The Cuban government’s double discourse

Marlene Azor Hernandez

3rd Steet in Miramar. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Using two faces when it comes to Human Rights in Cuba, the government has long banned the issue of Human Rights being discussed in national public opinion, while it defends itself before the United Nations, claiming that it respects them.

Historically and the outcome of the Cold War conflict, Human Rights Covenants were divided into economic, social and cultural rights on the one hand and the Covenant on civil and political rights on the other.

Communist or “real socialist” countries defended the fact that they prioritized economic, social and cultural rights, like Cuba does today, while civil and political rights were a manipulation of “international Imperialism.”

History has shown us the reality of this thought process, when this system collapsed in Eastern Europe, which revealed that economic, social and cultural rights had been systematically violated precisely because civil and political rights hadn’t been respected by these governments.

The dismantling of these systems revealed societies that had been sunk into misery, without independent economic resources, with poor health systems, not universal education and very low salaries, miserable social security and a lack of any real freedom in cultural and scientific creation.

The problem with these societies and with Cuba’s society today, is that economic, social and cultural rights were never recoverable by law or subject to review by a court and, therefore, they depended on the “political intention” of the leaders on call. “Rights” which aren’t recoverable by law or subject to review by a court aren’t rights, according to the UN Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but also according to the Commission on Civil and Political Rights. Between 170 and 175 countries have ratified and agree with both International Covenants. However, Cuba which hasn’t ratified them, has just been reelected for another term on the UN’s Commission on Human Rights.

23rd Street in Vedado. Photo: Juan Suarez
23rd Street in Vedado. Photo: Juan Suarez

In the third session of the UN General Assembly, Vilma Thomas, the Cuban diplomat, identified the demand for Human Rights in Cuba as “aggression”.[1] She doesn’t recognize the 9,125 arbitrary arrests that have taken place in the country up until November 1st this year, and denies the existence of police abuse against every sector of independent civil society. This as if the complaints made by the CUBALEX legal center and the Convivencia project, the Ladies in White and the UNPACU, by Guillermo Farinas and labor leader Ivan Hernandez Castillo to name but a few, were products of an overactive imagination.  Beatings, arbitrary arrests, prison sentences without due process take place in this country, while our diplomats tell another story at UN meetings. Foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez has reiterated the fact that human rights are indivisible and that Cuba respects all Human Rights within the country when he speaks about this issue at the UN, and when he ends a negotiation session with the United States about the subject.[2]

The Cuban people have been banned outright from dealing with this subject and every time they do, there are direct repercussions: from children and teenagers burning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an “act of repudiation” against the Ladies in White,[3] to prison sentences for Human Rights activists in Cuba. Being a Human Rights activist is illegal in Cuba.

The Cuban government’s position is: to accept the indivisibility of Human Rights and allegedly defend them in their foreign policy and, in their domestic policy, to systematically violate them in the country’s penal, civil and constitutional legislation as well as the police’s behavior, the public servants, State security bodies  and Cuban courts whether they are labor-related, civil or military.[4]

23 and Infanta, Vedado. Photo: Juan Suarez
23 and Infanta, Vedado. Photo: Juan Suarez

In a recent article about Cuban social security, public officials stated that there was a universal social security policy.[5]  Comments on the forum revealed the complete opposite: Social security isn’t universal, the majority of society’s most vulnerable groups aren’t covered by social policies and pensions and subsidies are very poor. As the right to social security isn’t recoverable by law and subject to review by a court, officials have given bureaucratic and dead-end explanations.

The Cuban government has the same problems with “interpreting” universal Human Rights like “real socialism” had in the ‘70s. Reluctant to accept its violations of every human right, its defense argument is to label those who point out their violations as “an attack on the Cuban government.”

The contradiction that resides in Cuba’s discourse, information and exercise of Human Rights, when Cuban officials speak at the UN and when you can see that their application in this country is really terrible, it seems like we’re talking about two different countries. Will Cuban diplomats be able to come to terms with the reality they describe or will they continue this idea of two parallel worlds? That of “them”, the officials, and that of “us”, Cuba’s citizens.

[1] “Cuba pleads the UN to eliminate the use of Human Rights as an instrument of agression” on November 1st, 2016.

[2] Marlene Azor Hernandez “A misinformed Ambassador”, May 6th 2013.

[3] “Declaration of Human Rights is ordered to be burned in a bonfire outside the Ladies in White headquarters” ICLEP, , January 21st 2016. 

[4] Marlene Azor Hernández “Cuba violates Convention against torture”, October 28th 2016.

[5]Oscar Figueredo and Roberto Garaycoa “Social security and assistance in Cuba: So nobody is left helpless” on, November 2nd 2016.