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Human rights in Cuba

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Title: Human rights in Cuba  
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Subject: Politics of Cuba, Foreign relations of Cuba, Cuban dissident movement, Cuban law, Cuban art
Collection: Cuban Law, Cuban Society, Human Rights by Country, Human Rights in Cuba
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Human rights in Cuba

Human rights in Cuba are under the scrutiny of Human Rights Watch, who accuse the Cuban government of systematic human rights abuses, including arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials, and extrajudicial execution.[1][2][3]

Cuban law limits freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press. Concerns have also been expressed about the operation of due process. According to Human Rights Watch, even though Cuba, officially atheist until 1992, now "permits greater opportunities for religious expression than it did in past years, and has allowed several religious-run humanitarian groups to operate, the government still maintains tight control on religious institutions, affiliated groups, and individual believers."[1] Censorship in Cuba has also been at the center of complaints.[4][5] Most emigration is illegal.


  • History 1
    • Political executions 1.1
    • Refugees 1.2
    • Forced labor camps and abuse of prisoners 1.3
    • Political abuse of psychiatry 1.4
  • Contemporary Cuba 2
    • Political repression 2.1
    • Censorship 2.2
    • Restrictions of assembly 2.3
    • Society 2.4
    • Capital punishment 2.5
    • Acts of repudiation 2.6
    • Notable prisoners of conscience 2.7
    • Travel and immigration 2.8
    • Education 2.9
    • Healthcare 2.10
    • Religious freedom 2.11
    • Rights of women 2.12
    • Torture of prisoners 2.13
  • Race relations 3
  • Black Spring 4
  • Campaigns against homosexual behavior 5
    • Recent changes 5.1
  • United Nations Human Rights Commission 6
  • Cuban human rights groups 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

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".[6] 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 that up to 200,000 Cubans had died from starvation and disease within "Spanish forts", essentially concentration camps.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9][10]

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."[11]

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.[12][13]

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.[14]

After coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro's government built a highly effective machinery of repression, according to Human Rights Watch.[1]

As early as September 1959, Vadim Kotchergin (or Kochergin), a East Germany, states that the East German secret police Stasi trained the personnel of the Cuban Interior Ministry (MINIT).[17]

Political executions

Various estimates have been made to ascertain the number of political executions carried out on behalf of the Cuban government in Cuba since the revolution. According to Amnesty International, death sentences from 1959–87 numbered 237 of which all but 21 were actually carried out.[18] 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 that seen in the trials by the Allies in 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.[19]

Latin American historian Thomas E. Skidmore says there had been 550 executions in the first six months of 1959.[20] British historian Hugh Thomas, in his study Cuba or the pursuit of freedom[21] stated that "perhaps" 5,000 executions had taken place by 1970,[20] while The World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators ascertained that there had been 2,113 political executions between the years of 1958–67.[20]

Professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, Rudolph J. Rummel estimated the number of political executions at between 4,000 and 33,000 from 1958–87, with a mid range of 15,000.[22]

One estimate from The Black Book of Communism is that throughout Cuba 15,000–17,000 people were executed.

The vast majority of those executed following the 1959 revolution were policemen, politicians and informers of the Batista regime accused of crimes such as torture and murder, and their public trials and executions had widespread popular support among the Cuban population. Scholars generally agree that those executed were probably guilty as accused, but that the trials did not follow due process.[23]


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,[24] often by sea in small boats and fragile rafts.

Forced labor camps and abuse of prisoners

In 1986 a "Tribunal on Cuba" was held in Paris 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 presented at the tribunal, before an international panel, alleged a pattern of torture 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 arrests; sentencing by court martial with neither public audience nor defense; periods in hard labour camps without sufficient food, clothes and medical care; and the arrests of children over nine years old.[25]

The number of reported executions in Cuba declined during the 1970s and by the 1980s were restricted to rare high-profile cases, notably the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989. Ochoa, once proclaimed "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, but Ochoa and the others were convicted of treason and promptly executed. Opponents of the Castro government outside of Cuba expressed skepticism about the legitimacy of Ochoa's arrest and execution.

