Cuba Human Rights - History

Cuba Human Rights - History

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The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. Forum organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced from their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms. In April the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled first-year journalism student Karla Maria Perez for “counterrevolutionary projections, actions, membership in organizations, and online publishing.” The university’s government-affiliated student group, the Federation of University Students, supported this decision in an open letter, stating that Perez was a “known member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization that is against the principles, objectives, and values of the Cuban revolution,” and quoted Fidel Castro’s famous dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. Reverends Mario Travieso and Alain Toledano, both affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, reported frequent police harassment, including surveillance, threats, intimidation, and arbitrary fines. Both Travieso and Toledano claimed that the government was harassing them because of their outspoken criticism of certain government policies during their sermons.

Press and Media Freedom: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred official journalists from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of Todos Marchamos activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Two journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content--interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health--was not allowed and sometimes resulted in harassment and detention.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On April 6, airport authorities detained Eliecer Avila, leader of the human rights organization Somos+, for six hours upon his return from a human rights conference in Colombia. Authorities reportedly confiscated Avila’s laptop computer, training materials, memory drives, and other personal belongings.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.


The government restricted access to the internet, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of underground networks.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 39 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016, that number included many whose access was limited to a national intranet that offered only government-run email and government-generated websites, at a fraction of the price of open internet. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, stating approximately 15 percent of the population had access to open internet.

The government selectively granted in-home internet access to certain areas of Havana and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access email and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards in order to access the internet.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots to more than 500 countrywide and lowered the cost to one convertible peso (CUC) ($1) per hour, still beyond the means of some citizens, whose average official income was approximately 29 CUC ($29) per month. The cost of access to the national intranet was 10 cents per hour. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to at least 41 websites considered objectionable. In addition to internet access at public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites overseas. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition a small but growing number of citizens used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.


The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries were illegal but continued to exist, and owners faced harassment and intimidation.

Cuba Human Rights - History

Election officials sing the national anthem beside an image of late Cuban President Fidel Castro moments before opening a polling station in Havana, Cuba November 26, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini


Kenneth Roth


People Born with Atypical Sex Characteristics Battle For Informed Consent

Transparency in the Apparel Industry

The Case for the Right to a Healthy Environment

The Cuban government continues to repress and punish dissent and public criticism. The number of short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others was significantly less than in 2016, but still remained high, with more than 3,700 reports of arbitrary detentions between January and August 2017. The government continues to use other repressive tactics, including beatings, public shaming, travel restrictions, and termination of employment.

US President Donald Trump announced in June that he would reverse the previous administration’s policy toward Cuba by reinstating travel and commercial restrictions that had been eased in 2015.

Cuban Communism: social justice, equality and real human rights

Robin Talbot, Chair of the YCL

Robin Talbot discusses the successes of the Cuban Revolution in advancing human rights and equality, and what lessons we can learn.

According to EcuRed, the Cuban Online Encyclopaedia:

“The fundamental objectives of the Communist Party of Cuba are to consolidate a new morality in Cuban society, based on the ideology of the Revolution, solidarity, equality and social justice, mutual trust, conscious discipline, modesty, honour, critical and self-critical spirit, and the security of the socialist future.

Consequently, the Party struggles resolutely against exploitation of man by man, individualism, the survival of racial and other discriminatory prejudices of any kind, cynicism, the lack of faith in Socialism, defeatism, opportunism, fakeness and double standards, indiscipline, corruption and all kinds of delinquent and antisocial behaviour.

The Party’s ideological work is based on the Marxist-Leninist theory, the teachings of Jose Marti, and in the traditions of the people’s struggles, their historical experience and that of other peoples and nations.”

Women’s rights in Cuba

According to the Marxist-Leninist conception of the Communist Party, the role of the Communist Party is to be the vanguard of the working class and the people’s interests. This means that not only should it place itself where the working people’s immediate interests are, but that it should also aim to elevate those interests, move those interests forwards, and achieve Socialism. Which we know according to the Marxist understanding of society, to be the next stage in human development and the correct way to protect and advance the working people’s interests and place them at the helm of society, doing away with the capitalist class that exploits them.

One of the interesting things about the Communist Party of Cuba’s role is how it has championed women’s rights.

It is not only the Party, but also its members, who have been active in all types of struggles during the Revolution and later in the building of Socialism, who have made this possible.

Whereas the United Nations has noted that 1/5 women and girls have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners in the last 12 months, 49 countries do not have laws against these forms of abuse, and the difference in salary between men and women remains globally at 23%, the situation is very different in Cuba – although as Cuban women will also note, work remains to be done.

Women occupy over 53% of seats in the National Assembly and constitute over 48% of the Council of State. Women make up 60.5% of graduates and over 67% of technical and professional workers.

They also make up the most significant proportion of workers in almost every sector, from the civil service, education and science, to the legal and health sectors.

This has nothing to do with quotas, but everything to do with Cuban women’s exercising of their rights and struggle, unconditionally supported by the Government.

Both laws and strategy emanating from the State, in addition to grassroots work – the most important mass organisation [1] of which is the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), which according to data from 2010, has more than 4 million members, constituted in 13,539 groups and 79,828 delegations throughout the island – have guaranteed the equality of rights, opportunities and possibilities to men and women, changed and improved their role in society and the family, and eliminated traditional sexual stereotypes.

This continues to be the focus of Cuba today. In 2015, Raul Castro noted that “we are still working to change cultural norms … so that men and women share the care of the family, and so that more women are in decision-making positions in Government, to give a few examples.”

These advances were not arrived at by magic, however. They took hard work and mobilisation of the people to fight for their interests, against a Cuba that had before the Revolution of 1959 been backwards, impoverished, shackled to U.S. neo-colonialism and without real human rights for women, girls, Black people, or most working people in general.

  • In Cuba the sexual and reproduction rights of women are guaranteed.
  • Women make up 60.5% of graduates and over 67% of technical and professional workers in Cuba.
  • Cuba women occupy over 53% of seats in the National Assembly and constitute over 48% of the Council of State

Why does Cuba have such a strong record on social justice and equality?

By record, we mean practice, informed by the relevant theory.

As noted above, the Cuban CP has several noble aims. Solidarity, equality and social justice, and the struggle against exploitation and discriminatory prejudices of any kind are some of them.

Many of the things that the Cuban CP fights against are called “antisocial” behaviours – in other words, behaviours that are exploitative and destructive towards other human beings, as opposed to constructive, aimed at the elevation and cooperation of the human race.

However, an important point is that the Party’s ideology “is based on Marxism-Leninism, the teachings of Jose Marti, and the historical experiences and tradition of the Cuban people and their struggles.”

Jose Marti is considered the Cuban people’s spiritual and moral father. He was a revolutionary in the wars against Spanish colonial domination of the island in the late 19th century.

His ideas were very important to the Cuban Revolution and remain important in Latin America as a whole, equal to or more so than Bolivar, because although in his time he was a “liberal”, he preached (and practised) beliefs in progressive patriotism, real sovereignty and independence of the nation, and humanism – social justice, mutual decency and human dignity.

He also foresaw the hideous role that U.S. imperialism would take in Latin America upon replacing the Spanish Empire.

One article in Granma, the paper of the Cuban CP, claims that while “the Cuban Revolution is a process, Marti is the language upon which the Cuban Revolution’s culmination is based”.

In other words, the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban working people have inherited the “moral” tradition of struggle from people such as Marti, and the “moral” cause for social justice and equality, and made the culmination of these ideas possible thanks to the uniqueness of the Communist Party and Marxism-Leninism.

Marxism-Leninism being the scientific socialist or Marxist understanding of society and its processes, and the political science of how to achieve change and liberate the working class, and the Communist Party as its vehicle.

In many ways, we can see parallels with the “moral” cause of radicals throughout our history, going back to the Peasant’s Revolt, the Levellers, English Romantics such as William Blake who railed against “dark Satanic mills” of Victorian Britain, and even the struggle for “moral” or “fairer” Socialism that we see in the labour and progressive movements today.

However, what this Socialism has always needed is scientific, Marxist-Leninist understanding and theory to go forwards and achieve.

Socialism is not just moral, it is correct and necessary for the human race to progress and survive.

Why does Cuba have such a strong record on equality for LGBT+ people today?

The struggle for LGBT+ rights in Cuba has gone hand in hand with the struggle for women’s rights. It was seen as a “multidisciplinary” issue that had a lot to do with women’s oppression, men and the education of children.

It was led by the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), who introduced the focus on issues around gender after the Revolution in order to combat the toxic masculinity that was prevalent in Cuban society. They considered this a problem for men, of all sexual orientations, as much as for women.

Consequently, this expanded to issues regarding non-heterosexual orientations and other issues.

Initially, there was a lot of resistance to talking about and working with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity that did not correspond to the “normative” and patriarchal standards of sex and gender relations. Discrimination and injustice towards people who did not fit into the box of these norms and patriarchal relations were not in fact considered to be incidents of discrimination and injustice, as they were with issues of class, race and sex.

Nonetheless, as Dr Mariela Castro notes, the struggle for LGBT+ rights began with the Cuban Revolution in 1959, “one of the principle values of which was social justice and equality”. She argues that “promoting respect for free sexual orientation, sexual diversity and gender identity” is part of the Revolution’s task.

The Cuban Revolution started a process of emancipation for the Cuban people, and opened to questioning the relations between human beings, formerly based on exploitation. Socialists began to articulate new forms of human relations.

Castro is director of CENESEX, the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, which first originated from the FMC in 1972 as the National Sex Education Working Group (GNTES). Attention to gender identity and sexual diversity started institutionally in 1979.

The work of the FMC was essential in opening the door to understanding the realities of homosexual and trans people, and combating prejudices on the basis of what ought to be human rights.

Speaking about her personal interest in LGBT+ issues, Castro notes that she “saw this as an area where not much work had been done in terms of the struggle for social justice, and I brought into this work my understanding of history and the Marxist philosophical perspective, which allowed me to deal with the issue in terms of Cuba’s socialist construction.”

CENESEX does not just address LGBT+ rights, but sexual rights and sexual diversity in Cuba in a “specialised and multidisciplinary” way, focusing on the health, livelihoods and rights of people.

With regards to LGBT+ people, this often means working to ensure that they are able to integrate into society and feel physically and mentally well, equal and visible in their lives.

However, CENESEX also focuses on the prevention and attention to gender violence, sexuality, childbirth and the family, sex education and health, therapy, young people, and sexual and reproductive rights.

In particular, the struggle against persistent masculinist ideologies and sexist stereotypes, and the prevention of teenage pregnancy and STI and HIV transmissions, with the scientific evidence demonstrating that sex education improves everybody’s health and quality of life.

Finally, CENESEX runs cultural, educational and employment workshops and trains activists on issues relating to LGBT+ and sexual rights, viewing these as part of Cuba’s commitment to civil rights and a participative democratic society.

CENESEX facilitates discussion and diagnosis of different people’s needs rather than the imposition of labels, since human sexualities “have many different aspects”, all of which “merit attention, above all in the field of human rights”.

For example, Castro notes that a person who practises transvestitism might be trans, homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual, and might practise it to varying degrees. As such, to some extent, the centre rejects the arbitrary pathologisation or medicalisation of sexuality.

Since 2007, only 39 people have changed their sex in order to fit their gender identity in Cuba, with this procedure being “rigorously evaluated” by the National Commission for Integrated Attention to Transsexuals. The first sex change was, however, performed in 1987.

Those who choose to undergo this process must be over 18 years of age, diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and have spent over a year living as the gender with which they identify. Informing them about the entire process in order to gain their consent is also essential.

Since 2018, the Commission has proven that one of the most important things about the work on LGBT+ rights was the very close link between a person’s quality of life and their social integration, at work or in their studies.

What can these experiences tell Communists about the struggle for LGBT+ rights?

Firstly, this struggle for LGBT+ rights in Cuba is based upon the ideology of the Communist Party, committed to an approach that is humanistic and interested in social justice and equality for each of its citizens, fought for on a scientific and Marxist-Leninist basis.

Logically, this approach extended to work that sought to understand sex and gender, and finally, sexual rights and sexual diversity.

In order to remove the baggage of the past, the human relations under the capitalist system as they were for LGBT+ and other people, Cuba developed means of understanding, discussing and diagnosing these people’s needs.

The pathologisation or medicalisation of LGBT+ issues and gender identity is not perceived to be “the solution”. Rather, the main aim is to ensure that LGBT+ people can live happy and productive lives as fully integrated members of society, comfortable as who they are and respected and treated equally by others.

The other, more generalised aim, which is complementary and by no means less important, is to promote the understanding of sex and gender and relevant issues. Many of these we do not talk about enough in Britain, such as gender violence, toxic masculinity, or porn culture (pornography is illegal in Cuba). The experts in Cuba argued that more understanding of these issues was shown to improve everybody’s lives.

Issues relating to LGBT+ rights or “sexual rights” are closely linked to women’s rights and significant for understanding women’s oppression. For example, the role of the family, toxic masculinity and gender violence, patriarchal relations and “normative” relationships. For this reason, the FMC played a key role.

Whereas the capitalist system has made our experiences of sex and gender oppressive and exploitative, in Cuba, the socialist system and its people, from the Government to the grassroots organisations, are working to undo that damage and defend and extend everyone’s rights to be equal, be treated justly, be free from discrimination and prejudice, and live in dignity.

Robin Talbot

[1] Mass organisations are organisations in specific areas of work that are broader than the Party while also supportive of the Party, such as the Cuban YCL, the Cuban TUC and trade unions, the FMC, the farmer’s union, the pioneers, the students’ unions and the Committees in Defence of the Revolution (CDRs).


