Situation of Human Rights in Cuba
Situation of Human Rights in Cuba
For the past 46 years Cuba has been, and continues to be, a totalitarian state controlled single-handedly by Fidel Castro, who occupies all the relevant: Head of State, Head of Government, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and First Secretary of the Communist Party.
The authority and control Castro wields over the population is supported, mostly by his enormous military-repressive apparatus, by the totalitarian and antidemocratic system in place, and by the total impunity he enjoys to apply the most severe measures against his opponents, including the death penalty and arbitrary imprisonment.
Castro’s control is so absolute that it transcends the political arena to include all aspect of human activity such as the economy, commerce, education, employment, property, culture, religion and even the family.
The most salient feature of the system established in Cuba is that it denies the people the capacity and possibility of changing, by legal means, the totalitarian powers that Castro has assigned himself and that have allowed him to become Cuba’s dictator for life.
In fact, the very structure of Cuban politics is the antithesis of the democratic systems known to the West that are based on the independence and equilibrium between the executive, legislative and judicial powers. Article 5 of the current Socialist Constitution establishes that “The Communist Party is the guiding force of all Cuban society.” In effect, the State, the Government, the Legislative Assembly and the Judicial Power are submitted to the authority of the Communist Party controlled by Fidel Castro.
As can be observed, members of the Communist Party elite are the ones who occupy the positions of importance in the state, government, National Legislative Assembly, Judicial Power and Armed Forces.
2. Political Rights
In Cuba, there are no political rights. The Communist Party (P.C.C.), the only political party permitted, exercises a monopoly over all political activity in the island, assisted by the so-called “organizations of the masses”. In truth, these political organizations are headed by leaders of the Cuban Communist Party and exert the first level of direct control over citizens. There is a governmental organization, or “organizations of the masses,” for each type of activity:
1. The Committees for the Defence of the Revolution” (CDR), organized on a block by block basis in every city and town across the island, are charged with spying on citizens even in their own homes.
2. The Union of Communist Youths (U.J.C.), found in every educational centre, has the authority to organize, supervise and direct the political activities in schools and universities.
3. The Worker Union of Cuba (C.T.C), in its capacity as official labour union, is charged with organizing workers and putting them at the service of the government. Present in every work centre, it impedes workers from organizing independently or claiming benefits.
4. The Rapid Response Brigades (B.R.R.) are para-military forces charged with confronting popular protests or political dissidents. They are chiefly composed by plainclothes government agents.
5. The Federation of Cuban Women (F.M.C.) organizes women to carry out political activities on behalf of the government.
Cubans are practically compelled to belong to one or more of these political organizations, or resign themselves to become social pariahs, unable to obtain employment, proceed to higher-level education, or even obtain certain consumer goods. Figure 2 shows an employment application where the applicant must list the political organizations he or she belongs to and the level of military training obtained.
In Cuba no elections are held to elect the President of the Republic because the position does not exist. The equivalent position is that of “First Secretary of The Communist Party”, a position that is not subject to elections. The First Secretary is chosen solely by the Central Committee of the Party.
The only elections held in Cuba are to elect members to the National Legislative Assembly, but the only candidates who can participate are those who have sworn loyalty to Fidel Castro and are integrated in the government’s organizations. In addition, the first round of elections is held in units of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution and voting is not done in secrecy but by raising a hand in favour of a candidate. Nearly half of the members of the National Legislative Assembly are directly selected by the Communist Party. There is also a Candidates Commission, also controlled by the Party, with authority to veto candidates that do not meet the criteria of sympathy and involvement with the previously mentioned political organizations.
It is evident and unquestionable that the National Assembly is not representative of the Cuban people, nor is it an authentic legislative body. Further proof of this is that the Assembly only meets twice a year for two days and, in the 24 years since its creation, has not actually created a single law. Its function has been one of meeting to vote by raising the hand and approve laws that have already been passed through the Communist Party (Fidel Castro) through the Council of State.
In Cuba, associations in defence of human rights are prohibited. Although Cuban law does not state so explicitly, the fact is that authorities do not even acknowledge requests for legalizing such associations. In that manner, any group that organizes as a human rights group is deemed illegal and its members are subject to arrest for engaging in “illicit association,” one of the many political “crimes” that experts in the United Nations have questioned the Cuban government about and have not received response. (Refer to United Nation Cuba report -E/CN.4/1989/46- especially Annex XVI “Questions Presented by the Group that visited Cuba” and that Cuban authorities have never responded to.) Former UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar also asked the Cuban government to respond in his document -E/CN.4/1991/28- page 3, and also received no response.