Political abuse of psychiatry

Although Cuba has been politically connected to the Soviet Union since the United States broke off relations with Cuba shortly after the president Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, few considerable allegations regarding the political abuse of psychiatry in this country emerged before the late 1980s.[26]:74 Americas Watch and Amnesty International published reports alluding to cases of possible unwarranted hospitalization and ill-treatment of political prisoners.[26]: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.[26]:75 In 1977, a report on 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.[26]: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.[26]: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.[26]: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.[26]: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.[26]: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.[26]:76

Contemporary Cuba

Political repression

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."[27] 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."

  • Human rights in Cuba at DMOZ

External links

  1. ^ a b c "Cuba's repressive machinery". Human Rights Watch. 1999. 
  2. ^ "Information about human rights in Cuba" (in Spanish). Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. April 7, 1967. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  3. ^ "Castro sued over alleged torture". News from Russia. November 16, 2005. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  4. ^ a b "Press Freedom Index 2008" (PDF). Reporters Without Borders. 2008. 
  5. ^ "Going online in Cuba: Internet under surveillance" (PDF). Reporters Without Borders. 2006. 
  6. ^ "Report from the British commissionary judge, Havana, to the Foreign secretary (Lord Stanley)." September 30, 1866. Thomas, Hugh. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. p.1050.
  7. ^ Harvard rhetorical society
  8. ^ Hugh Thomas. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. p.388
  9. ^ Leslie Bethell. Cuba. 
  10. ^ Julia E. Sweig. Inside the Cuban Revolution.  
  11. ^ "CUBA: Strongman's Round". Time. April 21, 1958. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ The Day After — Cuba: His Brother's Keeper Foreign Policy archive.
  13. ^ The End of the Rule of Law March 1959 Fidel Castro, by Robert E. Quirk 1993
  14. ^ Cuban National Reconciliation movement Task force report 2003
  15. ^ British Foreign Office. Chancery American Department, Foreign Office, London September 2, 1959 (2181/59) to British Embassy Havana classified as restricted Released 2000 by among British Foreign Office papers FOREIGN OFFICES FILES FOR CUBA Part 1: Revolution in Cuba “in our letter 1011/59 May 6 we mentioned that a Russian workers' delegation had been invited to participate in the May Day celebrations here, but had been delayed. The interpreter with the party, which arrived later and stayed in Cuba a few days, was called Vadim Kotchergin although he was at the time using what he subsequently claimed was his mother's name of Liston (?). He remained in the background, and did not attract any attention..”
  16. ^ "El campo de entrenamiento "Punto Cero" donde el Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) adiestra a terroristas nacionales e internacionales". Cuban American Foundation. November 7, 2005. Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-08.  (English title: The training camp "Point Zero" where the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) trained national and international terrorists)
    "... Los coroneles soviéticos de la KGB Vadim Kochergin y Victor Simonov (ascendido a general en 1970) fueron entrenadores en "Punto Cero" desde finales de los años 60 del siglo pasado. Uno de los" graduados" por Simonov en este campo de entrenamiento es Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, más conocido como "Carlos El Chacal". Otro "alumno" de esta instalación del terror es el mexicano Rafael Sebastián Guillén, alias "subcomandante Marcos", quien se "graduó" en "Punto Cero" a principio de los años 80."
  17. ^ Levitin, Michael (November 4, 2007). "La Stasi entrenó a la Seguridad cubana" (– Scholar search). Nuevo Herald. 
  18. ^ When the State Kills: The Death Penalty v. Human Rights, Amnesty International Publications, 1989
  19. ^ Raul Gomez Treto, "Thirty Years of Cuban Revolutionary Penal Law", Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 114–125
  20. ^ a b c Minor Atrocities of the Twentieth Century Full Source list compiled by the Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century
  21. ^ Cuba or the Pursuit of Freedom Hugh Thomas
  22. ^
  23. ^ Chase, Michelle (2010). "The Trials". In  
  24. ^ a b [11]
  25. ^ Tribunal on Cuba Paris April 1986
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i Medicine betrayed: the participation of doctors in human rights abuses. Zed Books. 1992. pp. 74–76.  