According to the constitution, Cuba is a socialist republic where all members or representative bodies of state power are elected and subject to recall and the masses control the activity of the state agencies, the deputies, delegates and officials. Elections in Cuba have two phases:

  1. election of delegates to the Municipal Assembly, and
  2. election of deputies to the Provincial and National Assemblies.

Candidates for municipal assemblies are nominated on an individual basis at local levels by the local population at nomination assemblies. [7] Candidates for provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are nominated by the municipal assemblies from lists compiled by national, provincial and municipal candidacy commissions. [7] Suggestions for nominations are made at all levels mainly by mass organizations, trade unions, people's councils, and student federations. [8] The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission [8] however, voters can, in theory, veto a candidate, because if a candidate were fail to gain 50% of the vote, a new candidate would have to be chosen. [ citation needed ]

Anyone older than 16 other than those mentally incapacitated, imprisoned, or deprived of their political rights can vote and be nominated to these posts. [7] No political parties (including the Communist Party of Cuba) are permitted to campaign. [ citation needed ] Instead, voters can consult candidates' biographies and photographs posted on public locations. [9] All elections take place by secret ballot. Suffrage is afforded to Cuban citizens resident for two years on the island who are aged over sixteen years and who have not been found guilty of a criminal offense.

Municipal elections Edit

The election of municipal assembly delegates involves nomination by voters in nomination assemblies, compilation of posting of candidate biographies, voting by secret ballot, and recall. [1] Municipal assemblies are elected every two and a half years. Municipal elections are officially non-partisan.

Nomination assemblies are held about a month before the election in areas within the electoral districts. [10] During regular elections, from 70% to over 90% of the electorate attend the nomination assemblies. [10] Municipal candidates must be at least 16 years old. [7]

In elections held on 21 October 2007, turnout was reported to be 8.1 million voters, approximately 95% of the population eligible to vote, which was less than the last such election on April 17, 2005, where voter turnout was 97%. [11] Elections were then held in 2010 and 2013.

Provincial elections Edit

Municipal candidacy commissions submit nominations for provincial delegates to provincial candidacy commissions. [8] The provincial candidacy commissions produce the final list of provincial assembly candidates. [8]

National elections Edit

Cuba's national legislature, the National Assembly of People's Power, has 609 members who sit for five-year terms. Members of the National Assembly represent multiple-member constituencies (2 to 5 members per district), with one Deputy for each 20,000 inhabitants.

Candidates for the National Assembly are chosen by candidacy commissions chaired by local trade union officials and composed of elected representatives of "mass organisations" representing workers, youth, women, students and farmers. [ citation needed ] The provincial and municipal candidacy commissions submit nominations to the National Candidacy Commission. [8] The municipal candidacy commissions produce slates of recommended candidates for each electoral district, mainly submit nominations for candidates that are also municipal delegates, and first submit their nominations to their municipal assembly who may approve or replace nominations. [12] The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission, [8] taking into account criteria such as candidates’ popularity, merit, patriotism, ethical values and “revolutionary history.” [13] At least half of the National Assembly candidates selected must have been previously elected as delegates to these assemblies. [14]

Although there is only one candidate per seat, candidates must, in theory, obtain the support of 50% of voters to be elected. [ citation needed ] If a candidate were to fails to gain 50% of the vote, a new candidate would have to be chosen. [ citation needed ] However, this has never occurred.

Elections to the National Assembly were held on 24 February 2008. According to the Cuban Ministry of External Affairs, at the October 2002 elections to the Candidacy Commissions which preceded the January 2003 National Assembly elections, "32,585 candidates were nominated for the 14,949 seats up for election in October 2001 at grassroots assemblies in which 81.7% of the voters participated." So far no candidate for the National Assembly has ever failed to gain 50% of the vote, because the candidates put forward by the candidacy commissions usually receive at least 84% support. [15]

Article 88(h) of the Cuban constitution, adopted in 1976, provides for citizen proposals of law, prerequisite that the proposal be made by at least 10,000 citizens who are eligible to vote. In 2002 supporters of a movement known as the Varela Project submitted a citizen proposal of law with 11,000 signatures calling for a national referendum on political and economic reforms.

The Cuban National Assembly Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee tabled the Varela Project citizens' initiative and responded with a counter initiative, the petition for which collected 8.1 million signatures, to request that Cuba's National Assembly amend the constitution to state "Socialism and the revolutionary political and social system. are irrevocable and Cuba will never again return to capitalism." [16] At the same time, millions of Cubans took to the street in support of the government. The BBC reported that some citizens had felt pressured to sign the government petition. [17] The national legislature meets twice a year for a week, to pass unanimously all the bills proposed by the executive branch. In between the sessions, the Council of State and the NAPP's commissions perform its legislative duties.

The Communist Party of Cuba is the official state party, [18] but various other political parties have been active in the country since their existence was legalised in 1992. Nevertheless, they, along with the Communist Party of Cuba, are prohibited from campaigning in elections or public political speech. The most important of these are the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba, the Cuban Democratic Socialist Current, the Democratic Social-Revolutionary Party of Cuba, the Democratic Solidarity Party, and the Social Democratic Co-ordination of Cuba. Members of all of those political groups are free to put themselves forward at open and public candidate selection ("Town Hall") meetings and, if they command a simple majority of those present, will be entered onto the ballot paper and have their election materials posted. [ citation needed ]

Cuba Edit

Fidel Castro made many statements affirming that Cuba is a democracy or has democratic features. [19] In 1960, Castro made a speech to the General Assembly referring to Cuba in relation to other Latin American nations, “We are speaking of democracy. If Government is of people and democratic, people can be consulted, as we are doing here. What is more an example of pure democracy than meetings such as this one. If they cannot call such meetings they are not democracies.” Castro continued “Those who want to see people’s democracy let them come here and see this. We can speak to America and the world because we speak in names of a whole nation.” In this 1960 speech, Castro also criticized many Latin American liberal democracies, describing them as a “Pretense of democracy”, as, he claimed, they did not allow such gatherings. [20]

In 2006, President of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, stated: "At some moment, US rhetoric changed to talk of democracy . For me, the starting point is the recognition that democracy should begin with Pericles's definition – that society is for the benefit of the majority – and should not be imposed from outside." [21]

Cuba justifies the existence of only one political party by arguing that the PCC “is not a political party in the traditional sense… it is not an electoral party it does not decide on the formation or composition of the government. It is not only forbidden to nominate candidates but also to be involved in any other stage of the electoral process… The PCC’s role is one of guidance, supervision and of guarantor of participatory democracy.” [22]

The Cuban government describes the full Cuban electoral process as a form of democracy. The Cuban Ministry of External Affairs describes the candidate-selection process as deriving from “direct nomination of candidates for delegates to the municipal assemblies by the voters themselves at public assemblies,” and points out that at the elections to the municipal assemblies, voters do have a choice of candidates. The ban on election campaigning is presented as “The absence of million–dollar election campaigns where resorting to insults, slander and manipulation are the norm.” [ citation needed ]

United States Edit

U.S. State Department: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: "Candidates for provincial and national office must be approved in advance by mass organizations controlled by the government. In practice a small group of leaders, under the direction of the president, selected the members of the highest policy-making bodies of the CP, the Politburo, and the Central Committee."

"In 2003 there were national elections in which 609 candidates were approved to compete for the 609 seats in the National Assembly. The CP was the only political party allowed to participate in the elections. A small minority of candidates did not belong formally to the CP but were chosen through the same government-controlled selection process. The government saturated the media and used government ministries, CP entities, and mass organizations to urge voters to cast a “unified vote” where marking one box automatically selected all candidates on the ballot form.

During the year there were elections for nearly 15 thousand local representatives to the municipal assemblies. After the first run-off election, the government reported that 96.6 percent of the electorate had voted. While the law allows citizens not to vote, CDRs often pressured neighborhood residents to cast ballots. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, the government blacklisted those who did not vote. Although not a formal requirement, in practice CP membership was a prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement."

European Union Edit

Since 1996, official European Union policy towards Cuba has stated an objective "to encourage a process of transition to a pluralist democracy via constructive engagement with the Cuban Government." This goal is shared by all member states. The E.U. describes the Cuban decision-making process thus: "Elections for the National Assembly, where only candidates approved by the local authorities can partake, take place every five years. When the National Assembly, which meets twice-yearly, is not in session the 31-member Council of State wields legislative power. The Council of Ministers, through its 9-member executive committee, exercises executive and administrative power. Although the Constitution provides for independent judiciary, it explicitly subordinates it to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. Involvement in decision-making and implementation through non-political actors has been institutionalised through national organisations, linked to the Communist Party, representing farmers, youth groups, students, women, industrial workers, etc."

Organization of American States Edit

Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) from 1962 to 2009. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the OAS, reported in 1997: “It should also be noted that the major criterion for preparing this report has been the lack of free elections in accordance with internationally accepted standards, thereby violating the right to political participation set forth in Article XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which states textually that: Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free.” [23]

"The nomination of candidates for election to the Municipal Assemblies is done by nominating assemblies, in which all voters are entitled to propose candidates. In practice, however, these district assemblies are usually organized by the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution or the Communist Party, which makes the selection of an opponent of the regime most unlikely. [24]

Other organizations Edit

In 1999, the U.S.-government funded organization Freedom House initiated “the Cuban Democracy Project”. [ citation needed ] The project was set up to support and encourage Cuban independent journalists, human rights activists, independent political parties, trade unions, and other organizations. Freedom House is solely responsible for the objectives and planning of the project and for its administration. [25] Freedom House has also given Cuba the lowest rating in its: “Freedom in the World 2005” report for political rights, and the lowest rating in its “electoral democracy” category.

The Freedom House 2005 report states: “Cubans cannot change their government through democratic means. Fidel Castro dominates the political system, having transformed the country into a one-party state with the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) controlling all governmental entities from the national to the local level. Castro is responsible for every appointment and controls every lever of power in Cuba in his various roles as president of the Council of Ministers, chairman of the Council of State, commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and first secretary of the PCC. In October 2002, some eight million Cubans voted in tightly controlled municipal elections. On January 19, 2003, an election was held for the Cuban National Assembly, with just 609 candidates - all supported by the regime - vying for 609 seats. All political organizing outside the PCC is illegal. Political dissent, spoken or written, is a punishable offense, and those so punished frequently receive years of imprisonment for seemingly minor infractions.” [26]

In 2002 former U.S. President Jimmy Carter spoke in Havana with support from Human Rights Watch and representing the Carter Center. Whilst calling for democratic change, Carter also stressed that he was not using a U.S. definition of “democracy.” he explained that “the term is embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba signed in 1948. It is based on some simple premises: all citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups, and to have fair and open trials.”

The 2006 report from Human Rights Watch states: “Cuba remains a Latin American anomaly: an undemocratic government that represses nearly all forms of political dissent. President Fidel Castro, now in his forty-seventh year in power, shows no willingness to consider even minor reforms. Instead, his government continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, police warnings, surveillance, house arrests, travel restrictions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment. The end result is that Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law.” [27]

Human Rights defenders in Cuba from Human Rights First states: “Cuba remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere to reject democracy and effectively outlaw peaceful advocacy for human rights and democratic reforms. Independent civil society in Cuba – including human rights defenders, democracy activists, and independent journalists and scholars – are the targets of constant persecution. The universally-recognized rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are systematically violated by the State and victims have virtually no means of redress within the judicial system.” [28]

Cuba's supporters argue that the Cuban system is more democratic than that used in multi-party democracies. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign, a group based in the United Kingdom, says: “Electoral candidates are not chosen by small committees of political parties… Instead the candidates are nominated individually by grass-roots organisations and by individual electors… The successful candidate is chosen by secret ballot. The Electoral Law of 1992 stipulates that delegates to the municipal and provincial assemblies and the 601 deputies to the National Assembly are all elected by popular suffrage using a secret ballot… Unlike the case in other states, which invariably criticize Cuba for being ‘undemocratic’, voter turn-out in Cuba is high. In April 2005, 97.7% of electors came out to vote for their deputies to the municipal assemblies.” [29]

Critics argue that whatever the merits of the system for electing the National Assembly, that body is itself a facade for the reality of PCC rule in Cuba. The Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days which is the basis of these beliefs. The 31-member Council of State, in theory elected by the Assembly but hypothetically in practice appointed by the PCC, wields effective state power, and the PCC Politburo is assumed to be the ultimate political authority. Although the Assembly has eight standing committees, they do not exercise any effective authority over legislation. During its biannual plenums, the Assembly is said to play a passive role as audience for various government speakers. Once the Council of State's legislative proposals have been presented, they are summarily ratified by unanimous or near unanimous vote of the Assembly. [30]

Political figures Edit

Many other notable political figures have commented on Cuba and democracy. At a conference held by the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba called “Towards democracy in Cuba”, former Czech leader Václav Havel stated, “democracy and prosperity in Cuba depend on the support for Cuban dissidents, the better the chances for a future peaceful transition of the Cuban society to democracy.” [31] Havel has also described Cuba as “the biggest prison on earth”. [ This quote needs a citation ] In 2006 Peruvian Presidential candidate and Bolivarian Ollanta Humala stated that “Obviously, according to our standards Cuba does not qualify as a democracy,” but added that Peru “is democratic, we have democratized poverty”. [32]