3. Civil Rights
Cuban authorities have seriously undermined the right to life. The first measure imposed by Fidel Castro when he seized power in January of 1959 was the Death Penalty (previously prohibited). Through the following five years, executions by firing squad became such a commonplace, daily event that they were often graphically featured on television and in newspapers. The “Revolutionary Tribunals” turned the first of Castro’s rule into a real reign of terror. In April of 1961, the government enacted Decree 988 by which “executions can be carried out in less than 48 hours, without trial, against any individual caught engaging in counterrevolutionary activities.”
Even today, the Cuban Penal Code contains 19 articles by which the death penalty can be imposed, 15 of them for political motives. Cuba laws are so ambiguous and obscure hat the government can apply them arbitrarily, as in Article 97, clause 3 that states: “Whatsoever engages in recognizance activities, takes photographs or procures or obtains information without the authorization of State Security, incurs a 10 to 20 years prison sentence or the death penalty.” Note that law doesn’t clarify what type of information cannot be obtained nor what places cannot be photographed.
The number of executions in Cuba can not be calculated due to the rigid control of information that is in place, but a lawsuit presented in Spain against Fidel Castro for “crimes and torture” in November of 1998 contained 18.000 sworn testimonies from victims and their families. At this time, it is believed that at least eight individuals are awaiting execution in Cuba.
4. The Right to Safety
The government’s practice of organizing “acts of repudiation” –where all manner of threats, insults and bodily harm against dissidents and human rights activists are perpetrated– as well as the creation of para-military brigades to physically assault those who protest against the dictatorship, are evidence of the violence by which the government silences claims for the respect for human rights.
Figure 4 shows a photograph taken by the international press agency Reuters of a para-military “Rapid Response Brigade” armed with clubs, ready to carry out an act of physical aggression against a human rights group.
Cuba was one of the few, if not the only, country where an official celebration for International Human Rights Day was not held in honor of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but instead arrested and beat dissidents. When members of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights attempted a public reading of the 30 articles contained in the declaration in Butari Park, located in the Luyanó sector of Havana, they were violently dissolved.
In prisons, beatings are systematic a hunger is used as a punitive measure. Torture is also practiced against prisoners, especially political prisoners. International human rights organisms that monitor Cuba, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch andPax Christi, consistently report on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in Cuban prisons.
The 264 prisons identified across the island, with a penal population of approximately 280,000 prisoners, equivalent to 2.5% of the Cuban population, are a clear indicator of the social crisis Cuba is suffering. There is no other country in the world with a higher proportion of its population in prison.
5. The Right to Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression does not exist in Cuba. Only expressions that coincide with official political ideology as established by Fidel Castro are allowed. Criticism of errors, corruption or abuses on the part of the government is punishable. The laws that prohibit freedom of expression through political offences list crimes such as: enemy propaganda, disrespect to the Commander in Chief (Fidel Castro), offence to the homeland, ideological deviation, dangerousness and distribution of false information.
The most important instrument for freedom of expression, the press, has been eliminated in Cuba. Shortly after Castro’s rise to power, 46 years ago, all means of mass communication were confiscated and put to the exclusive service of the Communist Party and the government. Radio, Television, and print media and cinema function only to spread communist ideology. Information is published only when they favour the official party line or when they serve to damage the image of the democratic world. Entertainment programs must have political content or a message that coincides with official ideology.
For example, Cubans learned that Americans had landed on the moon several weeks after it happened and through letters received from family abroad because the Cuban media published absolutely nothing of the extraordinary event. In similar manner, several weeks after it happened, the Cuban people still had not heard that the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan.
Foreign correspondents in Cuba also fall victim to governmental persecution, albeit to a lesser degree. Authorities send them written complaints concerning articles not to the government’s liking; they receive telephone threats, or are excluded from press conferences and important events. Some foreign correspondents have been physically attacked, as in the case of Czech journalist Michael Cermak and French journalist Mike de la Grange.
The reports prepared by the Special Reporters for Cuba assigned by the United Nations are banned from circulating in the island. Their contents have never been published, even partially. The circulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is similarly persecuted.
Music, books and academic works produced by Cuban exiles or any non-Cuban person who is critical of the Cuban government are also prohibited. Cubans on the island ignore the fact that exiled Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante received the Principe de Asturias award, which is the highest honor in Spanish literature, equivalent to the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Cubans are also prohibited from viewing foreign television broadcasts or listen to short wave radio. Law Decree 157 of March 21, 1995 prohibits antennas to capture foreign broadcasts. The Decree also states that, “Authorities have the obligation to ensure that the information distributed is authorized,” and stipulates penalties incurred by those who infringe the law. In their obsessive control, authorities have installed a large number of transmitters to interfere radio signals that enter the country.