  27. ^ "New Castro, Same Cuba: Political Prisoners in the Post-Fidel Era". Human Rights Watch. 2009-11-18. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  28. ^ "Cuba". Freedom House. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  29. ^ "Cuba". Freedom House. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  30. ^ a b c "VIII. ROUTINE REPRESSION". Human Rights Watch. 1999. 
  31. ^ Amnesty International
  32. ^ Crackdown Against Dissidents in Cuba, Testimony of José Miguel Vivanco (Human Rights Watch, April 2003)
  33. ^ "Havel hails anti-Castro activists". BBC NEWS. September 18, 2004. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  34. ^ a b "10 most censored countries". The Committee to Protect Journalists. 
  35. ^ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report on Cuba
  36. ^ CUBA: fundamental freedoms still under attack Amnesty
  37. ^ a b "Cuba". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  38. ^ Claire Voeux and Julien Pain (October 2006). "Going online in Cuba: Internet under surveillance" (PDF). Reporters Without Borders. 
  39. ^ [12]
  40. ^ "Is Cuba a 'Workers Paradise'?." Cuba Verdad. Retrieved September 2012.
  41. ^ "Independent Trade Unions In Cuba." Cuba Verdad. Retrieved September 2012.
  42. ^ "Violations of social and labor rights." Cuba Verdad. Retrieved September 2012.
  43. ^ a b M. Hollis Kobayashi (2005). "Fidel Castro’s Cuba: The Views of the Exile Community" (PDF). 
  44. ^ Sitio Oficial de la Asamblea para Promover la Sociedad Civil en Cuba
  45. ^ "'"Cuban Dissidents Cry 'Freedom. CBS News. May 20, 2005. 
  46. ^ BBC News 
  47. ^ Amnesty International report 2006
  48. ^ [13]
  49. ^ [14]
  50. ^ "Castro opponent free after 17 years in jail". Reuters. April 24, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  51. ^ Insufficient medical care for Jorge Luis García Pérez. Amnesty International.
  52. ^ a b [15]
  53. ^ a b c d e "Washington's Weapon to Create a Migratory Crisis". AIN. February 2006. 
  54. ^ [16]
  55. ^ a b c d Katherine Hirschfeld (July 2007). "Re-examining the Cuban Health Care System: Towards a Qualitative Critique" (PDF). Cuban Affairs 2 (3). 
  56. ^ a b c d e f Katherine Hirschfeld. Health, politics, and revolution in Cuba since 1898. 
  57. ^ a b "Raul Castro Attends Dedication of Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Havana". 20 Oct. 2008. Retrieved 14 Apr. 2009. Cuban News Agency.
  58. ^ The Human Development Index United Nations Development report.
  59. ^ a b "Cuba: Torture of women prisoners". 
  60. ^ Human rights and Cuba, The Guardian, March 26th, 2005
  61. ^ Cuba Mark Q. Sawyer University of California, Los Angeles. Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary. 
  62. ^ a b c "A barrier for Cuba's blacks". Miami Herald. 
  63. ^ a b "Cuban former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Perez Antúnez: I felt death was very close several times". 
  64. ^ [17]
  65. ^ [18]
  66. ^ [19]
  67. ^ "Cuba frees political dissidents". BBC News. November 29, 2004. 
  68. ^ "Cuba releases leading dissident". BBC News. November 30, 2004. 
  69. ^ "Cuba frees sixth jailed dissident". BBC News. December 2, 2004. 
  70. ^ Gibbs, Stephen (December 6, 2004). "Cuba frees dissident journalist". BBC News. 
  71. ^ Dilip K. Das, Michael Palmiotto. World Police Encyclopedia. p. 217. 
  72. ^ Ian Lumsden. Machos, Maricones, and Gays. p. 70. 
  73. ^ Ian Lumsden. Machos, Maricones, and Gays. p. 71. 
  74. ^ Ian Lumsden. Machos, Maricones, and Gays. pp. 71–72. 
  75. ^ Gay Rights and Wrongs in Cuba,, Peter Tatchell (2002), published in the "Gay and Lesbian Humanist", Spring 2002. An earlier version was published in a slightly edited form as The Defiant One, in The Guardian, Friday Review, 8 June 2001.
  76. ^ Llovio-Menéndez, José Luis. Insider: My Hidden Life as a Revolutionary in Cuba, (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 156-158, 172-174.
  77. ^ Lockwood, Lee (1967), Castro's Cuba, Cuba's Fidel. p.124. Revised edition (October 1990) ISBN 0-8133-1086-5
  78. ^ Israel, Esteban, "Castro's niece fights for new revolution", Reuters, 2006-07-03
  79. ^ [20]
  80. ^ "Cuba approves sex change operations". Reuters. June 6, 2008. 
  81. ^ "HEALTH-CUBA: Free Sex Change Operations Approved". Inter Press Service. June 6, 2008. 
  82. ^ Tucker, Calvin (2007-03-28). "Havana rights". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  83. ^ "Fidel Castro takes blame for 1960s gay persecution". The Globe and Mail (Reuters). 31 August 2010. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  84. ^ Voss, Michael (March 27, 2008). "Castro champions gay rights in Cuba". BBC News. I've seen changes in my father since I was a child. I saw him as macho and homophobic. But as I have grown and changed as a person, so I have seen him change. 
  85. ^ a b U.N. panel condemns Cuba for rights abuses Miami Herald April 19, 2001
  86. ^ a b Cuba, the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the OAS Race Council on Hemispheric Affairs
  87. ^ U.N. rights panel votes to criticize Cuba Miami Herald 2000