Political writers and academics Edit

Groups or individuals that describe Cuba is a “democracy” or claim that there is some level of democracy in the political system generally focus on community participation at local municipal level. For example, Cuban Teresita Jorge writes that democracy in Cuba “takes place from the grassroots up in the selection of those who will represent the people at all the levels of government“. [33] Similarly, Political scientists Haroldo Dilla Alfonso and Gerardo González Núñez study what they describe as Cuba's “community power and grassroots democracy”. They write that “this participatory system contained an interesting combination of direct democracy and the use of representation as granted by election. In general, it attempted to provide citizens with the ability to choose the local leadership, express claims, oversee and evaluate local policy and its results, and become involved in projects of community benefit.” The pair concluded that “we ought to consider Municipal Assemblies as a remarkable step forward in building democracy”. [34]

American political scientist Peter Roman's work on the subject led him to believe that Cuba's “grassroots democracy” goes beyond the power to vote freely for one of several candidates representing both pro or anti-socialist positions. He argues that at the “people level” democracy exists in Cuba today and that this democracy has been strengthened during the 1990s by conscious decisions made at the top. Roman also writes that the historical origins of contemporary Cuban democracy are the ideas of the centrality of unity and consensus, and the rejection of a distinction between political and civil society. Thus, unanimous votes in representative bodies do not represent, as critics charge, imposition by the PCC, but rather legitimate consensus worked out in lengthy discussion at several levels. [35] British political professor Steve Ludlum wrote in his paper “Participation is key to Cuba’s democracy” that “Two models of democracy competed for support in nineteenth century Europe. The one we know is based on indirect representation by professional politicians controlled by party factions. The other model, associated with Rousseau’s concept of the ‘general will’ and made famous by the Paris Commune of 1870”. Ludlum likens Cuba's local participation to the latter model. [36]

William M. LeoGrande, in a paper written for the Cuba Transition Project at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, wrote of the 1992 election law: "unprecedented openness in debate, not just among party members, but also among the entire populace, so as to foster greater participation and build 'the necessary consensus' for the government's policy response. Eventually, some three million people participated in the pre-Congress discussions", but "When the new electoral law was finalized… it dashed any hopes for a significant opening to alternative voices. The ban on campaigning was retained, and the nomination of provincial and national assembly candidates was entrusted to Candidacy Commissions. Through an elaborate process of consultation… the Candidacy Commissions… produced slates of nominees with just one candidate per seat. Voters only had the choice of voting yes or no. Thus, the election process at the provincial and national levels avoided the possibility of even implicit policy differences among candidates.” [37]

In a detailed study of the 1997-1998 elections, it was argued that there were multiple candidates in the open nomination assemblies held for the nomination of these candidates for these seats. [38]

These Are The Major Human Rights Issues In Cuba And The Castro Government’s Response

HAVANA -- After delivering a major speech aimed at the people of Cuba on Tuesday morning, U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to hold a meeting with members of the island’s civil society, including prominent opposition activists.

Both the speech and the meeting will be closely followed by international human rights organizations and critics of Obama re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Supporters of Obama’s move say that policy will do more to advance liberal reforms on the island than isolating the Castro government, while opponents have argued that the White House should have wrung out more concessions on human rights. The Cuban government, for its part, has played down criticism of its human rights record, saying the issue shouldn’t influence diplomacy.

Whatever one’s opinion, the human rights issue in Cuba will likely play a role in the U.S. Congress’ willingness to overturn the American trade embargo against the island, according to Chris Sabatini, the director of the think tank Global Americans.

“For Congress to come together, there has to be progress on the human rights front,” Sabatini told The WorldPost. “It’s difficult to get that coalition to jell without some progress. This is a government that has survived through repression. It sees its ability to survive as being conditioned on the ability to control people’s lives politically, socially and economically.”

Here are some human rights issues that have been raised by both Cubans and international human rights groups:

Repeated political detentions.

As a one-party communist state, Cuba often takes an authoritarian stance toward political opposition. Just hours before Obama landed, the Cuban government detained some 50 opposition activists who had joined a peaceful weekly protest with the Ladies in White, a group founded in 2003 to rally against the jailing of government opponents. They were among some 2,500 politically motivated short-term detentions since the year’s beginning, according to Human Rights Watch.

While Cuba has historically jailed many political opponents for terms of two decades or more, the Castro government has relied increasingly on short-term detentions in recent years. At a press conference Monday , Cuban head of state Raúl Castro denied the island held any political prisoners, but also said that human rights “should not be politicized” as the U.S. and Cuba normalize relations.

The most recent estimate of political prisoners on the island by the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, released in July, identified some 60 prisoners of conscience in Cuba, a list that included some armed rebels. At least two dozen of those on the list were convicted of nonviolent acts.

International groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also called on the Cuban government to allow visits from international monitors to investigate prison conditions. Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International, said Cuba is the only country in the Americas where her organization can’t access jails.

“That was actually one part of the agreement from December 2014, when the two presidents, Obama and Castro, announced normalization of ties,” Daniel Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch told WorldPost. “On the human rights front, Cuba agreed to release 53 political prisoners, which it did. It also agreed to allow these visits by these monitors, which have not happened yet.”

The Castro government places restrictions on speech and media in ways both large and small. Pornography, for example, is prohibited, and travelers must declare when passing customs whether they’re bringing any pornographic material with them. That restriction inspired the name of Gorki Aguila’s punk band, Porno Para Ricardo, a reference to a friend by the same name who would ask people to bring him porn when they traveled out of the country.

“Can you imagine how ridiculous it is to prohibit something as beautiful as pornography?” Aguila told WorldPost. “Especially for a culture as sexually expressive as Cuba’s is. Communists are very conservative. They want to ban everything involving pleasure.”

In a more lofty example, filmmaker and playwright Juan Carlos Cremata saw his work blackballed by the government institutions after writing a play titled, "The King is Dying." In Cuba, Cremata said writers must submit works for review before state institutions will allow them to be performed. The government interpreted the play as an insult to former Cuban head of state Fidel Castro.

"I don't want to do works against the government," Cremata told WorldPost. "I want to do work in favor of what I want to say."

The Castro government also blocks websites of writers affiliated with the opposition, like the digital newspaper 14 y Medio, founded by blogger Yoani Sánchez.

Here's how the Cuban government has responded:

Economic rights.

The Cuban government acknowledges disagreements over human rights issues, but has traditionally pointed to state guarantees of free education, health care, housing and pensions as justification. Asked about its human rights record at the press conference on Monday , Raúl Castro expressed the same rationale.

“Do you think there’s any more sacred right than the right to health, so that billions of children don’t die just for the lack of a vaccine or a drug or a medicament?” Castro said. “We have many other rights -- a right to health, the right to education.”

Cuba’s counterclaims.

The Cuban government has its own claims against the U.S. They have for years called on the U.S. government to shut down the military prison in Guantánamo and stopped cashing the checks for leasing the base decades ago, contending that the territory should be returned.

Every year for roughly the last two decades, the United Nations has passed a resolution sponsored by Cuba calling for the U.S. to end the trade embargo against the island, which the Castro government views as a human rights issue. Amnesty International has also called for the lifting of the embargo, Gonçalves Margerin said.

The U.S. has no right to intervene.

Cuban state media also routinely runs stories criticizing civil rights issues in the United States and stories about its wars abroad, aimed in part at highlighting that the U.S. doesn’t have the moral authority to make human rights demands on Cuba.

The distaste for outside interference is shared by many Cubans, even when they have their own problems with the government.

“I don’t think that the way the Cuban government handles human rights is correct, but it’s an internal issue that Cubans themselves will have to resolve,” independent journalist Elaine Diaz, founder of the site Periodismo de Barrio, said in an interview with WorldPost. “Even feeling myself affected by the lack of freedom of expression because I’m a journalist, I still think it’s a problem that should be solved by Cubans.”

It’s also a view shared by Obama. At Monday’s press conference, Obama said he would continue to raise concerns to the Cuban government about detaining people for political reasons, but that the U.S. would refrain from trying to impose its will on the Castros.

“The goal of human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves, but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue,” he said. “And hopefully that we can learn from each other.”


During Spanish colonization, the oppression of the indigenous populations was chronicled at length by clergyman Bartolomé de las Casas. The subsequent transportation of African slaves to the island, which lasted over 300 years, led to British military intervention and a determination "to put a stop to these abuses". [10] Since Cuba achieved independence in 1902, successive Cuban governments have been criticised and condemned by various groups, both within Cuba and internationally, for human rights violations on the island. During the latter part of the Spanish colonial era in Cuba, human rights on the island became a particular international concern. After a visit to the region in 1898, U.S. Senator Redfield Proctor estimated that up to 200,000 Cubans had died from starvation and disease within "Spanish forts", essentially concentration camps. [11] The concern was a contributory factor in garnering support for the Spanish–American War in the U.S.

After independence, and following a sustained period of instability, the 1924–33 government of Gerardo Machado proved to be authoritarian. Machado extended his rule until Fulgencio Batista led an uprising called the Revolt of the Sergeants, as part of a coup which deposed Machado in 1933. Batista then became the strongman behind a succession of puppet presidents until he was himself elected president in 1940. According to Hugh Thomas, the post-Machado period was marked by violent reprisals, mass lynchings and a deterioration towards corruption and gansterismo throughout the island. [12]

From 1940, Cuba had a multiparty electoral system until Fulgencio Batista (President from 1940–1944) staged a coup with military backing on March 10, 1952. [13] [14]

In 1958, Time magazine wrote: "Cuba's fanatic, poorly armed rebels last week tried to smash President Fulgencio Batista with the ultimate weapon of civilian revolutions: the general strike. . Fulgencio Batista got ready for the strike by offering immunity to anyone who killed a striker and by threatening to jail any employer who closed shop." During the strike, militants and youths stole guns, and threw bombs (one of which may have set up a gas-mains fire), after which some people were killed in clashes.

The strike was short-lived: "With the upper hand, Batista drove boldly around the city while his cops proceeded to make their supremacy complete. When a patrol car radioed that it had clashed with rebels and had 'a dead man and a prisoner', the dispatcher ordered: 'Shoot him.' At midafternoon, cops burst into a boardinghouse, grabbed three young men who were leaders of Cuba's lay Catholic Action movement, which sympathizes with Castro. Two hours later their stripped, tortured and bullet-torn bodies were turned over to relatives. Total dead: 43." [ attribution needed ] [15]

In 1959, Fidel Castro and his forces succeeded in displacing Batista from power. At that time there were fundamental changes in the judicial and political process. During this transitional period there were some concerns voiced about due process. [16] [17]

The "Cuban National Reconciliation movement", a U.S.-based organisation that claims to act as a forum for discussing Cuban society, has detailed what it believes are complex variables when analysing human rights immediately after the revolution. In the 1960s, violent confrontations known as the Escambray Rebellion between the Cuban government and armed opposition were ongoing, but had declined by the early 1970s. The group asserts that by the time international human rights movements flourished in the 1970s, the most severe period of repression was over, making non-partisan retrospective assessments of the period difficult. The reconciliation movement also cite the difficulties in assessing accounts of abuses that are commonly split upon partisan lines. According to the group, Cuban exiles who were often the first to denounce the Cuban government, largely shared an anti-Communist ideology and overlooked violations committed by other regimes, whilst many left leaning observers did not give the claims of Cuban victims due consideration. [18]

After coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro's government built a highly effective machinery of repression, according to Human Rights Watch. [5]

As early as September 1959, Vadim Kotchergin (or Kochergin), a KGB agent, was seen in Cuba. [19] [20] Jorge Luis Vasquez, a Cuban who was imprisoned in East Germany, states that the East German secret police Stasi trained the personnel of the Cuban Interior Ministry (MININT). [21]

Political executions Edit

Various estimates have been made in order to ascertain the number of political executions carried out on behalf of the Cuban government since the revolution. Within the first two months of the 1959, Castro's government executed more than 300 Batista officials, [22] with Latin American historian Thomas E. Skidmore says that there had been 550 executions in the first six months of 1959. [23] In an April 1961 UPI story, the agency stated that about "700 have died before Castro's firing squads" between 1959 and 1961. [24] The World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators ascertained that there had been 2,113 political executions between the years 1958–67, [23] while British historian Hugh Thomas, stated in his study Cuba or the pursuit of freedom [25] that "perhaps" 5,000 executions had taken place by 1970. [23] According to Amnesty International, the total number of death sentences issued from 1959–87 was 237, of which all but 21 were actually carried out. [26] The anti-Castro Archivo Cuba estimates that 4,000 people were executed in Cuba between 1959 and 2016. The Black Book of Communism estimated that between 15,000 and 17,000 people were executed by the state. [27] According to Archivo Cuba, there have been 4,309 confirmed executions or extrajudicial killings since 1952 the actual death toll of the Cuban Revolution is estimated to be higher, but an exact count of victims is unavailable, given a lack of available records and political transparency in Cuba. [28] [29]

The vast majority of those executed directly following the 1959 revolution were policemen, politicians and informers for the Batista regime who were accused of crimes such as torture and murder, and their public trials and executions enjoyed widespread popular support among the Cuban population. Most scholars agree that those executed were probably guilty as charged, but their trials did not follow due process. [30] [31] The Cuban Government justified such measures on the grounds that the application of the death penalty in Cuba against war criminals and others followed the same procedure as the one previously followed by the Allies during the Nuremberg trials. Some Cuban scholars maintain that had the government not applied severe legislation against the torturers, terrorists, and other criminals employed by the Batista regime, the people themselves would have taken justice into their own hands. [32]

Refugees Edit

According to the US government, some 1,200,000 Cubans (about 10% of the current population) left the island for the United States between 1959 and 1993, [33] often by sea in small boats and fragile rafts.

