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    HRW 2008 Cuba report

    Events of 2007

    Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses nearly
    all forms of political dissent. There have been no significant policy
    changes since Fidel Castro relinquished direct control of the
    government to his brother Raul Castro in August 2006. The government
    continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions,
    long-term 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.

    Legal and Institutional Failings
    Cuba's legal and institutional structures are at the root of rights
    violations. Although in theory the different branches of government
    have separate and defined areas of authority, in practice the
    executive retains control over all levers of power. The courts, which
    lack independence, undermine the right to fair trial by severely
    restricting the right to a defense.

    Cuba's Criminal Code provides the legal basis for repression of
    dissent. Laws criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of
    "unauthorized news," and insult to patriotic symbols are used to
    restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state
    security. The government also imprisons or orders the surveillance of
    individuals who have committed no illegal act, relying upon provisions
    that penalize "dangerousness" (estado peligroso) and allow for
    "official warning" (advertencia oficial).

    Political Imprisonment
    In July 2007 the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
    Reconciliation, a respected local human rights group, issued a list of
    240 prisoners who it said were incarcerated for political reasons. The
    list included the names of 12 peaceful dissidents who had been
    arrested and detained in the first half of 2006, five of whom were
    being held on charges of "dangerousness." Of 75 political dissidents,
    independent journalists, and human rights advocates who were summarily
    tried in April 2003, 59 remain imprisoned. Serving sentences that
    average nearly 20 years, the incarcerated dissidents endure poor
    conditions and punitive treatment in prison.

    While the number of political prisoners has decreased in the last
    year, this decrease cannot be attributed to leniency or policy change
    on the part of the government. The political prisoners who were
    released had already served out their full sentences. In September
    2007, approximately 30 activists were arrested and held for 24 hours.
    According to one of the released prisoners, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez–
    who was released from prison in May 2007 after serving out a 17-year
    sentence–the prisoners endured beatings, strip searches, and threats
    of future arrest.

    Travel Restrictions and Family Separations
    The Cuban government forbids the country's citizens from leaving or
    returning to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which
    is often denied. Unauthorized travel can result in criminal
    prosecution. In May 2006 Oswaldo Payá, the well known Cuban human
    rights advocate, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws by Columbia
    University in New York City in recognition of his work. However, he
    was denied an exit visa by the Cuban authorities and could not receive
    the degree in person.

    The government also frequently bars citizens engaged in authorized
    travel from taking their children with them overseas, essentially
    holding the children hostage to guarantee the parents' return. Given
    the widespread fear of forced family separation, these travel
    restrictions provide the Cuban government with a powerful tool for
    punishing defectors and silencing critics.

    Freedom of Expression and Assembly
    The Cuban government maintains a media monopoly on the island,
    ensuring that freedom of expression is virtually nonexistent. Although
    a small number of independent journalists manage to write articles for
    foreign websites or publish underground newsletters, the risks
    associated with these activities are considerable. According to
    Reporters Without Borders, 25 journalists were serving prison terms in
    Cuba as of July 2007, most of them charged with threatening "the
    national independence and economy of Cuba." This makes the country
    second only to China for the number of journalists in prison.

    Access to information via the internet is also highly restricted in
    Cuba. In late August 2006 the dissident and independent journalist
    Guillermo Fariñas ended a seven-month hunger strike in opposition to
    the regime's internet policy. He began the strike after the Cuban
    authorities shut down his email access, which he had been using to
    send dispatches abroad describing attacks on dissidents and other
    human rights abuses.

    Freedom of assembly is severely restricted in Cuba and political
    dissidents are generally prohibited from meeting in large groups. This
    was evident in mid-September 2006 during the 14th summit of the Non-
    Aligned Movement in Havana, when the Cuban government issued a ban on
    all gatherings that might damage "the image" of the city.

    Prison Conditions
    Prisoners are generally kept in poor and abusive conditions, often in
    overcrowded cells. They typically lose weight during incarceration,
    and some receive inadequate medical care. Some also endure physical
    and sexual abuse, typically by other inmates and with the acquiescence
    of guards.

    Political prisoners who denounce poor conditions of imprisonment or
    who otherwise fail to observe prison rules are frequently punished
    with long periods in punitive isolation cells, restrictions on visits,
    or denial of medical treatment. In October 2006, Juan Carlos Herrera
    Acosta, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison following the
    government's 2003 crackdown on dissidents, was beaten and placed in a
    cell infested with rats and insects after demanding the right to
    telephone his family. Some political prisoners have carried out long
    hunger strikes to protest abusive conditions and mistreatment by

    Death Penalty
    Under Cuban law the death penalty exists for a broad range of crimes.
    It is difficult to ascertain the frequency with which this penalty is
    employed because Cuba does not release information regarding its use.
    However, as far as is known, no executions have been carried out since
    April 2003.

    Human Rights Defenders
    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 impeding their efforts to document
    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. Cuba remains one of the
    few countries in the world to deny the International Committee of the
    Red Cross access to its prisons.

    Key International Actors
    In June 2007, bowing to political pressure, the UN Human Rights
    Council terminated the mandate of the UN expert charged with reporting
    on human rights conditions in Cuba.

    In December, the Cuban government announced its intention to ratify
    the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the
    International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The
    ratification, if it occurs, would represent an important break from
    Cuba's longstanding refusal to recognize these core human rights

    The US economic embargo on Cuba, in effect for more than four decades,
    continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and to
    block travel to the island. An exception to the embargo that allows
    food sales to Cuba on a cash-only basis, however, has led to
    substantial trade between the two countries.

    In an effort to deprive the Cuban government of funding, the United
    States government enacted new restrictions on family-related travel to
    Cuba in June 2004. Under these rules, individuals are allowed to visit
    relatives in Cuba only once every three years, and only if the
    relatives fit the US government's narrow definition of family–a
    definition that excludes aunts, uncles, cousins, and other next-of-kin
    who are often integral members of Cuban families. Justified as a means
    of promoting freedom in Cuba, the new travel policies undermine the
    freedom of movement of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban-
    Americans, and inflict profound harm on Cuban families.

    In January 2005 the European Union decided to temporarily suspend the
    diplomatic sanctions that it had adopted in the wake of the Cuban
    government's 2003 crackdown against dissidents. In June 2006, and
    again in June 2007, the EU decided to renew the suspensions, but not
    lift the sanctions outright. It offered to resume discussions with the
    Castro government, stipulating that if it were to accept the
    invitation, the Cuban government must be willing to discuss human
    rights, political prisoners, and democracy. In response, the Cuban
    foreign ministry indicated that Cuba would not participate in talks
    unless the sanctions were fully dropped. Nevertheless, representatives
    of the EU and Cuba held "informal, exploratory talks" at the United
    Nations in September 2007 and agreed to meet again in early 2008.


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