See also

Cuban human rights groups

Since 1990, the United States has presented various resolutions to the annual UN Human Rights Commission criticizing Cuba’s human rights record. The proposals and subsequent diplomatic disagreements have been described as a "nearly annual ritual".[85] Long term consensus between Latin American nations has not emerged.[86] The resolutions were passed 1990-1997, but were rejected in 1998.[85] Subsequent efforts by the U.S. have succeeded by narrow voting margins. In the Americas, some governments back the criticism, others oppose it, seeing it as a cynical manipulation of a serious human rights issue in order to promote the isolation of the island and to justify the decades-old embargo.[86] European Union nations have universally voted against Cuba since 1990, though requests that the resolution should contain references to the negative effects of the economic embargo have been made.[87]

United Nations Human Rights Commission

Mariela Castro, daughter of current president Raul Castro has been pushing for lesbian rights with the pro-lesbian government sponsored Cuban National Center for Sexual Education which she leads. Mariela has claimed her father fully supports her initiatives, saying that her father has overcome his initial homophobia to support his daughter.[84]

In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the former president 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.[83]

Cuba has taken some reforms recently.[78] 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.[79] Since 2005 sex reassignment surgeries for transgender individuals are free under law, and are paid for by the government.[80][81] Also Havana now has a "lively and vibrant" gay and lesbian scene.[82]

Recent changes

Castro is reported to once have asserted that, "in the country[side], there are no homosexuals", before in 1992 claiming that homosexuality is a “natural human tendency that must simply be respected.”[75] Another source reports Castro as having denounced "maricones" ("faggots") as "agents of imperialism".[76] Castro has also reportedly asserted that "homosexuals should not be allowed in positions where they are able to exert influence upon young people".[77]

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.[73] Additionally, men with long hair were locked up and their hair was cut.[74]

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".[56][71] Military commanders brutalized the inmates.[72] 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".[56]

Campaigns against homosexual behavior

Seven other prisoners had previously been released for health reasons. [70] On November 29, 2004, the Cuban government released three of those arrested in the March 2003:

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.