Forced labor camps and abuse of prisoners Edit

In 1987 a "Tribunal on Cuba" was held in Paris in order to present testimonies by former prisoners of Cuba's penal system to the international media. The gathering was sponsored by Resistance International and The Coalition of Committees for the Rights of Man in Cuba. The testimonies which were presented at the tribunal, before an international panel, alleged that a pattern of torture existed in Cuba's prisons and "hard labor camps". These included beatings, biological experiments in diet restrictions, violent interrogations and extremely unsanitary conditions. The jury concurred with allegations of arbitrary arrest sentencing by court martial with no public audience or defender periods spent in hard labour camps without sufficient food, clothing or medical care and the arrest of children who were over nine years old. [34]

The number of reported executions in Cuba declined during the 1970s and by the 1980s they were restricted to rare and high-profile cases, notably the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989. Ochoa, who had once been proclaimed a "Hero of the Revolution" by Fidel Castro, along with three other high-ranking officers, was brought to trial for drug trafficking. This offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but Ochoa and the others were convicted of treason and promptly executed. Opponents of the Castro government who live outside Cuba expressed skepticism about the legitimacy of Ochoa's arrest and execution. [ citation needed ]

Political abuse of psychiatry Edit

Although Cuba has been politically connected to the Soviet Union since the United States broke off relations with Cuba shortly after its prime minister Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, few considerable allegations regarding the political abuse of psychiatry in that country emerged before the late 1980s. [35] : 74 Americas Watch and Amnesty International published reports which alluded to cases of possible unwarranted hospitalization and ill-treatment of political prisoners. [35] : 75 These reports concerned the Gustavo Machin hospital in Santiago de Cuba in the southeast of the country and the major mental hospital in Havana. [35] : 75 In 1977, a report on the alleged abuse of psychiatry in Cuba presenting cases of ill-treatment in mental hospitals going back to the 1970s came out in the United States. [35] : 75 It presents grave allegations that prisoners end up in the forensic ward of mental hospitals in Santiago de Cuba and Havana where they undergo ill-treatment including electroconvulsive therapy without muscle relaxants or anaesthesia. [35] : 75 The reported application of ECT in the forensic wards seems, at least in many of the cited cases, not to be an adequate clinical treatment for the diagnosed state of the prisoner—in some cases the prisoners seem not to have been diagnosed at all. [35] : 75 Conditions in the forensic wards have been described in repulsive terms and apparently are in striking contrast to the other parts of the mental hospitals that are said to be well-kept and modern. [35] : 75

In August 1981, the Marxist historian Ariel Hidalgo was apprehended and accused of "incitement against the social order, international solidarity and the Socialist State" and sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. [35] : 75 In September 1981, he was transported from State Security Headquarters to the Carbó-Serviá (forensic) ward of Havana Psychiatric Hospital where he stayed for several weeks. [35] : 76

Political repression Edit

A 2009 report by Human Rights Watch concluded that "Raúl Castro has kept Cuba’s repressive machinery firmly in place. since being handed power by his brother Fidel Castro." [36] The report found that "[s]cores of political prisoners arrested under Fidel continue to languish in prison, and Raúl has used draconian laws and sham trials to incarcerate scores more who have dared to exercise their fundamental rights."

US government-funded Freedom House classifies Cuba as being "Not Free", [37] and notes that "Cuba is the only country in the Americas that consistently makes Freedom House’s list of the Worst of the Worst: the World’s Most Repressive Societies for widespread abuses of political rights and civil liberties." [37] In the 2017 report of Human Rights Watch is written that independent journalists who publish information considered critical of the government are subject to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms. [8]

A 1999 Human Rights Watch report notes that the Interior Ministry's principal responsibility is to monitor the Cuban population for signs of dissent. [38] In 1991 two new mechanisms for internal surveillance and control emerged. Communist Party leaders organized the Singular Systems of Vigilance and Protection (Sistema Unico de Vigilancia y Protección, SUVP). Rapid Action Brigades (Brigadas de Acción Rapida, also referred to as Rapid Response Brigades, or Brigadas de Respuesta Rápida) observe and control dissidents. [38] The government also "maintains academic and labor files (expedientes escolares y laborales) for each citizen, in which officials record actions or statements that may bear on the person's loyalty to the revolution. Before advancing to a new school or position, the individual's record must first be deemed acceptable". [38]

The opposition movement in Cuba is a widespread collection of individuals and nongovernmental organizations, most of whom are working for the respect of individual rights on the island. [39] Some of the best known Cuban members of the opposition include the Ladies in White (recipients of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought), Human Rights Center and Cuban community leader Jesus Permuy, Marta Beatriz Roque, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Sakharov Prize winner Oswaldo Payá, as well as Óscar Elías Biscet, and Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez."

On October 18, 2019, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that the United States will impose new sanctions against Cuba following its poor human rights records and support of the Venezuelan government. José Daniel Ferrer's continued detention in particular was brought into notice in a different statement issued by the U.S. State Department. Ferrer who heads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), has been kept in detention by the Cuban government without his whereabouts released. [40]

Censorship Edit

Cuba officially adopted the civil and political rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. One of the key principles in the declaration was the insistence on Freedom of expression and opinion. The Cuban constitution says that free speech is allowed "in keeping with the objectives of socialist society" and that artistic creation is allowed "as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution".

Cuba's ranking was on the bottom of the Press Freedom Index 2008 compiled by the Reporters Without Borders (RWB). [6] Cuba was named one of the ten most censored countries in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists. [41]

Books, newspapers, radio channels, television channels, movies and music are supposedly censored, although a lot of foreign media, particularly movies and music, have notably been heard and seen without any police interference.

The media are operated under the supervision of the Communist Party's Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which "develops and coordinates propaganda strategies". [41]

Human rights groups and international organizations believe that these articles subordinate the exercise of freedom of expression to the state. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights assess that: "It is evident that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression under this article of the Constitution is governed by two fundamental determinants: on the one hand, the preservation and strengthening of the communist State on the other, the need to muzzle any criticism of the group in power." [42] Human rights group Amnesty International assert that the universal state ownership of the media means that freedom of expression is restricted. Thus the exercise of the right to freedom of expression is restricted by the lack of means of mass communication falling outside state control. [43] Human Rights Watch states: "Refusing to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity, the government denies legal status to local human rights groups. Individuals who belong to these groups face systematic harassment, with the government putting up obstacles to impede them from documenting human rights conditions. In addition, international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are barred from sending fact-finding missions to Cuba. It remains one of the few countries in the world to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons." [44] Yet, activists' networks like Eye on Cuba and have continued working with the intention to raise awareness about the true situation concerning human and civil rights on the "island of freedom" and appeal to Europe Union and its members to apply responsible approach to Cuba in their foreign policy. Financial support and legal representation is provided by foreign NGOs as part of the EU Cuba Network. [45]

A formal structure and system of reporting news not approved by the government was first attempted in 1993. [46] The effort for an independent, uncensored news agency was spearheaded by Cuban human rights activist and then-President of Christian Democratic Movement Jesus Permuy. [46] It formally began in May of that year as Members of Civic Democratic Action, an umbrella group of nearly twenty Castro opposition organizations, formed an alliance with the Independent Cuban Journalists Association. [46] The effort ultimately failed.

A Reporters Without Borders report as of October 2006 finds that Internet use is very restricted and under tight surveillance. Access is only possible with government permission and equipment is rationed. E-mail is monitored. [47] See also Censorship in Cuba.

Foreign journalists are systematically expelled from Cuba, e.g. notable journalists of Gazeta Wyborcza, Anna Bikont and Seweryn Blumsztahn, were expelled in 2005. [48]

Restrictions of assembly Edit

Human Rights Watch states that "freedom of assembly is severely restricted in Cuba, and political dissidents are generally prohibited from meeting in large groups. [44] [ dead link ] Amnesty states that "All human rights, civil and professional associations and unions that exist today in Cuba outside the officialdom of the state apparatus and mass organizations controlled by the government are barred from having legal status. This often puts at risk the individuals who belong to these associations of facing harassment, intimidation or criminal charges for activities which constitute the legitimate exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly." [ dead link ] [49]

The Cuban authorities only recognize a single national trade union centre, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), heavily controlled by the State and the Communist Party which appoints its leaders. Membership is compulsory for all workers. Before a worker can be hired, they must sign a contract in which they promise to support the Communist Party and everything it represents. [ citation needed ] The government explicitly prohibits independent trade unions, there is systematic harassment and detention of labor activists, and the leaders of attempted independent unions have been imprisoned. The right to strike is not recognized in law. [50] [51] [52] [ better source needed ]

Bans are enforced by "Rapid Brigades", consisting of members of the army and police in plain clothes, who beat and disperse any demonstrators. [53] [ dead link ]

Society Edit

In 2001 an attempt was made by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and others from the Christian Liberation Movement, operating as the Varela Project, to have a national plebiscite using provisions in the Constitution of Cuba which provided for citizen initiative. If accepted by the government and approved by public vote, the amendments would have established such things as freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of press, as well as starting private businesses. The petition was refused by the National Assembly and in response a referendum was held in support of socialism being a permanent fixture of the constitution, for which the government claimed 99% voter approval. [ citation needed ]

Another important project is the establishment of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba is a coalition of 365 independent civil society groups with the stated aims of forming a democratic culture, developing a social movement, strengthening the Assembly's organization, communicating among groups to promote the civil society, using all available means to combat poverty and seeking the betterment of the community's life conditions, developing a true knowledge of Cuba's history, in all its dimensions: economic, social and political, undertaking activities and projects aimed at the protection and conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem, and promoting a true culture on labor rights. [54] The Assembly had its first meeting in May 2005. [55]

Capital punishment Edit

Cuba placed a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in 1999. However, an exception was made when, in 2003, three Cubans were executed for a ferry hijacking in which Cuban passengers and two young French female tourists were held at gunpoint. The hijackers were attempting to reach Florida, USA in order to seek asylum. No one was harmed in the incident but the gang held knives to the throats and threatened to kill them if the vessel was not given enough fuel to carry them to the United States. [56]

Acts of repudiation Edit

Human rights groups including Amnesty International have long been critical of what the Cuban authorities have termed "Acts of repudiation" (actos de repudio). These acts occur when large groups of citizens verbally abuse, intimidate and sometimes physically assault and throw stones and other objects at the homes of Cubans who are considered counter-revolutionaries. Human rights groups suspect that these acts are often carried out in collusion with the security forces and sometimes involve the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution or the Rapid Response Brigades. The level of violence of these acts have increased significantly since 2003. [57]

Notable prisoners of conscience Edit

  • In 1960, Armando Valladares was working at the Cuban Postal Savings Bank when agents of the Ministry of Communications handed him a card bearing a communist slogan and told him to put it on his worktable. The 23-year-old Valladares refused. Astonished, the agents asked him if he had anything against Castro. Valladares answered that if Castro was a communist, he did. Valladares was convicted on a charge of placing bombs in public places and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. His supporters contend that he was never part of the Batista police as alleged by Castro supporters (because Valladares was only 19 at the time of the revolution), and that his imprisonment was the result of his vocal opposition to the Castro government. Conservative author David Horowitz has called him a "Human Rights Hero." Valladares claims to have been tortured and humiliated while he was on a hunger strike in order to protest against prison abuses he claims the guards denied him water until he became delirious, and they proceeded to urinate in his mouth and on his face. Valladares was released from prison after serving twenty-two years of his sentence upon the intercession of France's Socialist President François Mitterrand.
  • In 1973, gay writer Reinaldo Arenas was sent to prison after being charged and convicted of 'ideological deviation' and for publishing abroad without official consent. He escaped from prison and tried to leave Cuba by launching himself from the shore on a tire inner tube. The attempt failed and he was re-arrested near Lenin Park and imprisoned at the notorious El Morro Castle alongside murderers and rapists. After escaping from Cuba, Arenas described the horrors he endured under the Cuban government in his autobiography Antes que anochezca (1992), English translation Before Night Falls (1993).
  • On August 28, 1998, a Havana court sentenced Reynaldo Alfaro García, a member of the Democratic Solidarity Party, to three years in prison for "spreading enemy propaganda" and "rumour-mongering".
  • Desi Mendoza, a Cuban doctor, was imprisoned for making statements criticizing Cuba's response to an epidemic of dengue fever in Santiago de Cuba which he alleged had caused several deaths. Dr. Mendoza had previously been fired from his job in a Cuban hospital three years earlier for establishing an independent medical association. He was later released due to ill-health, subject to his leaving the country. [58][59] , a medical doctor, has been sentenced to jail for 25 years for his non-violent, but vocal opposition to Castro.
  • In early 2003, dozens of persons, including independent journalists, librarians and other opponents of the Castro government were jailed after summary show trials, with some sentences in excess of 20 years, on the charge of receiving money from the United States in order to carry out anti-government activities.
  • An Amnesty International report, CUBA: fundamental freedoms still under attack from Amnesty International calls for the "Cuban authorities to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally" and to "revoke all legislation that restricts freedom of expression, assembly and association, and to put a halt to all actions to harass and intimidate dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders". was reported to have been released from prison in April 2007 after serving his full sentence of 17 years and 34 days for having, at the age of 25, shouted slogans against Fidel Castro. García Antúnez was convicted of sabotage after authorities accused him of setting fire to sugar cane fields, sabotage, spreading "enemy propaganda", and being in illegal possession of a weapon. [60][61]
  • Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, whom Amnesty International had declared "a prisoner of conscience" and demanded that he be released "immediately and without conditions".
  • On September 2, 2020, Article 19, Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Amnesty International urged the Cuban government to immediately release prisoner of conscience and independent journalist, Roberto Quiñones Haces. Following the trial in August 2019 and he was sentenced to one-year imprisonment for resistance and disobedience concerning his work as an independent journalist. [62]

Travel and immigration Edit

As of January 14, 2013, all Cuban government-imposed travel restrictions and controls have been abolished. [63] [64] Since that date, any Cuban citizen, with a valid passport, can leave the country at will, without let or hindrance from the Cuban authorities. Visa requirements for Cuban citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of Cuba. In 2014, Cuban citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 61 countries and territories, ranking the Cuban passport 69th in the world. Persons holding dual Spanish and Cuban citizenships are now allowed to travel freely, using their Spanish passport in lieu of a visa for countries normally requiring a visa for the Cuban passport. Moreover, ever since that date, the Cuban government extended the allowable time abroad from 11 to 24 months, allowing Cubans who return within the 24-month time frame to retain their status and benefits of "Cuban Resident of the Interior". Should the citizen remain out of Cuba for more than 24 months, then his status would change to "Cuban Resident of the Exterior" and he would lose his privileges within. By this change, there is no longer such a thing as "illegal" or "unauthorized" travel, and therefore persons who leave Cuba via unconventional means (boats etc.) are no longer violating Cuban law, and therefore not subject to detention or imprisonment.

