Antonio Ramón “Tony” Díaz Sánchez, coordinator of the Varela Project, 20 year sentence Tony Díaz, a 45-year old Cuban electrician, lived in Havana with his wife, Gisela Sánchez Verdecia, and his two daughters, ages 8 and 19.
Mr. Díaz is a member of the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación (MCL), a political-civic movement on the island headed by Oswaldo Payá, a prominent dissident. Within the MCL, Díaz was one of the founders and main organizers of the Varela Project.
The Varela Project was founded in 1998 with the aim of converting into law rights already elaborated in the Cuban Constitution, based on a little-known provision in the Cuban Constitution, Article 88, that allows for citizens to introduce legislative initiatives to be decided by national referendum when accompanied by the signatures of at least 10,000 registered voters. Organizers throughout the island collected signatures on a petition calling for a referendum to enact five reforms as law. These reforms are: democratic elections, free speech, free enterprise, free assembly, and freedom for political prisoners.
At great personal risk, Mr. Díaz, along with Mr. Payá and another Varela organizer, Regis Iglesias Ramirez, personally delivered more than 11,000 signatures to the Cuban National Assembly in May 2002. President Jimmy Carter mentioned the campaign in a live telecast from the University of Havana a few days later.
In March 2003, Mr. Díaz, along with 74 other human rights activists, independent journalists and librarians, many of whom had participated in the Varela Project campaign, was arrested and summarily tried. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison under Law 88 of the Cuban Penal Code. Mr. Díaz is currently being held in the Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila, more than 400 km from his home in Havana.
Mr. Díaz has been held in exceedingly poor conditions and not been provided with adequate medical care. When he has protested these conditions – including conducting a hunger strike in early 2007 – he was transferred to solitary confinement as punishment. Gisela Sánchez Verdecia is a human rights defender in her own right as a member of the Damas de Blanco (“Ladies in White”), a group of the wives and relatives of those imprisoned in the crackdown who peacefully advocate for the release of their loved ones. Human Rights First was proud to award the Damas de Blanco its 2006 Human Rights First award. Ms. Sánchez worked as a medical technician but was forced out of her job due to her husband’s activism.
In an April 2007 medical checkup requested by his wife, Mr. Díaz exhibited signs of several serious health conditions, including a tumor in the prostate, ulcerative colitis in his colon, a kidney stone, and accelerated loss of vision. Mr. Díaz has a family history of colon cancer, and these diagnoses were a cause for serious concern for his family members.
Ms. Sánchez, with the help of her lawyer, submitted a petition for Mr. Díaz’s immediate release based on health reasons. Despite repeated inquiries with Cuban authorities in the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Prisons, she has yet to receive any sort of response to her petition. She has also asked for specialized medical attention for her husband in the prison.
Take Action -Demand Medical Attention for Critically Ill Cuban Prisoners (1/16/08)