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."[66]

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.[64] 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, Martha Beatriz Roque, and Oscar Elías Biscet. Amnesty International described the trials as "hasty and manifestly unfair."[65]

Black Spring

[63] 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".Directorio Democratico Cubano [63]

[62] Carlos Moore, who has authored extensive 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".[62] He says that a new generation of black Cubans are looking at politics in another way.[62]

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.[61]

Race relations

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, stating 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.[60]

The Cuban Foundation for Human Rights reports torture of female prisoners in Cuba.[59]

Torture of prisoners

Women have relatively high representation in the country, with women holding 48.9% of the parliamentary seats in the Cuban National Assembly.[58]

Rights of women

In the years following 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 Raul Castro, Vice President Esteban Lazo, Parliament leader Ricardo Alarcon, and other figures.[57] The Cuban press noted that the cathedral was the first of its kind in Latin America.[57]

Religious freedom

Family doctors are expected to keep records of patients "political integration".[56] Epidemiological surveillance has become juxtaposed with political surveillance.[56]

After spending nine months in Cuban clinics, Katherine Hirschfeld asked in her paper "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?"[55]

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.[55][56] 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.)[55][56] Many Cubans complain about politics in medical treatment and health care decision-making.[55]

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.


Strong ideological content is present. The constitution states that educational and cultural policy is based on Marxism.[54] A file is kept on children's "revolutionary integration" and it accompanies the child for life. University options will depend on how well the person is integrated to Marxist ideology. The Code for Children, Youth and Family states that a parent who teaches ideas contrary to communism can be sentenced to three years in prison.

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. It has also been criticized for prohibiting any private alternatives to the state-directed education system and for limiting the power of parents to influence their children's education.


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.[53]

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. 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.[53]

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.

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[53] 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.[53]

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.

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 [53]

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.

In 1995 the US government entered into an agreement with the Cuban government to resolve the emigration crisis that created the Bush administration has refused to comply with the act, issuing only 505 visas to Cubans in the first six months of 2003. It has also blocked some Cubans who have visas.

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.

From 1959 through 1993, some 1.2 million Cubans (about 10% of the current population) left the island for the United States,[24] 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.

Even discussing about unauthorized travel carried a six-month prison sentence.[43]

Prior to January 13, 2013, Cuban citizens could not leave or return to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which was sometimes denied.[52] 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.[52] Castro opposition leader Oswaldo Payá has been allowed to travel abroad to receive his Sakharov Prize, but Ladies in White was not.

As of January 13, 2013, all Cuban government-imposed travel restrictions and controls have been abolished. 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 that 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.

Travel and immigration

  • 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 (as 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 on a hunger strike to protest prison abuses; he claims the guards denied him water until he became delirious, and proceeded to urinate in his mouth and on his face. Valladares was released from prison after twenty-two years 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 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.[48][49]
  • Oscar Elías Biscet, 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 to carry out anti-government activity.
  • 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."
  • [50][51]

Notable prisoners of conscience

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 homes of Cubans considered to be counter-revolutionary. 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.[47]

Acts of repudiation

Cuba placed a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in 2001. 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.[46]

Capital punishment

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.[44] The Assembly had its first meeting in May 2005.[45]

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.


Bans are enforced by "Rapid Brigades", consisting of members of the army and police in plain clothes, who beat and disperse any demonstrators.[43]

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. 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.[40][41][42]

Human Rights Watch states that "[39]

Restrictions of assembly

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

A Reporters Without Borders report 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.[38] See also Censorship in Cuba.

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."[35] 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.[36] 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."[37]

Media is operated under the supervision of the Communist Party's Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which "develops and coordinates propaganda strategies".[34]

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

Cuba's ranking was on the bottom of the Press Freedom Index 2008 compiled by the Reporters Without Borders (RWB).[4] Cuba was named one of the ten most censored countries in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists.[34]

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".


International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to the actions of the human rights movement and designated members of it as Prisoners of Conscience, such as Oscar Elías Biscet. In addition, the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba led by former heads of state Václav Havel of the Czech Republic, José María Aznar of Spain and Patricio Aylwin of Chile was created to support the civic movement.[33]

The opposition movement in Cuba is a widespread collection of individuals and nongovernmental organizations, most of whom are working for the respect of [32]

[30] 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".[30]

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