Prior to January 13, 2013, Cuban citizens could not travel abroad, leave or return to Cuba without first obtaining official permission along with applying for a government issued passport and travel visa, which was often denied. [65] Unauthorized travel abroad had sometimes resulted in criminal prosecution. It was common, in those days, that certain citizens who were authorized travel (primarily medical personnel and other professionals deemed essential to the country) were not permitted to take their children with them overseas. In the event that Cuban doctors defect to the United States when they are sent to a "mission" out of Cuba to any foreign country, any children left behind would not be allowed to join their defector parent for a minimum of ten years, even if they had received a foreign visa, and regardless of their age. [65] Castro opposition leader Oswaldo Payá has been allowed to travel abroad to receive his Sakharov Prize, but Ladies in White was not.

Even discussing unauthorized travel carried a six-month prison sentence. [53]

From 1959 through 1993, some 1.2 million Cubans (about 10% of the current population) left the island for the United States, [33] often by sea in small boats and fragile rafts. In the early years, a number of those who could claim dual Spanish-Cuban citizenship left for Spain. Over time a number of Cuban Jews were allowed to emigrate to Israel after quiet negotiations the majority of the 10,000 or so Jews who were in Cuba in 1959 have left. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Cubans now reside in a diverse number of countries, some ending up in countries of the European Union. A large number of Cubans live in Mexico and Canada.

At times the exodus was tolerated by the Cuban government as a "release valve" at other times the government has impeded it. Some Cubans left for economic reasons and some for political ones. Others emigrated by way of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, which is blocked on the Cuban (land) side by barbed-wired fences and land mines.

In 1995 the US government entered into an agreement with the Cuban government to resolve the emigration crisis that created the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, when Castro opened the docks to anyone who wanted to leave. The result of the negotiations was an agreement under which the United States was required to issue 20,000 visas annually to Cuban emigrants. This quota is rarely filled the Bush administration refused to comply with the act, issuing only 505 visas to Cubans in the first six months of 2003. It also blocked some Cubans who have visas.

On July 13, 1994, 72 Cubans attempted to leave the Island on a World War II era tugboat named the 13 de Marzo. In an attempt by the Cuban Navy to stop the tugboat, patrol boats were sent out to intercept the tug. Crewmen and survivors reported that the interception vessels rammed the tugboat and sprayed its passengers with high-pressure fire hoses, sweeping many overboard.

The US Coast Guard reported that the interceptions in high seas have been characterized as violent confrontations with authorities and by the deaths of immigrants. According to the same authorities, the Cubans are taken to the US on speed boats by a network of criminals specialized in human trafficking, former drug traffickers, based in southern Florida which now find contraband of humans more lucrative than drugs. These criminals charge 8 to 12 thousand dollars per person, overcrowding the small vessels. The majority of those that attempt to emigrate are individuals that have relatives in the United States, others who do not qualify to be considered as legal immigrants in the US, or those who do not want to wait their turn in the annual quota, assigned under the migratory treaties for legal immigrants [66]

Since November 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act provides automatic permanent residency for almost all Cubans arriving legally or illegally after one year and one day in the US. No immigrant from any other nation has this privilege. Controversy over this policy centers around the loss of Cuba's scientists, professionals, technicians and other skilled individuals, but it has also prompted concerns of a migratory crisis.

At the end of the 2005 fiscal year which ended September 30, the US Coast Guard Service reported having intercepted 2,712 Cubans at sea, more than double the 1,225 reported in 2004 [66] The figure for 2005 is the third highest of Cubans intercepted in the Florida straights during the last 12 years. The highest had been reported in 1993 with 3,656 and 1994 when over 30,000 Cubans emigrated illegally due to the so-called migratory crisis between the two countries. [66]

The 1994 and 1995 migratory accords signed between Havana and Washington, and which emerged due to the crisis in August 1994, are still in effect. These accords force the US to return all those intercepted at sea by US authorities to Cuba, except the cases in which political persecution can be proven to justify exile in the United States.

The accords were designed to discourage those who would consider emigrating illegally by sea but the Bush administration has not complied with Washington's part of the agreements. [ citation needed ] Although the Coast Guard says that only 2.5 percent of the Cubans intercepted are granted political asylum, the public understanding, the public perception in Cuba and among the Cuban community in Miami, is not the same. And since that is not the perception, more and more people continue to illegally leave the island by sea causing fatal consequences. According to studies carried out by Cuban experts on the island, it is estimated that at least 15 percent of those that attempt to cross the sea die before reaching the US. [66]

However, figures of those fleeing other Latin American or Caribbean countries of origin compare similarly with those of Cuba. During the 2005 fiscal year, 3,612 Dominicans were picked up at high seas attempting to illegally reach the US (900 more than Cubans intercepted) and in 2004, 3,229 Haitians were also picked up (2,000 more than the 1,225 Cubans that fiscal year). The Brazilian daily O Globo published an article on illegal immigrants in the US, quoting official sources, pointing out that during the first semester of 2005, 27,396 Brazilians were stopped from illegally crossing US borders, an average of 4,556 per month and 152 a day. In 2004, a total of 1,160,000 foreigners, were stopped when attempting to illegally enter the US, 93 percent of them (close to 1,080,000) were Mexicans. [66]

Education Edit

Education in Cuba is normally free at all levels and controlled by the Ministry for Education. In 1961 the government nationalized all private educational institutions and introduced a state-directed education system. The system has been criticized for political indoctrination and for monitoring the political opinions of the students.

Strong ideological content is present. The constitution states that educational and cultural policy is based on Marxism. [67]

Healthcare Edit

The Cuban government operates on national health system and assumes full fiscal and administrative responsibility for the health care of its citizens. The government prohibits any private alternatives to the national health system. In 1976, Cuba's healthcare program was enshrined in Article 50 of the revised constitution which states, "Everyone has the right to health protection and care". Healthcare in Cuba is also free.

However, there is no right to privacy, or a patient's informed consent, or the right to protest or sue a doctor or clinic for malpractice. [68] [69] Moreover, the patient does not have right to refuse treatment (for example, a Rastafarian cannot refuse an amputation on grounds that his religion forbids it.) [68] [69] Many Cubans complain about politics in medical treatment and health care decision-making. [68]

After spending nine months in Cuban clinics, anthropologist Katherine Hirschfeld wrote "My increased awareness of Cuba’s criminalization of dissent raised a very provocative question: to what extent is the favorable international image of the Cuban health care system maintained by the state’s practice of suppressing dissent and covertly intimidating or imprisoning would-be critics?" [68]

Family doctors are expected to keep records of their patients' "political integration." [69] Epidemiological surveillance has become juxtaposed with political surveillance. [69]

Religious freedom Edit

In the years following the Cuban Revolution, the activities of the Roman Catholic Church were severely limited and in 1961 all property held by religious organizations was confiscated without compensation. Hundreds of members of the clergy, including a bishop, were permanently expelled from the nation. The Cuban leadership was officially atheist until 1992 when the Communist Party agreed to allow religious followers to join the party. In 1998, Pope John Paul II visited the island and was allowed to conduct large outdoor masses and visas were issued for nineteen foreign priests taking up residence in the country. In addition, other religious groups in Cuba such as the Jewish community are now permitted to hold public services and to import religious materials and kosher food for Passover, as well as to receive rabbis and other religious visitors from abroad. In October 2008, Cuba marked the opening of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Havana in a ceremony attended by Raúl Castro, Vice President Esteban Lazo, Parliament leader Ricardo Alarcón, and other figures. [70] The Cuban press noted that the cathedral was the first of its kind in Latin America. [70]

Rights of women Edit

Women have high representation in the country, with women holding 48.9% of the parliamentary seats in the Cuban National Assembly. [71]

Torture Edit

The Cuban Foundation for Human Rights [ clarification needed ] , directed by Juan Carlos González Leiva, reports torture of female prisoners in Cuba. [72] [ undue weight? – discuss ]

About the torture in Cuba, in 2005 a group of culture personalities, including several Nobel Prize laureates, have signed an appeal on The Guardian in defense of Cuba, claiming that "the government of the US has no moral authority to elect itself as the judge over human rights in Cuba, where there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959, and where despite the economic blockade, there are levels of health, education and culture that are internationally recognised." The appeal is signed, for example, by Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, José Saramago, Claudio Abbado, Manu Chao, Walter Salles, Nadine Gordimer, Harold Pinter, Tariq Ali, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Ernesto Cardenal, Alice Walker, Ramsey Clark and Danielle Mitterrand. [73] However, the American Center for a Free Cuba claimed the opposite. [74] [ undue weight? – discuss ]

Esteban Morales Dominguez has pointed to institutionalized racism in his book The Challenges of the Racial Problem in Cuba (Fundación Fernando Ortiz). Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba discusses the racial politics prevalent in communist Cuba. [75]

Enrique Patterson, writing in the Miami Herald, describes race as a "social bomb" and he says, "If the Cuban government were to permit black Cubans to organize and raise their problems before [authorities] . totalitarianism would fall". [76] Carlos Moore, who has authored extensively on the issue, says that "There is an unstated threat, blacks in Cuba know that whenever you raise race in Cuba, you go to jail. Therefore the struggle in Cuba is different. There cannot be a civil rights movement. You will have instantly 10,000 black people dead". [76] He says that a new generation of black Cubans are looking at politics in another way. [76]

Jorge Luis García Pérez, a well-known Afro-Cuban human rights and democracy activist who was imprisoned for 17 years, in an interview with the Florida-based [77] Directorio Democrático Cubano states "The authorities in my country have never tolerated that a black person oppose the revolution. During the trial, the color of my skin aggravated the situation. Later when I was mistreated in prison by guards, they always referred to me as being black". [77]

Despite these barriers however, Cuba has often times been praised in many circles for what were seen as the advances of the Cuban Revolution in the areas of racial equality. Many of the reforms that Castro introduced in the areas such as employment,wages,education,social security as well as the abolition of segregation in businesses and public spaces. In the areas of education for instance, the proportion of high school graduates was actually higher among blacks than among whites in Cuba, whereas the opposite was true in both Brazil and the United States. [78] In the area of life expectancy, The life expectancy of nonwhite Cubans was only one year lower than that of whites life expectancy was basically identical for all racial groups. A powerful indicator of social wellbeing, linked to access to health services (as reflected, particularly, in infant mortality), nutrition and education, the Cuban race gap in life expectancy was significantly lower than those found in more affluent multiracial societies such as Brazil (about 6.7 years) and the United States (about 6.3 years) during the same period. [79] .Because of these social reforms the Afro Cuban population is the healthiest longest living black population in the world. [80] In the area of national leadership the vestiges of the pre revolutionary era are still visible when it comes to the question of colour, with Afro Cubans having yet to achieve parity when it comes to representation. Nevertheless reforms have been introduced since in the 1970s when Castro "worked to increase the number of Afro-Cuban political representatives, with the percentage of Black members on the Council of State expanding from 12.9% in 1976 to 25.8% by 2003". [81]

In March 2003, the government of Cuba arrested dozens of people (including self-identified journalists and human rights activists), and charged them with sedition due to their alleged cooperation with James Cason, head of the United States Interests Section in Havana. [82] The accused were tried and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 28 years. In all, 75 people were given lengthy sentences averaging 17 years each. Among those sentenced were Raúl Rivero, Marta Beatriz Roque, and Oscar Elías Biscet. Amnesty International described the trials as "hasty and manifestly unfair." [83]

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque denied these accusations and responded: "Cuba has the right to defend itself and apply punishment just like other nations do, like the United States punishes those who cooperate with a foreign power to inflict damage on their people and territory." [84]

During the trial, evidence was presented that the defendants had received funds from the U.S. Interests Section. Cuban officials claim that the goal of this funding was to undermine the Cuban state, disrupt internal order, and damage the Cuban economy. For his part, Cason denies offering funds to anyone in Cuba.

On November 29, 2004, the Cuban government released three of those arrested in the March 2003: Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Marcelo López, and Margarito Broche. The action followed a meeting between the Spanish ambassador and Cuba's foreign minister. [85] In subsequent days four more dissidents were released: Raúl Rivero, Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés, [86] Edel José García [87] and Jorge Olivera. [88] Seven other prisoners had previously been released for health reasons.

