Few Advances on Rights in Cuba

Patricia Grogg

Photo: Isbel Díaz

HAVANA, Jan 27 (IPS) – A dissident group in Cuba described the human rights situation in the country as “very unfavorable,” although it recognized that the number of people prosecuted or imprisoned for “political motivations” has gone down in the last 12 months.

“Despite the release of several dozen political prisoners in the second half of 2010, a positive development,” the situation of “civil, political, economic and cultural rights is still negative,” says a new report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

Like other dissident groups, the CCDHRN is not legally recognized but is tolerated by the government, which sees all opposition organizations as mercenaries in the pay of Washington.

The government thus tends to ignore such accusations like the ones voiced by the CCDHRN, which it considers to be part of the hostile U.S. policy towards Cuba.

The report issued by the CCDHRN, which is headed by Elizardo Sánchez, includes a “documented” list of 105 people in prison or facing charges for political reasons. The figure is much lower than the 201 names listed in January 2010, or the 167 included in the group’s June 2010 report.

The significant reduction was due “fundamentally to the release, directly from prison to exile in Spain, of 56 prisoners, including 41 who were adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty international, in the second half of 2010. The individuals who opted for exile were accompanied abroad by a total of 323 family members,” the report says.

The CCDHRN’s list of names includes 28 people handed stiff sentences, including life in prison, for terrorism, and 14 for hijacking — in cases involving smuggling people out of the country — accompanied in some cases by murder.

It also includes the last 11 of a group of 75 prisoners who the government promised to release, 23 of whom had already been freed.

The Catholic Church helped broker a deal in which the government of Raul Castro agreed to release the 52 of the original group of 75 who were still in prison in mid-2010. The 11 who are still behind bars having refused to leave Cuba if they are freed.

The 75 dissidents were imprisoned in early 2003 on charges of conspiring with a foreign power — the United States — to destabilize the Cuban state. In response to the arrests of the dissidents and the lengthy sentences they were given, the European Union adopted diplomatic sanctions, and talks between the EU and Cuba were broken off.

In his report, Sánchez complains that the draft guidelines for the sixth congress of Cuba’s governing Communist Party (PCC) “do not say a single word about the need to improve the situation of civil, political, economic and cultural rights of the citizens, which would require reforms to modernize the legal system.”

When it reported that the PCC’s sixth congress would be held in April 2011, the government said it would be exclusively dedicated to modernizing the country’s economic policies.

The draft guidelines on economic and social policy are currently being debated by the public.

Sánchez commented to IPS that many social problems in Cuba could be aggravated by the elimination of state subsidies and the mass dismissals of public employees, which he said would leave many people unemployed.

“Instead of advancing, we are moving backwards — that is the risk we see,” he said.

The report says the situation could give rise to tension and lead to “an increase in expressions of discontent by citizens, to which the regime will respond with repression, pure and simple, which will mean greater violations of civil, political, economic and social rights.”

The CCDHRN says it documented at least 870 politically motivated detentions in 2009 and 2,074 detentions in 2010.

“In the great majority of cases, they were arbitrary detentions that lasted a few hours or days,” although at least 10 of the detainees remain in prison awaiting trial, the report says.

“No government has the right to permit or order arbitrary detentions that deprive citizens of freedom even for one hour, and much less, mistreat them physically or subject them to unacceptable humiliations,” it adds.

In brief statements to IPS, Sánchez mentioned the example of the six-hour detention last Wednesday of political dissident Guillermo Fariñas, when he and a score of other people held a demonstration in the central city of Santa Clara to protest the eviction of a pregnant single mother of two who had occupied an empty apartment that belongs to the Public Health Ministry.

Fariñas, who held a 134-day hunger strike last year to demand the release of political prisoners with health problems, was awarded the European Parliament’s 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

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3 thoughts on “Few Advances on Rights in Cuba

  • Thankyou Grok for pointing out that dissidents are equally silenced through other cultural techniques in other systems. I do take issue with the angle taken here. I dislike the term political prisoner. It lessens the activity of the accused/convicted. It takes from it the notion of criminality. If you pose a threat to a socialist community, you pose the threat to the lives and wellbeing of that community. So the act should be considered a serious one.

    Debate is a vital element of a functioning and developing political system, but while debate is hijacked by capitalist enemies it must be treated as a weapon as well as a tool. The state needs to assess to which end the device is being used. To conclude that the act is a criminal one is not impossible and should not be totally condemned by the human rights community.

  • Grok,
    Very well said. I would agree that there needs to be a loosening of state control and repression of an open press and of dissident groups . As you pointed out if these dissident group are invalid, U.S. financed counter-revolutionaries , the Cuban people will be sophisticated enough to recognize it and these often treasonous groups will disappear.
    Cuba also needs a far deeper development of worker control of the economy as it is supposed to be under a democratic socialism.

    All that said, the U.S blockade is responsible for much that causes discontent and grumbling inside Cuba by Cubans. Just how negative an effect it has will not be known until the blockade is totally lifted, relations normalized and the Cuban SOCIALIST economy allowed to do what it is capable of doing.

    There is a delicate balancing act of permitting U.S. financed and sponsored “dissent” and other attacks on the revolution and the need to defend the Cuban revolution from the 50 year war of attrition being waged against the nation by the U.S.A..

    It would appear that those at the top have made the decision to consider many things criminally counter-revolutionary than a goodly percentage of the population would want to be considered in that way.

    Which gets back to a more democratic society.

    With the ossification of the bureaucracy, the Cuban public needs a plebiscite, a referendum, a petition, a poll or some such independent way to express their desires on these matters.

    The Cuban leadership, including the still influential Fidel, should take heed of the uprisings in the Arab world
    that were all due to the governments there not hearing or not listening to or not taking serious enough the complaints and problems of the people .

    I believe the Revolution can be so much better and the current leadership must take a step back and rethink its strategies. Not a return to capitalism and corrupt multi-party politics but a return to revolution, to evolution of the process…

  • First thing is to point out that the imperialist states — the U.S. foremost among them — does exactly the same to dissidents in “their” own countries: except that the bourgeoisie has, until recently, been in secure enuff control of society (thanx in large part to endless class treason on the “Left” by myriad opportunists) that there has been generally little need to frame up most political dissidents as “criminals” — beyond the routine brutality and harassment… But it’s still pervasive enuff — so let’s not kid ourselves there as to the ‘democratic credentials’ of these murderous imperialists. They are not ones to chastise the cuban government’s policies and praxis.

    The other thing, however, is that even a permanently-besieged state like Cuba must treat those who disagree with its policies in at least an up front, legal and social manner. The days of the need for quick, revolutionary “drum head” justice are long gone — and so is the justification for such summary acts as the detention of regime opponents who are not actually engaged in physically-subversive and dangerous acts: no matter the perceived consequences of allowing them to further organize and motivate others. If these people truly are deluded stooges and ‘useful idiots’ of imperialism, then the best way to deal with them is to expose their plans to the cuban population, instead. However, the truth of the matter is that many of these dissidents certainly have a point (or two or three) about the past and present praxis of the cuban stalinists — which is AFAIC the *real* basis of their oppression at the hands of this essentially still unaccountable apparatus…

    The road forward to socialism lies in creating a society where the category of “political prisoner” *cannot* exist, by definition. And the excuse of the present sorry state of cuban society is no excuse at all. You “build socialism” TODAY. NOW. Not continue to make excuses about some indefinite future, where we’ll all supposedly be eating strawberries and cream, ‘komrads’. End the arbitrary police state practices TODAY. NOW.

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