Internet access, the possession of fax machines and computers is severely restricted. Cubans can not place overseas calls directly, but are required to go through an operator. In fact, the criteria to obtain a telephone require that applicants demonstrate political merit.
6. The Right to Religious Freedom
Although for the past two years the anti-religious politics of the government and the harassment of students who profess their faith has decreased, serious limitations still exist as well as prohibitions in activities such as: missionary work, evangelization beyond the confines of churches or temples, entrance to the country of clergy, media access, publication of books and periodicals, worship and the celebration of mass in the prisons.
Until just a few years ago, youths were banned or expelled from universities and technical learning centres simply for professing their faith. Religious weddings were an extraordinary occurrence because they could result in loss of employment.
7. The Right to Freedom of Movement
Cubans cannot freely enter or exit their own country. Among those who are prohibited from leaving the country are the youths between the ages of 16 to 27, well known athletes and individuals with high profiles in science, art and culture, or who have obtained military ranks or occupied influential political positions. Doctors particularly face great obstacles to leaving the country permanently.
Relatives of individuals who have sought political asylum while travelling abroad become hostages of the government and are denied the right to leave the country to reunite with loved ones.
On the other hand, Cuban who obtains the permission slip to leave commonly referred to as “the white card” must pay $500 (in US dollars) per person for official transactions. Taking into account that the average salary in Cuba is less than 200 Cuban pesos, which are the equivalent of around $10.00 (U.S.), the imposition is clearly abusive. In addition, the state confiscates all personal property (bank account, home, furniture, durable goods) of those who are allowed to leave his country permanently.
To enter the island, Cubans who reside or have obtained political asylum abroad require a visa as if they were foreigners. The selection criteria to grant the visa are based on the applicant’s conduct abroad with respect to the Castro government.
Inside the island there are also restrictions to freedom of movement. Law Decree 217, dated April 26, 1997, prohibit inhabitants of rural areas or other provinces from establishing residence in the capital.
In Cuba, no one can sell a house. Home swapping is the only transaction tolerated, as long as prior clearance is obtained from authorities. Internal regulations also require that authorities be informed of the identity and other personal data of any individual who resides at the home of another for a period of more than 30 days. In the case of foreigner, information must be immediately provided.
In the main cities and towns of the country, there are upper class residential areas referred to “frozen zones” where houses are assigned only to Communist Party elite and high-ranking militaries. Access to these zones is restricted or prohibited to non-residents.
Meanwhile, the situation of the “Captive Towns” still persists. These towns, located in isolated or inaccessible areas, were built with the force labour of peasants of the Escambray mountain range, in the province of Las Villas (today Sancti Spiritu.) Between 1960 and 1970, on four different occasions, the army collected area farmers and peasants and, after incarcerating the men, confined the women and children in temporary shelters, later forcing the men to build makeshift dwellings in remote areas of the island.
The families were later relocated in those towns. They were called captive towns because its inhabitants could no leave them. Members of the United Nations Commission that visited Cuba in 1988 interviewed several inhabitants of those towns and were able to verify the injustice that had been committed against them that stripped them of their lands and personal property, aside from making them perpetual prisoners. The United Nations Group on Internally Displaced Persons has documented testimonies from these victims.
8. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The essence of Cuba’s political culture is captured in Fidel Castro’s phrase: “Everything within the Revolution, nothing outside the Revolution”
Article 38 of the current Constitution establishes that educational and cultural policies are based on Marxist-Leninist philosophy, and emphatically states that the purpose of the government is the communist formation of children, youths and adults, and artistic creativity is free as long as long as its expression and content is not contrary to the goals of the Revolution. In fact, the only published writers are those who are politically integrated to the government. Unconditional political conformation is a basic requirement to succeed culturally and intellectually.
While free education in Cuba is looked upon favourably by all, it is no less true that the degree of integration and political loyalty demanded by an imposed ideology not only undermines but also rises as a discriminatory barrier. The end result is that education cannot be said to be “free” if to receive it one must submit one’s conscience to the will of the state that provides it.
Cuban Minister of Higher Education, Fernando Vecino Alegret’s statement that: “Universities are only for revolutionaries” reveals an intolerable policy of discrimination. The same holds true for technical and vocational schools.