Thousands of homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, conscientious objectors, and dissidents were forced to conduct their compulsory military service in the 1960s at UMAP camps, where they were subject to political "reeducation". [69] [89] Military commanders brutalized the inmates. [90] Carlos Alberto Montaner says "Camps of forced labour were instituted with all speed to "correct" such deviations . Verbal and physical mistreatment, shaved heads, work from dawn to dusk, hammocks, dirt floors, scarce food . The camps became increasingly crowded as the methods of arrest became more expedient". [69]

In the late 1960s, because of "revolutionary social hygiene", the Castro government claimed to cleanse the arts of "fraudulent sodomitic" writers and "sick effeminate" dancers. [90] Additionally, men with long hair were locked up and their hair was cut. [90]

Castro is reported to once have asserted that, "in the country[side], there are no homosexuals", before claiming in 1992 that homosexuality is a "natural human tendency that must simply be respected". [91] Another source reports Castro as having denounced "maricones" ("faggots") as "agents of imperialism". [92] Castro has also reportedly asserted that "homosexuals should not be allowed in positions where they are able to exert influence upon young people". [93]

Recent changes Edit

Cuba has taken some reforms in 21st century. [94] In 2003, Carlos Sanchez from the International Lesbian and Gay Association issued a report on the status of gay people in Cuba that claimed that the Cuban government no longer offers any legal punishment for its gay citizens, that there is a greater level of tolerance among Cubans for gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and that the Cuban government was open to endorsing a gay and lesbian rights plank at the United Nations. [95] Since 2005 sex reassignment surgeries for transgender individuals are free under law, and are paid for by the government. [96] [97] Also Havana now has a "lively and vibrant" gay and lesbian scene. [98]

In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Fidel Castro, called the persecution of homosexuals whilst he was in power "a great injustice, great injustice!" Taking responsibility for the persecution, he said, "If anyone is responsible, it's me . We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments I was not able to deal with that matter [of homosexuals]. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions." Castro personally believed that the negative treatment of gays in Cuba arose out of the country's pre-revolutionary attitudes toward homosexuality. [99]

Mariela Castro, daughter of Communist Party First Secretary Raúl Castro, has been pushing for lesbian rights with the pro-lesbian government sponsored Cuban National Center for Sexual Education which she leads. Mariela has stated her father fully supports her initiatives, saying that her father has overcome his initial homophobia to support his daughter. [100]

Cuban human rights have been repeatedly discussed and debated in the United Nations Human Rights Commission since the Cuban Revolution. It would become a recurring flashpoint in the backdrop of international dynamic during the Cold War and into the years following.


White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made headlines on March 9, when she said that Cuba was “not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” The second half of her answer got less attention, though it was equally significant: “…but we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy.” Shortly thereafter, a senior official reaffirmed her comment, saying that the president would “make human rights a fundamental pillar of his foreign policy,” not just in Cuba but across the Americas.

This is no surprise. Biden has been an advocate for human rights throughout his political career, and this position on Cuba echoes what he said during the campaign. But human rights policies don’t happen in a vacuum they are one component of a broader bilateral relationship and their effectiveness depends upon that context.

Biden acknowledged as much when he criticized President Trump for imposing tougher economic sanctions against Cuba, arguing they had “inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” That was also the central argument President Barack Obama advanced for his 2014 policy of normalizing relations with Havana—that sixty years of trying to promote democracy through coercive diplomacy simply had not worked.

Cuban leaders have always rejected foreign demands that they reform their politics. To them, such demands are an infringement on Cuba’s sovereignty. When U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorate and Washington tightens the embargo, the Cuban government reacts like most governments under attack by foreign enemies. A siege mentality takes hold and internal dissent is regarded as akin to treason — a reaction exacerbated by Washington’s material support for some dissidents, which puts all dissidents under suspicion of being Fifth Columnists.

But the history of Havana’s relations with both the United States and the European Union also shows that when relations are warming, Cuban leaders have acted unilaterally to improve human rights in order to reinforce the positive momentum. President Jimmy Carter put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, and, when he opened a dialogue with Havana, Fidel Castro released more than 2,000 political prisoners, many jailed since the early 1960s. Castro’s negotiator told U.S. officials the gesture was explicitly a response to Carter’s concern about human rights and his willingness to improve relations.

In President Bill Clinton’s second term, he took steps to reduce tensions by relaxing the embargo on travel and on cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges. In Cuba, the government’s repression of dissidents eased noticeably, prompting the senior U.S. diplomat in Havana, Vicki Huddleston, to describe it as a “Cuban Spring” — an opening that closed again when President George W. Bush returned to a policy of hostility.

When President Raúl Castro was trying to negotiate a new economic cooperation agreement with the European Union in 2010, he responded positively to requests from Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Cuban Catholic Church and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to release 52 political prisoners jailed since 2003 for allegedly collaborating with the Bush administration’s regime change policy.

As part of Castro’s agreement with President Obama to begin normalizing relations, Castro released 53 prisoners that were of interest to the United States because of their anti-regime political activity. He also kept a promise to accelerate the expansion of Internet access on the island, which fostered the emergence of independent blogs and news services that increased the Cuban public’s access to information unfiltered by state media. Cuban private businesses flourished during this period, something the Obama administration regarded as an important vehicle for expanding economic freedom on the island and freeing Cubans from dependence on a state salary.

The lesson for the Biden administration as it conducts its review of Cuba policy is two-fold. First, not only does heightened coercion not produce human rights gains in Cuba, it makes the situation worse. Second, a policy of engagement that improves bilateral relations overall creates an atmosphere in which human rights progress is more likely — not guaranteed, but more likely.

By no means does engagement mean abandoning the U.S. commitment to human rights. Administration officials can and should continue to emphasize the centrality of human rights to the president’s overall foreign policy, underscoring that engagement will advance faster and farther if the human rights situation on the island improves.

A policy of engagement will enable Washington to resume the bilateral dialogue with Havana on human rights that President Obama began and President Trump abandoned. It will also make it possible for the United States to coordinate with our European allies, who have an ongoing consultation with Cuba on human rights issues under the terms of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement the European Union signed with Cuba in 2016.

No one should expect these conversations to be easy, but they provide a forum in which the United States can directly raise issues of concern, ranging from prison conditions, the harassment of dissidents, and the demonization of independent media, to the conditions under which Cuban medical personnel serve abroad and the discriminatory treatment of Cuban Americans visiting the island.

In 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the countries of Europe signed the Helsinki Accords aimed at reducing Cold War tensions. Critics argued that the agreement rewarded the Soviet Union because it recognized the political status quo in Europe. But the accord’s real significance turned out to be the human rights provisions. Though unenforceable, they created an ongoing opportunity for human rights discussion and debate among the signatories, and they legitimized the demands of human rights advocates inside individual countries. In short, détente created the conditions that made human rights progress possible. That’s a precedent the Biden administration should keep in mind as it formulates a new policy toward Cuba.

Programs and Publications

Our efforts in Washington D.C. continued as we sent government officials 35 weekly bulletins highlighting ongoing human rights abuses in Cuba. Other publications were submitted as continuing education bulletins as well, including reports on prisons and prisoner treatment, the role of the Cuban Government in the movement against democracy, and the human trafficking of Cuban doctors and other professionals.

Our efforts to educate the public using video continued to expand. Sixteen videos were produced and posted on Facebook, including profiles of government repressors, highlights on the importance of non-violent activism, and recorded workshops discussing Cuba’s corrupt relationships with Venezuela, Russia, China, and Iran.

In the first quarter of 2019 a detailed report on Cuba’s abduction of Venezuela, “Cubazuela, A Chronicle of a Cuban Intervention”, was researched and written by our staffers and contributors.

During 2018, FHRC’S Cuban Repressors program continued to bring accountability to Cuban government officials who abuse their power. Photos and personal data of corrupt and abusive bureaucrats and police officers are submitted to our database. Thanks to information we provided, two Cuban violent repressors residing in Tampa and Gainesville, Florida, are being investigated by the FBI and DHS (ICE)

Our Cuban Repressors Database has identified and exposed 97 of these perpetrators thus far, including members of State Security and Rapid-Response Brigades, high ranking military officers working undercover in Venezuela and white-collar repressors who abuse their positions to harass political dissenters.

Besides Cuban Repressors, FHRC currently works in another five Cuba-related programs: Conflict Resolution, training Cubans to pressure authorities to resolve their needs Human Trafficking, aimed to stop the slave-like, exploitation of Cuban professionals Microcredits, to give Cubans entrepreneurs the necessary resources to start a business, Connect Cuba, to help Cubans overcome the information and technology barriers, and Contests, to promote and evaluate independent thinking on the reality of the island.

American criticism of Cuba on human rights is total hypocrisy, given U.S. history of terrorizing the island

By Ben Norton
Published November 30, 2016 12:59PM (EST)

(Reuters/Shane T. McCoy)


Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died this week at age 90. The former Cuban president, known to his countrymen as El Comandante, survived 10 U.S. presidential administrations — and also hundreds of assassination attempts by the CIA.

After he helped establish the Republic of Cuba in a 1959 revolution against a U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorship, many players in the U.S. government criticized the socialist leader and his new administration — and so it remained for decades.

Immediately after Castro's death, President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to dismiss Castro as a "brutal dictator"— days before he made the draconian proposal that Americans should lose their citizenship for burning the U.S. flag in protest (an activity protected by the Constitution).

In February, when President Barack Obama eased some of the U.S. government's harsh sanctions against Cuba after five decades, he condemned the human rights record of the tiny island nation. "America will always stand for human rights around the world," he insisted.

This is ludicrous to hear from the leader of a country that's now bombing six Muslim-majority countries and helping grind impoverished, hunger-stricken Yemen into dust. Not to mention that Obama leads a superpower that imprisons the most people in the world, forces refugees and migrants into privatized, for-profit, internment camp-like detention centers and deports millions of them. Plus the U.S. props up brutal dictatorships in the Gulf and beyond and unarmed black people are repeatedly killed by police and indigenous "water protectors" are brutalized.

Yet the hypocrisy of the U.S. criticizing Cuba over human rights is even harder to grasp when one considers that the part of Cuba with the worst human rights practices is the area controlled by the U.S.

At the Guantánamo Bay naval base, the U.S. has imprisoned hundreds of people without trial many have been tortured. President Obama has pledged countless times to close it he campaigned in 2008 on such a promise. Yet it remains open — with many of its former prisoners released, but still open nonetheless.

The Cuban government considers the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay to be on illegally occupied turf. The U.S. considers Guantánamo its rightful property after all, the U.S. seized it when it turned Cuba from a Spanish colony into a de facto U.S. colony in the bloody Spanish-American War of 1898.

Torture is by no means the only human rights abuse committed on this soil, nor are U.S. crimes from the post-9/11 period. In the early 1990s, Guantánamo Bay was used to detain Haitian refugees who had fled a regime initiated by a CIA-backed coup in their impoverished country. The administrations of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton used the HIV/AIDS scare to justify forcing tens of thousands of desperate Haitians into what a U.S. federal judge described as a squalid "HIV prison camp."

A legacy of U.S.-backed terrorism

The evident contradiction of American politicians making such moralistic pronouncements is further compounded by the history of U.S.-backed terrorism in Cuba.

As Salon detailed in a previous story, the U.S. has terrorized Cuba for more than 50 years, since Castro led the revolution that freed his country from the yoke of American imperialism. Scholar Noam Chomsky has called U.S. policy in Cuba a “terrorist campaign” and a decades-long “murderous terrorist war.”

In 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Garry Wills wrote in The New York Times about the U.S. “campaign of terror and sabotage directed against Castro.” Even establishment historian Arthur Schlesinger, who advised president John Kennedy and his brother Robert, spoke of the U.S. attempt to unleash “the terrors of the earth” on postrevolutionary Cuba.

Two years after the Cuban revolution of 1959, the U.S. launched a military invasion of island, attempting to violently overthrow a government that it admitted was very popular and killing and wounding hundreds of Cubans, perhaps thousands according to some estimates.

Former U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy wrote in notes about a 1961 White House meeting, "My idea is to stir things up on island with espionage, sabotage, gender disorder, run & operated by Cubans themselves." He added that that “no time, money, effort — or manpower — be spared.” People at the White House meeting discussed using chemicals to incapacitate Cuban sugar workers and considered encouraging “gangster elements” on the island.

What has been the U.S. government's goal since then? Since the 1960s, it has strived to, in the words of Lester Mallory, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, "bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow" of Cuba's revolutionary government, to "decrease monetary and real wages" through "disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship."

In order to do so, the U.S. imposed a destructive and crippling unilateral embargo on Cuba for 55 years, an embargo that has taken a huge toll on the country' civilian population and that that has been vigorously opposed by much of the international community.

The U.S. pressure has not just been economic it has often been violent. From 1959 to 2006, the CIA reportedly pursued at least 638 assassination attempts against Castro, according to Cuban intelligence. The documentary film "638 Ways to Kill Castro," produced by the U.K.'s public media network Channel 4, detailed a vast array of failed murder strategies organized by the United States.

Cuban civilians have also been killed by right-wing terrorists trained by the CIA and harbored by the U.S. government: Luis Posada Carriles, called "the Osama bin Laden of Latin America," previously worked for the CIA — though the FBI later designated him a terrorist. A declassified U.S. government document shows Posada Carriles likely planned the 1976 bombing of Cubana airlines' Flight 455, which killed 73 people. Today, he lives in Miami, according to Diario Las Américas.

