The Cuba Human Rights Issue

Fernando Ravsberg

The issue of prisoners and human rights is something that Cubans view “from the grandstands,” according to Elizardo Sanchez. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 10 — Following the release of the political prisoners and the commutation of all death sentences, Cuban human rights groups opposed to the government are confronting their greatest national and international isolation in the last 10 years.

The Catholic Church ended its involvement in the process of the release of political prisoners, while Amnesty International (AI) no longer includes the name of any Cuban on its lists of prisoners of conscience.

To reverse the situation, for Human Rights Day (December 10) the Cuban opposition is organizing some public activities in Santa Clara and Havana, while other exile organizations plan to approach the capital’s coast in a flotilla to launch fireworks.

Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Human Rights Commission, and Berta Soler, the leader of the “Ladies in White” (Damas de Blanco), believe that nothing has changed, while questioning the positions of both the Catholic Church and Amnesty International.

However, they have no hope that there will be political change during the lifetime of the generation that carried out the revolution.

The spokesperson for the Ladies in White says there are about 80 political prisoners, 30 more than those mentioned by the Human Rights Commission. Photo: Raquel Perez


In 2010, Raul Castro reached an agreement with the Catholic Church and the government of Spain whereby he freed the political prisoners, including all those included on the list of “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International. Most of them left Cuba.

However, according to Elizardo Sanchez, there still remain “52 political prisoners [being held] for crimes against the state.” Meanwhile Berta Soler assures us that “there are about 80 prisoners,” though she acknowledges “we don’t have the exact figure.”

The spokesperson for the Ladies in White explained to us that her group has extended the concept and that now, for example, “We believe that a political prisoner also includes someone who steals a boat to leave the country, because they’re stealing something from the government.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, asserts that the authorities are using a new tactic based on short-term arrests, indicating that “this week between 100 and 120 opponents were detained,” though they were released a few hours or a few days later.


Both nationally and internationally, the massive prisoner release had a devastating effect on the opposition. At the end of October, Cardinal Jaime Ortega told reporters that the issue of political prisoners “is now a closed chapter” to the Catholic Church.

For its part, Amnesty International has no Cuban on its list of prisoners of conscience and it refuses to include some of those who were released, as proposed by Elizardo Sanchez, who maintains that they are “on parole.”

“We can distribute thousands of copies of the Declaration of Human Rights, but most people won’t say much – they’re thinking more about how to put food on their family’s table.” Photo: Raquel Perez

“There’s some inconsistency among our friends at Amnesty International by leaving off of their list of prisoners of conscience the 16 former inmates who were not released unconditionally,” Sanchez, the president of the opposition Human Rights Commission, told the BBC.

For her part, Berta Soler said the cardinal should remember that “the Catholic Church has a social doctrine that must be respected,” adding that, “The Ladies in White will continue knocking on his door to report the problems our prisoners have.”


The two activists affirm that the dissident movement is growing, though they can’t cite the total number of activists. Berta is satisfied because the number of Damas de Blanco grew in eight years from 12 to 115, despite “Cubans being afraid.”

Sanchez adds that many citizens do not join the opposition due to a particular characteristic of the Cuban people. “If we were like Colombians or Salvadorans, this government would no longer exist; they’re rebellious peoples – we’re not.”

Sanchez says that ever since the colonial era, “We’ve been an exceedingly peaceful people with an enormous capacity for endurance. Most people remain in the grandstands, clapping and whistling, but chasing after the ball isn’t in our nature.”

He concluded saying that changes could only come after the death of the guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra. “I don’t think we have the strength to force the government to introduce reforms. We’ll have to wait until the historic generation leaves.”

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by Cartas Desde Cuba.



4 thoughts on “The Cuba Human Rights Issue

  • @ Elizabeth Faraone: You say: “I think Cuba will achieve freedom before the US does.”

    Well, you may be correct. Let’s remember however that Cuba is on the US hit list. Iraq, Libya and Syria are on that list, and so is Iran. When imperialism thinks that its criteria of conditions are met, Cuba will be one phony pretext away from US invasion.

    I believe that Cuba’s best hope for positive change is the rise of a dynamic modern cooperative socialist movement in the US and the world. Unless we redefine socialism and win the people to a corrected program, the imperialists may be able to strangle the Cuban socialist regime before it has a chance to self-correct.

  • Never forget the political prisoners in the US. Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of them.

  • Cuba’s provision regarding contempt for authority (desacato) penalizes anyone who “threatens, libels or slanders, defames, affronts (injuria) or in any other way insults (ultraje) or offends, with the spoken word or in writing, the dignity or decorum of an authority, public functionary, or his agents or auxiliaries.” Such actions are punishable by three months to one year in prison, plus a fine. If the person demonstrates contempt for “the President of the Council of the State, the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, the members of the Council of the State or the Council of Ministers, or the Deputies of the National Assembly of the Popular Power, the sanction is deprivation of liberty for one to three years.

    When a Cuban living in Cuba honestly stands up against injustice committed by the Cuban government, it is admirable and sacrificial.

    In the US, we stand up against injustice but our cries are not heard. And if our protests are a threat to the US elites, the police brutalize the protesters and force the protests to stop.
    The US Department of Defense’s Annual Level I Antiterrorism (AT) Awareness Training for 2009 misinforms Department of Defense (DoD) personnel that certain First Amendment-protected activity may amount to “low-level terrorism.” (See:

    Our popular media is a big propaganda machine that lies to its viewers, perverts the truth, and encourages cruelty. In the US, we have so called “freedom of speech” but does it mean we are free?

    I believe that Cuba and the Cuban people are more evolved than most, and that when the change that must happen in Cuba happens, you will be on your way to freedom and a better quality of life. I think Cuba will achieve freedom before the US does.

  • “However, they have no hope…” is such a sad phrase to read. Even “there is no expectation…” would leave open a slim crack in the window of possibility. The small flame of hope must never be extinguished regarding any positive change, anywhere.

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