Student participation in forced labour for several months of the year is also an unacceptable practice.
The Student Cumulative Dossier evidences the degree of control the government maintains over students and their homes. The Dossier, kept on every student throughout their educational life, gathers information concerning his or her political integration and that of the parents, opinions and participation in political rallies and activities organized by the government, records whether the student and his family practices or professes a religion, notes the economic level of the family and whether there is harmony in the home. The Dossier also contains other information of a personal nature but that the government deems politically important.
The government forces students and youth to attend political acts and later presents that as proof that his government enjoys majority support. Students who refuse to participate risk being expelled from their school. The same situation occurs with workers and employees.
The participation of citizens in the economic life of the country is limited to their capacity as workers. In 1968 the government completed its process of confiscating properties and private business, while also prohibiting new ventures, thus becoming the only employer in the island. Not satisfied with that, it also went on to impose the condition that to obtain employment, membership in its political organizations was required. Decree 34 of March 12, 1980, establish that: “The political conduct of the worker is fundamental to his continued employment”.
The majority of dissidents and human rights activists in Cuba have been terminated from their jobs for political motives. Their next of kin are often also made to pay with the loss of their jobs. Former political prisoners are also victimized by discrimination in the work force.
The degree of political control exerted over workers violates international labour laws. The Labour Record or employee file, as in the case of the Student Cumulative Dossier, follows the worker for life, recording, in addition to personal information, political and private data as well.
Although Cuba laws do not explicitly ban the organization of independent labour unions, the government does not recognize the existence of any, instead punishing with job termination any worker that chooses to join an independent union. The persecution and harassment against independent labour union activists including Rafael Peraza, Rafael Iturralde, Evaristo Pérez, Pedro Pablo Alvarez, Jorge Martínez, Florentino Ledesma and Gustavo Toirac is consistently denounced before the International Labour Organization in Geneva.
On a social scale, Cubans are discriminated against Vis a Vis foreigners and government elite. Cuban is not allowed access to luxury hotels and resorts, certain beaches, entertainment centres and restaurants. Foreigners are allowed to purchase and own hang-end apartments and condominiums, but Cubans are not.
Foreigners are permitted, even encouraged, to open business in Cuba. They are allowing importing and exporting and engaging in commercial transactions and services, while all these activities are prohibited to Cubans citizens.
To attract foreign investment while still maintaining control, Cuba has put in place a series of labour laws and practices that violate a number of international labour agreements of which Cuba is part. A document issued by the independent Consejo Unitario de Trabajadores Cubanos (Unitary Council of Cuban Workers) dated October 20, 1999 and distributed to foreign business in Cuba, denounces labour violations incurred by these businesses as accomplices of the Cuban government.
The Cuban government prohibits foreign business from engaging in the following:
1. Directly hiring workers. The government does the screening and hiring, with the job going to, of course, those who are politically loyal.
2. Salaries are negotiated between the government and the corporation. Workers are never consulted by either party.
3. The salary of the worker is paid out in dollars to the government, which then pays the worker the same numeric value, but in Cuban pesos. The result is the confiscation by the government of approximately 95% of the worker’s salary. A dollar is worth 20 Cuban pesos. For example, the government takes in $300 US dollars as the worker’s salary and pays the worker 300 pesos, the equivalent of $15 US dollars, hereby paying the worker only 5% of the salary actually paid by the corporation.
4. Workers cannot organize unions in those corporations nor make claims of any kind.
The above described practice, in violation of international agreements, is also applied in contracts the Cuban government signs with other countries to provide Cuban labour, for example doctors or construction brigades. It is estimated that around 20,000 Cuban work abroad under this conditions.
9. Political Repression
The State Security Department (DSE) is the principal repressive force that guarantees the totalitarian control that Fidel Castro holds in Cuba. The DSE operates with unlimited impunity. Its activities are far reaching: arrest and isolation of individuals, intercept or interrupt telephone and written communication, search homes or individuals, impede exit from the island, threaten or beat dissenters, and instruct judges as to the sentences to impose in political cases.
The DSE maintains an extensive network of informants who, as undercover agents, spy and report on “potential enemies” of the state in all public places and work centres. In coordination with the leaders of the government’s so-called organizations of the masses, the DSE watches and persecutes virtually every Cuban citizen.
The degree of fear and control Cubans live under can be understand by bearing in mind that Cuba is a small island measuring 110,000 square kilometres, with no frontier; with internal regulations of such severity that a national personal, work and politically related information; and that the Committees of the Defence of the Revolution on every block report information on each individual residing on the block.
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