Similarly, when asked in "638 Ways to Kill Castro" if he had been behind the civilian airliner bombing, U.S.-backed exiled Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch replied, "I'm supposed to say no," before going on to insist that anything is justified in war against Castro. Bosch infamously declared, “All of Castro’s planes are warplanes,” including civilian Cuban aircraft. Even Dick Thornburgh, U.S. attorney general under presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior, called Bosch “an unrepentant terrorist.” (Bosch died of old age in Miami in 2011.)

U.S. plots to destabilize and overthrow Cuba's government have continued through the Obama administration, through the terms of all presidents, regardless of party. In 2014, two more schemes were exposed — one relying on a fake Twitter-like website created by the U.S. Agency for International Development to spread anti-government misinformation and another involving infiltration of Cuba's hip-hop scene in an effort to stir up dissent.

In other words, after 57 years and countless foiled plots, the most powerful country in the world failed to crush a country that waged a revolution against it, and a tiny island nation that withstood its constant wrath.

Despite the incredible hardship and the concerted effort to destroy it, Cuba has endured. It still managed to create some of the best health care and education systems in the world. The revolution transformed a former U.S. colony plagued by health problems, illiteracy and extremely uneven development into a country with the best education system in Latin America and one with a lower infant mortality rate than that of the U.S.

Yes, Cuba does not have the standards of living of industrialized Western countries. But these countries developed their economies through centuries of colonialism, imperialism, enslavement of human beings and brutal exploitation of foreign lands. Comparisons to Cuba are almost always out of context it is not contrasted with neighboring countries like, say, Haiti (where the U.S. has backed two coups since 1991 and worked with multinational corporations to block a minimum wage increase to a paltry .62 an hour).

There would be much to gain from a nuanced discussion of Castro's legacy — preferably one conducted by the Cuban people itself. There should be a hard look both at the enormous benefits and gains of but also at the real failures and problems with the Cuban government. Yet the U.S. is in no position to make such judgments it has tried ceaselessly for more than five decades to crush that government.

Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

Cuba: 60 Years of Revolution, 60 Years of Oppression

Last month, the Cuban regime reportedly released over 6,500 prisoners to curb the spread of COVID-19. It was also reported that more than 300 people were imprisoned for “spreading an epidemic” by refusing to wear face masks.

It is unclear whether political prisoners were among those granted an “early release,” but pursuant to a petition signed by Cuban organizations operating in exile, political prisoners continue to be subjected to the most deplorable conditions during the pandemic.

The Cuban regime’s actions clearly demonstrate the implementation of repressive policies under the guise of “modernization” — further entrenching the government’s totalitarian dictatorship.

I n troduction

Cuba is the largest island in the West Indies archipelago, positioned at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Roughly 90 miles north of the country is the United States’ Straits of Florida.

Cuba has been under authoritarian rule since 1952, when dictator Fulgencio Batista took power. As Batista made fortunes and built up his influence over the country, he developed a reputation as a corrupt and ruthless ruler. He controlled the press, suspended free and fair elections, and banned protests. Batista was overthrown in 1959 by a coup d’état, or “revolution” led by Fidel Castro, which resulted in Castro’s political domination, and condemned the island to continued isolation from the rest of the world, even today.

Castro imposed severe internet censorship and state-controlled media regulations, and the Cuban government continues to have the most repressive media conditions in the Americas. Reporters Without Borders ranked Cuba 171 out of 180 countries on its 2020 Press Freedom Index.

Behind Castro’s revolutionary image was a lethal intent: he used his influence as an oppressor to persecute and punish those who engaged in dissent and opposed his dictatorship. Fundamental freedoms — particularly civil and political rights — were abused, and thousands of Cubans were imprisoned, beaten, and executed.

In the 1960s, the regime even went as far as profiting off of these executions by harvesting the blood of political prisoners prior to their execution. Roughly seven pints of blood were harvested from each prisoner, resulting in their state of paralysis. They were then lifted on stretchers, executed by firing squad, and buried in common graves. The Cuban government proceeded to sell their blood at $50/pint to Communist Vietnam.

Not even children were spared from the waves of arbitrary imprisonment and execution. According to Cuba Archives, at least 22 minors were killed by firing squad and 32 by extrajudicial killings under Castro’s regime.

These horrific acts of exploitation and injustice are only glimpses into Castro’s dark legacy.

Political Regime Type

At the end of 1958, Fidel Castro and his rebel forces began the process of ousting Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Their efforts and preparation, however, had begun years earlier when Batista canceled the 1952 Cuban elections and seized power. Fidel Castro, who was running for a seat in congress, was thus deprived of his opportunity to be elected. He subsequently began leading a “Movement” to purportedly return the Caribbean island to a democratic nation.

In January 1959, Fidel Castro and his rebel forces — including Raúl Castro, Ché Guevera, and Camilo Cienfuegos — finally entered Havana and began to centralize their power, unilaterally determining how the country would operate. Although Castro claimed to be a democratic nationalist, his consolidated power quickly led to the rounding up and execution of approximately 500 remaining Batista officials.

Fidel Castro became largely influenced by socialism and communism. After demolishing the remains of Batista’s era, he quickly allied with the Soviet Union, which provided Cuba with substantial agricultural support and subsidies. The two countries’ alignment provoked the United States during the Cold War era and brought about international events including the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition, the United States imposed a trade embargo in 1962.

Castro’s government formally proclaimed Cuba a socialist state in 1961. The announcement was made one month after the failed United States-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, which resulted in the imprisonment and execution of hundreds of anti-Castro rebels. Fidel Castro then declared the annulment of elections, which consolidated his power and was later enshrined in Cuba’s 1976 constitution.

The 1976 constitution, which formally entrenched socialist domination, was inspired by the ideologies of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Criticism toward the constitution was rooted in how it was drafted, and the mechanism that determined its approval. Lack of citizen participation regarding the drafting of the constitution was a major deficit. The referendum was established by the Communist Party and the National Assembly — overseen by Fidel Castro — whose members were not elected publicly. The constitution, which controlled every aspect of citizens’ way of life, ultimately gave the regime the capacity to crush any and all dissent.

Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba entered into what was euphemistically called a Special Period, which included food rationing, gasoline shortages, and the proliferation of small-scale gardens for Cubans to meet basic nutritional needs, among other things. While spreading propaganda internationally about the implementation of universal health care and education, he left Cubans without economic opportunities and liberty, which was particularly devastating during the Special Period.

Half a decade later, Cuba’s economy began to stabilize as its human rights record continued to decline. In 2003, Cuba’s “Black Spring” drew international condemnation when 75 journalists were arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and detained. These journalists were held on spurious charges, subjected to show trials, barred from consulting with legal counsel outside of the courtroom, and denied medical care while in prison. Many of these political prisoners languished in prison for years. Among them was human rights activist Omar Rodriguez, who was arrested for his involvement in the Varela Project, a draft bill spearheaded by prodemocracy activist Oswaldo Payá that proposed a referendum in which Cubans would decide on reforms that would enable the effective respect of fundamental rights.

That same week, three men attempted to reach the United States by hijacking a ferry. Days later — after a show trial — they were executed by firing squad for what the government claimed to be acts of terrorism. Four other men who had aided in appropriating the boat were sentenced to life in prison.

The Cuban regime’s systematic repression represents the widespread sense of injustice that permeates the island. For example, Cuba’s anti-expression law, Decree 349 — one of the first laws signed by Mr. Díaz-Canel — came into force in 2018 and requires artists, musicians, and writers to receive governmental approval prior to presenting their work publicly or even in the privacy of their homes. The decree allows the Ministry of Culture to suspend performances and advise on cancelling the authorization to engage in artistic work altogether. These judgments can only be appealed before the very same Ministry of Culture, as opposed to an independent and impartial body.

Decree 349 builds on an already existing system of laws and regulations that threaten freedom of expression. The Decree is wholly inconsistent with international human rights standards, jeopardizes free speech and liberty, and is ultimately intended to silence voices that criticize the government. The law’s language is extremely broad and prohibits, for example, the “use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation” and “anything that violates the legal provisions that regulate the normal development of our society in cultural matters.”

In February 2019, the 1976 constitution was replaced with a new constitution through an orchestrated referendum process. Approximately 86.9% of voters of the roughly 8 million who voted, supported the referendum.

While a voter turnout of nearly 87% would be considered very high for democracies around the world, in Cuba’s case, it’s the natural outcome of a tightly controlled process whose sole purpose is to secure a predetermined result.

Government officials go door-to-door coaxing citizens to go to the polls, and political dissident Antonio Rodiles notes that voter turnout is typically extremely high “because even though people know it’s theater, they also know that they keep track of who votes.” Michael Svetlik, vice-president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, confirms that elections are typically rigged in authoritarian regimes, and that citizens vote out of fear of punishment. The Cuban regime’s system is no exception there are no political opposition parties or secret votes to challenge the constitution or regime, so referendums are not free or fair.

Dissidents, who deemed the political process fraudulent, reported that citizens were temporarily detained for either voting “no” or abstaining from voting altogether. The referendum triggered arbitrary arrests across the country and led to the detention of over 400 citizens, as well as a minimum of “48 acts of harassment and 12 physical attacks.”

The police also raided homes of opposition activists and threatened dissidents, warning that “the next time they will end up in a jail cell,” when referring to activists who had given a workshop on voting observation. José Daniel Ferrer, for example, who promoted the “No” vote in a public park, was detained and, alongside 70 other members of his organization, went on hunger strike to protest the Cuban government’s monolithic state.

The new constitution preserves Cuba’s one-party socialist system and is “committed to never returning to capitalism as a regime,” yet this time openly endorses foreign investment (Article 28). While in theory the new constitution reflects some of the proposed changes that were put forth by Cuban citizens, Cuba’s authoritarian regime continues to actively oppress Cuban citizens by withholding fundamental rights of expression.

For example, citizens campaigned for a constitution that would pave the way for same-sex marriage. However, the Drafting Commission removed gender-neutral descriptions of marriage and left members of the LGBTQ community without equal rights. In addition, Cuban citizens are able to “combat through any means, including armed combat when other means are not available, against any that intend to topple the political, social, and economic order.” The term “topple,” however, is not defined in the constitution and could be used broadly to target dissidents for political reasons. Furthermore, while the state now prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Article 42), protects women from gender violence, and safeguards their sexual and reproductive rights (Article 43), gender and sexual equality continue to be theoretical and abstract improvements. Women are consistently excluded as decision makers, and fall victim to horrific forms of domestic abuse that have only escalated during the COVID-19 quarantine. Yoani Sánchez, a celebrated Cuban blogger and prodemocracy activist, provides a list of resources that Cuban women so desperately need including, shelters for battered women, fair pay, and the opportunity to assume government positions.

Perhaps most notably, the new constitution limits the president’s term to two consecutive periods of five years and highlights that, similar to parliamentary systems, the president will be selected by the National Assembly (Article 126), which may seem like a significant change from the previous era of Castro rule for nearly six decades. However, in practice, the Cuban regime remains a fully authoritarian regime without an independent judiciary or lawful administration of justice by which to hold the government accountable.

The Economy

Fidel Castro relinquished most of his power in 2008, and appointed his hand-picked successor, his brother, Raúl Castro, as Head of State. Raúl’s presidency supposedly resulted in the expansion of the economy, allowing for foreign investment, the buying and selling of property, and permitted entrepreneurs to open small businesses. In addition, Cubans gained access to cellphones, computers, and the internet.

In 2014, Raúl Castro and then-President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced a prisoner exchange and the restoration of diplomatic relations, further presenting the façade of a modernizing Cuba. However, in the background of these developments, Raúl Castro continued to implement many of the abusive tactics that his brother had relied on. For example, a “dangerousness law,” gives the state permission to incarcerate citizens based on a suspicion that they might perpetrate crimes in the future, rather than on the basis of actually having committed a crime. The existence of such legislation allows for an overly broad application of the law, thus enabling the regime to crackdown on various forms of dissent.

Critics of the Cuban regime assert that Raúl’s presidency did not result in the expansion of the economy, and that reforms have been slow and subject to several restrictions. Roughly 12 percent of the country’s G.D.P, generated through private businesses, is heavily controlled by the state. Ministries that operate on national, provincial, and municipal levels have the authority to oversee and report on private businesses under their jurisdictions. These ministries subject business owners to overwhelming requirements and permit government officials to enforce heavy fines, suspend licenses, and seize properties. Furthermore, Cuban citizens are only permitted to acquire one license for one business, blocking them from diversifying their trades.

Other regulations that have prevented the growth of the private sector or imposed restrictions on it include the demand that private taxi drivers document their fuel purchases from government gas stations, preventing them from purchasing fuel on the black market. The informal economy, however, provides a critical means for innovation, autonomy, and entrepreneurialism that is otherwise stifled by state control. In addition, restaurants and bars have set capacities at 50 customers. Furthermore, daycare centers must apportion a minimum of two square meters per child, with no more than six children per daycare aide. Perhaps most damaging, are the laws that enforce an upward-sloping wage scale. Wages increase as more employees are hired, becoming acutely expensive and inaccessible to the average business owner, who earns a salary of roughly $32 per month. Meanwhile, farmers are forced to sell their crops at prices set by the state and that are below market value, rather than being allowed to sell their crops at prices set by supply and demand.

Amid a deepening economic crisis, the government imposed price controls that apply to state-run companies, as well as private sector cooperatives, farmers, small businesses, and self-employed citizens. Pork, for example, which was previously set at 65 pesos per pound is now set at 45 pesos per pound, illustrating the loss of income that farmers have to bear when their monthly wages are already so meager. “With the new prices we are super asphyxiated because the farmer who moves his pigs to Havana still charges 28 pesos a pound,” said Mr. Soler, who is a Cuban butcher. These measures of control indicate the government’s unwillingness to support the expansion of the economy, and, according to Paul Hare, the former British ambassador to Cuba, they also indicate that the Cuban regime is worried about the influence of self-employed and cooperative businesses in the agricultural sector. The government’s control over supply and demand creates an economy that does not conform to citizens’ needs, and effectively damages their standard of life.

