Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart called Tuesday for the Cuban government to release an independent journalist who stopped eating four weeks ago to protest his Dec. 17 arrest.
Diaz-Balart, a seven-term Republican from Miami, said Misael Canet Velázquez is being held “in abhorrent conditions in Camaguey’s notorious Kilo 8 prison without clothes or a suitable place to sleep, and has been provided limited access to water.”
The Cuban-American congressman’s appeal came three weeks after he demanded the release of another Cuban dissident, Vladimir Morera Bacallao, who had posted a sign on his front lawn last April calling municipal elections then taking place a sham. Morera has waged his own hunger strike while in prison.
Canet is a leader of the National Front of Civic Resistance Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a protest group based in southern Cuba. He’s also a reporter for the independent news agency Press Talk.
Kilo 8, one of a string of maximum-security prisons that dissidents liken to the former Soviet gulag system, is in Canet’s hometown of Camaguey, the third-largest city in Cuba, with almost 350,000 residents.
Along with other dissidents, Canet was arrested Dec. 17 during a demonstration in which they demanded the release of a human rights activist.
Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shook hands April 11, 2015, at the Summit of Americas in Panama, the first meeting between the countries’ heads of state since 1961.
Canet had been one of 20 signatories to a Jan. 17, 2014, proclamation in which leaders of resistance organizations spelled out a common strategy for defeating Cuban President Raúl Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel when the revolutionary leader gave up the government reins in 2008 because of illness.
Canet, who has been detained multiple times, began a hunger strike after his most recent arrest.
Diaz-Balart said 8,000 dissidents had been arrested since President Barack Obama declared his intention to normalize relations with Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.
“Shamefully, the dictatorship’s human rights record has not improved,” Diaz-Balart said. “In fact, several of the Obama-Castro 53 released political prisoners have been rearrested.”
Under a deal brokered by Pope Francis, the Cuban government released 53 political prisoners whose names had been provided by the U.S. State Department. The two countries opened embassies in each other’s capitals in July, ending more than a half century of diplomatic estrangement.
James Rosen: 202-383-0014; Twitter: @jamesmartinrose