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    HRW – 2010 Cuba Report

    Events of 2009

    The change in government leadership in 2006-when Fidel Castro handed
    control to his brother Raul-has had little effect on Cuba's dismal human
    rights record. Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that
    represses virtually all forms of political dissent. The government
    continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions,
    long- and short-term detention, harassment, denial of employment, and
    travel restrictions.

    Raul Castro has kept firmly in place and fully active Cuba's repressive
    legal and institutional structures. While Cuban law includes broad
    statements affirming fundamental rights, it also grants officials
    extraordinary authority to penalize individuals who attempt to exercise
    them. Article 62 of the constitution explicitly prohibits Cubans from
    exercising their basic rights contrary to the "ends of the socialist state."
    Political Prisoners, Arbitrary Detentions, and "Dangerousness"

    Cubans who dare to criticize the government are subject to draconian
    criminal and "pre-criminal" charges. They are exempted from due process
    guarantees, such as the right to a defense, and they are denied
    meaningful judicial protection because courts are "subordinated" to the
    executive and legislative branches.

    The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation
    (CCDHRN), a respected local human rights group, in August 2009 issued a
    list of 208 prisoners whom it said were incarcerated for political
    reasons. The list included 12 peaceful dissidents imprisoned in the
    first half of 2009, as well as 25 political prisoners sentenced in 2008.
    Of 75 journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists who
    were summarily tried and sentenced in a 2003 crackdown, 53 remained
    imprisoned as of November 2009.

    The government continued to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and
    intimidate individuals exercising their fundamental rights. In all of
    2007 the CCDHRN documented 325 arbitrary detentions by security forces;
    in roughly the first half of 2009 it reported 532 arbitrary detentions.
    The detentions are often used to prevent individuals from participating
    in meetings or events viewed as critical of the government. Security
    officers often offer no charge to justify the detentions-a clear
    violation of due process rights-but warn detainees of longer arrests if
    they continue to participate in activities deemed critical of the
    government. In March 2009 human rights defender Marta Díaz Rondon was
    arbitrarily detained when she attempted to visit Jorge Luís García
    Pérez, who was staging a hunger strike to call for an end to abuses of
    political prisoners.

    Raul Castro's government has increasingly relied on a "dangerousness"
    (estado peligroso) provision of the criminal code that allows the state
    to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the
    suspicion that they might commit an offense in the future. Scores of
    individuals are currently imprisoned for "dangerous" activities
    including handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human
    Rights, staging peaceful marches, writing critical news articles, and
    trying to organize independent unions.

    Cuba has also applied the "dangerousness" charge to Cubans who are
    unemployed or self-employed without authorization. Language in the
    provision regards being unemployed as a form of "antisocial behavior,"
    and thus worthy of pre-criminal arrest. In a January 2009 campaign
    called "Operation Victory," dozens of individuals in eastern Cuba-most
    of them youths-were charged with "dangerousness" for not having jobs.
    Freedom of Expression

    The 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 maintain independent blogs, they must publish their work through back
    channels-writing from home computers, saving information on memory
    sticks, and uploading articles and posts through illegal internet
    connections. The risks associated with these activities are
    considerable. Moreover, access to information is highly restricted, and
    because an hour of internet use costs one-third of Cubans' monthly wages
    and is available exclusively in a few government-run centers, only a
    tiny fraction of Cubans have the chance to read independently published
    articles and blogs.

    According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 22 journalists were
    imprisoned in Cuba as of June 2009, including Albert Santiago Du Bouchet
    Hernández, who was reportedly sentenced to three years in prison in a
    closed, summary trial in May. Cuba ranks second only to China for the
    number of journalists in prison.
    Human Rights Defenders

    Refusing to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity,
    the Cuban government denies legal status to local human rights groups.
    The government also employs harassment, beatings, and imprisonment to
    punish human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses. In May
    2009, after authorities warned him several times that he would be
    imprisoned if he did not abandon his work, human rights activist Juan
    Luís Rodríguez Desdín was sentenced in a closed, summary trial to two
    years for "public disorder."
    Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

    The Cuban government forbids the country's citizens from leaving or
    returning to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which is
    often denied. For example, Juan Juan Almeida García has been denied the
    right to leave Cuba to receive medical treatment for a rare degenerative
    illness (treatment is not available on the island) since 2003. Almeida
    has applied several times per year-including in 2009-for permission to
    leave, but all requests have been denied without explanation. His health
    has declined considerably as a result of his lack of treatment.
    Unauthorized travel can result in criminal prosecution.

    The government 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.

    The government is also clamping down on the movement of citizens within
    Cuba, by more aggressively enforcing a 1997 law known as Decree 217.
    Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires Cubans to
    obtain government permission before moving to the country's capital.
    Prison Conditions

    Conditions for prisoners are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy,
    leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. Political prisoners who
    criticize the government, refuse to participate in ideological
    "reeducation," or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest
    are routinely subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings,
    restrictions of visits, and the denial of medical care. Prisoners have
    no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, granting prison
    authorities total impunity. Cuba remains one of the few countries in the
    world to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its
    Death Penalty

    In 2008 the government commuted the death sentences of all prisoners
    except three individuals charged with terrorism. Nevertheless, Cuban law
    continues to prescribe the death penalty for a broad range of crimes.
    Key International Actors

    As of November 2009 the Cuban government has yet to ratify the core
    international human rights treaties-the International Covenant on Civil
    and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic,
    Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)-which it signed in February 2008. In
    May 2009 Cuba was reelected to the United Nations Human Rights Council
    for a three-year term.

    In June the European Union reviewed its "Common Position" on Cuba,
    adopted in 1996, which conditions full economic cooperation with Cuba on
    the country's transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human
    rights. In its 2009 review the EU said it remains "seriously concerned
    about the lack of progress in the situation of human rights in Cuba,"
    and elected to maintain the position.

    Also in June 2009 the Organization of American States lifted a 1962
    resolution suspending Cuba from the group. The OAS conditioned Cuba's
    reintegration as a full member on Cuba's engagement in a dialogue with
    the group and on its conformity with the commitments, principles, and
    practices of the OAS. After the suspension was lifted the Cuban
    government publicly stated it had no interest in rejoining the OAS. In
    November 2008 Cuba became a full member of the Rio Group of Latin
    American and Caribbean countries.

    The United States' economic embargo on Cuba, in effect for more than
    four decades, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban
    people, and has done nothing to improve the situation of human rights in
    Cuba. In April 2009 the US government eliminated all limits on travel
    and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba. Previously, due to
    legislation passed in 2004, the US government had only allowed Cuban
    Americans to visit the island once every three years, and had capped the
    support Cubans could send to relatives at $75 per month. Legislation
    introduced in the US Senate and House of Representatives in February
    2009 would restore full travel to Cuba for all Americans without
    restrictions, but neither bill has yet been brought to a vote.

    Cuba | Human Rights Watch (20 January 2010)

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