The state’s control over the private sector confirms that the regime’s expansion of the economy is deeply superficial. Rather than promoting a capital-rich and diversified economy, the state suppresses any competition against its political interests.

In 2018, Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro as President of Cuba. He is the first person outside of the Castro family to take power since the Cuban Revolution over half a century ago. His election, however, did not take place in the context of a free and fair election. He was selected by the National Assembly as their sole candidate, which ensured his appointment and the continuation of Cuba’s one-party state.

While cell phones, computers, and the internet exist within Cuba’s economy, President Miguel Díaz-Canel continues to restrict Cuban citizens’ access to the mobile internet through prohibitively high pricing four gigabytes of data, for example, cost roughly $30 per month, which is equivalent to the average monthly salary of most citizens. The internet also continues to be heavily censored by the state. The Cuban regime actively blocks independent news, as well as websites that oppose the government and advocate for fundamental reform.

Healthcare and Education

The Cuban Revolution may be seen by some as having transformed the country, in terms of both challenging foreign interests and policy and how Cubans structure their daily lives, inspiring many who have stayed in the country, as the state has claimed to make improvements to healthcare, education, and literacy, and initiated international humanitarian missions.

However, the Cuban Revolution has also pushed millions of people to leave the country. Sixty-one years after Fidel Castro’s coup d’état, the revolution’s darker legacy continues to pervade Cuban society. The state’s revered social system is simultaneously a system of near-universal poverty. Universal healthcare and education mean little if medical products are depleted, if machinery is outdated, and if buildings are crumbling. Sources convey that medicines are missing, and that entire shelves at pharmacies are bare. Those who fall ill are often expected to bring their own sheets, food, and water to the hospital.

Hilda Molina, the former chief neurosurgeon in Cuba, has lamented over the state of Cuba’s health sector and described the politicization of the health system by the Cuban regime, where control is exerted over medical and scientific institutions, universities, and professionals. Within this context, medical statistics are managed — and often falsified — by the state, as opposed to independent experts. Dr. Molina also revealed that sewage and garbage are often strewn along streets, contaminating the country’s drinking water supply and further entrenching deficient and dangerous health conditions.

The Cuban regime hinders doctors’ capabilities under a highly controlled system that stifles medical progress. The country’s closed society bars health care professionals from traveling, consulting, and engaging with other medical experts in the international community, which affects their ability to receive up-to-date information and collaborate with others in innovative ways.

While Cuba’s “esteemed” medical missions are often doted on by the media and host governments around the world — including a recent COVID-19 mission to Italy — they are unjust as they represent a modern form of slavery. Cuban doctors commonly share stories of their forced participation into Cuba’s medical missions and describe strict regulations enforced by the Cuban regime in order to prevent them from defecting while they are overseas. They report being surveilled by Cuban authorities while abroad, having their passports confiscated, and being subjected to horrific forms of intimidation, including sexual harassment and abuse. Some doctors have revealed that they were stationed in areas infiltrated by criminal gangs, and were threatened at gunpoint. Despite their perseverance through these dangerous conditions, doctors are only paid a fraction of what they are owed, while the rest of their remuneration is funneled back to the Cuban regime. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons even noted that, “forced labor constitutes a contemporary form of slavery,” in their letter to the Cuban regime in 2019.

In addition, Cuban doctors have noted that they are often coerced into falsifying statistics and political propagandizing. Doctors are forced to falsify statistics while they are overseas — inventing patients and clinic visits — because amplifying their medical missions’ efficacy permits Cuban officials to demand more payment from various host countries. Thaymi Rodríguez, a dentist who was stationed in Venezuela, confesses that she was obligated to see 18 patients a day, but might only see five. As a result, she would have to throw away leftover medicine, “because we simply had to,” expressing how painful it was to throw away medicine in countries where it is so greatly needed.

These abuses revealed by Cuban doctors, coerced into participating in the state’s medical missions, highlight the Cuban regime’s exportation of corruption and exploitation abroad.

As for the education system, sources contend that Fidel Castro did not help Cuban citizens achieve literacy. Cuba already had near-universal education and high literacy rates prior to the revolution in 1959. In addition, according to data collected by Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus of Pittsburgh University and expert on Cuba, the economic crisis of the 1990s — which caused the economy to plummet by 35% — resulted in the deterioration of the education system. Cuba’s education system has yet to recover, and education indicators remain below 1989 levels.

In addition, low wages and lack of incentives prompt teachers to emigrate or abandon their professions for more lucrative opportunities. Educators’ salaries are insufficient to maintain an adequate quality of life, and serve to reinforce an educational system that is deeply flawed and unjust. The Cuban regime controls the education sector to promote a revolutionary psychology that in turn sustains the socialist state. As Fidel Castro once said: “The universities are only available to those who share my revolutionary beliefs.”

Case Studies

As has been made clear, Cuba is not a democratic country where there is independence and separation of powers. Under this type of regime, there is no guarantee of independence in the administration of justice which will be highlighted through the following case studies.

Oswaldo Payá and Ángel Carromero

On July 22, 2012, Oswaldo Payá and his young associate, Harold Cepero, died in a car crash in eastern Cuba. The circumstances of the crash are still in dispute and cannot be determined without an independent investigation.

Mr. Payá was one of Cuba’s most celebrated human rights activists and dissidents, championing peace and civil liberties, and was a recipient of the 2002 Sakharov Prize, which is awarded to an individual who fights for human rights and fundamental freedoms. He was the founder and leader of the Varela Project, a petition drive calling for a referendum in which Cubans would decide on legal reforms to guarantee freedom of speech and assembly, among other fundamental rights. Formally, the Cuban constitution allows citizens to introduce legislative reform if they collect 10,000 citizen signatures, and Oswaldo Payá successfully collected over 11,000.

Despite his peaceful efforts, Mr. Payá endured continuous harassment and intimidation by the regime. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has denounced the Cuban government’s harassment and persecution against civil society groups and human rights defenders since 1962, and noted that “for decades the Cuban State has organized the institutional machinery to silence voices outside the regime, and to repress independent journalists, as well as artists or citizens who try to organize themselves to articulate their demands.”

The government has alleged that the car crash that killed Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero transpired when the driver, Ángel Carromero, a former youth leader of Spain’s ruling party, lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree. They determined that the crash happened because of the speed at which Mr. Carromero was driving, and because of his abrupt braking when the car was on a slippery surface. Mr. Carromero was subsequently convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. He has since been released to Spain to serve out the remainder of his term.

Cuban dissidents and Mr. Carromero, however, have a different account of those same events that unfolded in 2012. In an interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Carromero asserted that government officials followed his car and rammed into it, resulting in the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero, and in his own loss of consciousness. Once taken to the hospital, Mr. Carromero was surrounded by government officials who ruthlessly dismissed his details of the accident. He was drugged and coerced into signing statements with fabricated, self-incriminating evidence. According to Mr. Carromero, the officers warned him that “depending on what [he] said things could go very well or very badly for [him].”

In addition, his false confession was broadcasted on television under deplorable conditions. He was held incommunicado among cockroaches and other insects, with a toilet that lacked a tank, while water streamed from the roof. These forms of cruel and degrading treatment may amount to torture, and are in standing violation of Articles 18, 25, and 26 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (“American Declaration”), and Articles 5, 8, 9, 10, and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), to which Cuba is bound. The UDHR expressly states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The Human Rights Foundation’s legal report on the state-sanctioned and premeditated murder of Mr. Payá extensively documents the cruelty of Cuba’s totalitarian regime to which Mr. Carromero also fell victim.

The Cuban regime systematically violates the due process rights of activists, particularly through trials that are purely symbolic and held to strengthen the regime, as opposed to finding the truth and administering justice. After his arrest, Mr. Carromero did not have access to legal counsel for many weeks, and later, had all of his conversations with his attorney overseen by a Cuban official. According to international human rights law, the right to defense counsel shall not be delayed, and opportunities to consult with a lawyer shall not be intercepted or censored.

In addition, during Mr. Carromero’s trial, his lawyers were prevented from accessing his case file or evidence on which his accusations were grounded. Mr. Payá’s family was never included in the investigation and was barred from attending Mr. Carromero’s trial.

Human Rights Watch has reported that political prisoner trials in Cuba are virtually-closed hearings that last less than an hour. The organization was unable to document a single case under Raúl Castro’s regime wherein a court had acquitted a political detainee. Mr. Carromero’s trial was no exception — the authorities barred the public from attending his trial and only permitted members of the Communist Party of Cuba into the courtroom. The openness of hearings, however, is imperative to assuring public confidence in the integrity of the legal system, as well as in the administration of justice.

Almost eight years later, justice has yet to be secured for Mr. Payá’s family and for Mr. Carromero. While the UDHR guarantees equality before the law, including the right to a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal, the Cuban regime continues to abuse its power for political purposes, and, ultimately, to act with impunity.

At a press conference in 2016 with then-President of the United States Barack Obama, Raúl Castro unequivocally denied the presence of any political prisoners in Cuba. Human rights groups, however, continue to document the cases of Cuban dissidents who continue to be persecuted under the Cuban regime.

The Cuba Archives documented at least 500,000 people who have fallen victim to arbitrary detention since January 1, 1959 Ramón Velásquez Toranzo is one of them. On International Human Rights Day in 2006, Mr. Toranzo set out on a “march of dignity” with his wife Bárbara and their daughter, Rufina. While marching, they held signs that read, “respect for human rights,” “freedom for political prisoners,” and “no more repression against the peaceful opposition.” They called for the respect of their civil liberties, which are guaranteed under the UDHR, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and formally in the Cuban Constitution, but are ignored by the Cuban regime.

They marched silently, and, at night, slept on curbsides, at bus stops, and in the homes of those who offered shelter. They started in Santiago de Cuba and hoped to walk the entire length of the country, but were stopped and arrested on the outskirts of Holguín. The Cuban government’s rapid response brigade intimidated them with metal rods and threatened to rape Bárbara and Rufina. Four days later, when Mr. Toranzo was released from prison, they continued marching. State forces, however, continued to torment them by trying to run them over with cars.

They reached Camagüey — over 185 miles from where they began their march — on January 19, 2006, and were arrested again. After being detained for four more days, Mr. Toranzo was taken to a municipal court, where he was charged with “dangerousness,” subjected to a closed trial, and sentenced to three years in prison. Cuba’s “dangerousness” law permits Cuban authorities to incarcerate citizens prior to having committed any crime. Their imprisonment is based on suspicion that they might commit crimes in the future.

A former high-ranking judge revealed that legal cases against dissidents are managed by state security forces, and that judges often acquiesce to fabricated evidence. In Mr. Toranzo’s case, the regime’s evidence against him entailed “official warnings” for being unemployed these warnings were presented while Mr. Toranzo was marching, and as a result, had never been seen by him. Furthermore, during Mr. Toranzo’s trial — which lasted less than an hour — the presiding judge called a recess to confront Mr. Toranzo’s legal counsel. Upon returning, Mr. Toranzo’s legal counsel stopped defending him and remained silent for the remainder of the trial.

The American Declaration expressly states that every person has the right to a fair trial, the right to protection from arbitrary arrest, and the right to due process of law. No one can be subjected to “cruel, infamous or unusual punishment.” After Mr. Toranzo’s sentencing, and in flagrant violation of his rights, he was stripped down to his underwear and detained in solitary confinement without a bed and in a cell that was flooded with water.

The Cuban regime not only torments political prisoners, but also preys on their family members. After Mr. Toranzo’s arrest, “Death to the worms of house 58” (his address) was spray-painted on a bus stop close to his home. This dehumanizing terminology, targeting political prisoners and their families, is common practice.

The regime also assigned a man near Mr. Toranzo’s home to follow the family. Cuban officials demanded that Rufina’s friends report on her activities, and the constant surveillance eventually led her to flee to the United States. Likewise, her brother René, reported monitoring by the state and noted that Cuban officials questioned everyone he interacted with.

The case of Mr. Toranzo is a looking glass into Cuba’s repressive government — a regime that is unrelenting in its abuse of power and denial of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Although Cuba’s constitutional referendum might have been propagandized as progress toward a more open society, President Díaz-Canel continues to implement the Castros’ dangerous, and sometimes deadly, tactics. The cases of Oswaldo Payá and Ramón Velásquez Toranzo are only two examples of the Cuban regime’s exploitation of justice.

In 2019, Cuban opposition members were consistently arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. There were reports of several cases of prisoners of conscience who were targeted for their peaceful beliefs, and the NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders reported a minimum of 71 people who were incarcerated on political charges.

The real figures are likely to be higher, but the Cuban government prevents independent groups from entering the country to report on the human rights situation. In addition, the government’s censorship and state-controlled media silence Cubans who oppose the regime, continuing to cover up the government’s corruption and criminality. The state’s lack of transparency further entrenches the government’s totalitarian dictatorship, where even the most peaceful protesters are punished for calling for what they are owed: civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.

At the same time, Cuban artists, journalists, lawyers, and members of the opposition continue to languish in the Cuban gulags. We must speak up on their behalf and continue to echo their calls for freedom and the rule of law. While the Cuban regime continues to avoid accountability for its heinous crimes, we must end its culture of impunity by standing up for human rights and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Cuba’s courageous human rights defenders.

Watch the video: World Party - Κούβα S04-E12 Cuba


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