesy Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat/Assembly for the Cuban Resistance)

Luis Zúñiga, a former diplomat on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations who also appeared on the “terror” list, told Breitbart News that he had contacted Interpol seeking more information. Zúñiga, who spent 19 years in prison in Cuba for opposing the Castro regime, said he had faced decades of verbally being branded a “terrorist,” but the use of the gazette gave the epithet a “legal veneer” that could potentially confuse foreign bodies into aiding in the regime’s persecution.

“They have no evidence. They accuse liberally – they have done that always, historically. They accuse of terrorism anyone who opposes them, whether it be by word, in the form of any civic protest, in any way,” Zúñiga explained in conversation with Breitbart News. Zúñiga explained that he had faced similar persecution “since I was 15 – imagine, they kicked me out of college and didn’t let me graduate … because I wasn’t ‘politically integrated’” with Fidel Castro’s coup regime. He suggested that the main reason for his appearance on the list, however, was his decades of diplomatic activism at the United Nations, serving as an adviser to the delegation from Nicaragua and to the American delegation to the then-Human Rights Commission. Zúñiga is an American citizen.

Luis Zúñiga participating in a meeting at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland in 2004.

Luis Zúñiga participating in a meeting at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland in 2004. (Courtesy of Luis Zúñiga)

“They accused me at the time,” Zúñiga recalled, “they sent a letter to the secretary-general of the U.N., Javier Pérez de Cuellar, asking him how could it be possible for a terrorist to be on the United States delegation.”

The U.S. delegation responded in “extremely harsh terms,” he remembered, emphasizing that Zúñiga had “passed an absolute and complete clearance … before he was named to be a diplomat” and demanding a retraction from the Cuban regime that never arrived.

Zúñiga told Breitbart News he had made no contact with the State Department since appearing on the “terrorist” list. He chose to reach out directly to Interpol, which he says assured him that accusing states have to provide concrete evidence to obtain a red notice and that Cuban officials had offered no such evidence.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to Breitbart News this week it was “aware” of the terrorist list and dismissed Cuba’s claims that Washington was encouraging violence against the regime as “outrageous and false.”

“The United States is focused on urging the Cuban government to release the approximately 1,000 unjustly detained political prisoners it holds and to allow its citizens to exercise the full range of human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba supported,” the spokesperson said.

On the issue of the “terror” list, the spokesperson added, “the [State] Department is actively looking into the situation and exploring options to address any potential misuse of the INTERPOL system aimed to silence perceived dissidents for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

Transnational repression is the practice by foreign dictatorships of using international avenues to intimidate, harass, attack, or otherwise silence exiles who chose to speak of the horrors of living under those regimes after leaving the state in question. The human rights organization Freedom House denounced a surge in acts of transnational repression worldwide in a report published in February, identifying Cuba’s allies China, Russia, and Turkey as among the most egregious practitioners of transnational repression. Freedom House noted that it had documented the first-ever instances it could confirm of Cuba engaging in transnational repression in 2023.

File/Protesters are seen during a gathering in Miami to support the freedom of the Cuban people as they commemorate the first anniversary of the July 11th protest in Cuba, on July 11, 2022, in Miami, Florida. (Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Freedom House identified “exiled political activists, journalists, former regime insiders, and members of ethnic or religious minorities” as among the most at-risk individuals to be targeted in this form of political violence.

The Biden administration has not escaped criticism for a slow response to instances of attempted transnational repression against Americans or dissidents based in the United States.

“Tragically, the Biden Administration’s response to foreign governments who harass, threaten and intimidate individuals living in the United States has been very weak,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee, told Breitbart News in a statement. Rep. Smith introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, the Transnational Repression Policy Act, in May that would mandate the president impose sanctions on individuals identified as attempting acts of transnational repression.

“Congress should immediately pass my bipartisan Transnational Repression Policy Act that would require the President to impose property- and visa-blocking sanctions on foreign individuals and entities that directly engage in these egregious human rights violations,” Rep. Smith told Breitbart News. “Any Cuban official complicit in transnational repression—including the abuse of the Interpol system—must be named and sanctioned.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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