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Human rights in Cuba

From Academic Kids

Contents

History and background

Since Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, allegations of human rights abuses have been made against the Cuban government.

Religion

In the early years of the revolution, at least, the Roman Catholic Church has suffered persecution. Not only did Castro severely limit its activities, but in 1961 he confiscated all property held by religious organizations without compensation. Hundreds of members of the clergy, including a bishop, were permanently expelled from the nation. Cuba was officially atheist until 1992 when the Communist Party of Cuba 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. During his visit, the Pope strongly condemned Castro and his human rights record but encouraged reconciliation. That same year, Cuba approved visas for nineteen foreign priests to take 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.

Political persecution

Although exact numbers are hard to determine, several scholars have attempted to estimate the number of political killings committed by Fidel Castro's administration.

R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Hawaii, gives the number of 73,000 as the mid-point estimate of victims of the democide by the Castro administration. The low and high estimates are 35,000 and 141,000 respectively. [1] (http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.TAB15.1B.GIF)

Dr. Armando Lago, of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, cites the following numbers in "The Human Cost of Social Revolution":

  • 15,000 to 18,000 executed for counterrevolutionary activities
  • 1,000 extrajudicial assassinations
  • 250 disappeared
  • 500 died in prison for lack of medical attention
  • 500 murdered in prison by guards
  • 150 extrajudicial assassinations of women

Lago calculated these numbers "using old news accounts, U.S. and Organization of American States records and family histories." [2] (http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y00/sep00/08e1.htm) Lago's study relies heavily on records of the US State Department and the Organization of American States. The US government is hostile to Cuba and the OAS has barred Cuba from participating in the organization since the 1960s.

The Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century (http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/20centry.htm) cites different sources for its numbers, among them "Cuba, or, the pursuit of freedom" by Hugh Thomas. According to Thomas's estimate there were "perhaps" 5,000 executions by 1970. The author of the Historical Atlas summarises his findings as follows: "The dividing line between those who have an ax to grind and those who don't falls in the 5,000-12,000 range."

The "Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation" placed the number of political prisoners at "around 400" in 1998. Many of these were subsequently released. In 2001, Amnesty International estimated the number of "prisoners of conscience" as being "at least seven," but more were arrested or rearrested in 2002.

Cuba placed a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in 2001 but this ended after three years when, in 2003, three Cubans were executed for a ferry hijacking that resulted in no injuries.

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.

Armando Valladares is a highly controversial figure. His detractors contend that he was a policeman under the dictator Batista, and that he was part of a counterrevolutionary gang which carried out terrorist bombings. They charge also that he in fact plagiarized "his" poetry. [3] (http://www.cubasocialista.com/orgeng4.htm#Armando). 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, and that his imprisonment was the result of his vocal opposition to the Castro government. The author David Horowitz has called him a "poet" and "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.

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."

Emigration

From 1959 through 1993, some 25,000 Cubans fled the island, mostly by sea in small boats and fragile rafts. 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, some for political ones, but most departed for a combination of the two. Others fled by way of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, which is blocked on the Cuban side by barbed-wired fences and landmines. It is estimated that only one of every three or four Cubans who have attempted to escape has been successful. Thousands have died in the attempt or have been captured and imprisoned.

In 1995 the U.S. government entered into an agreement with the Cuban government to resolve the emigration crisis that created the so-called Mariel Boatlift of the mid 1990s, when Castro opened the docks to anyone who wanted to leave. The result of the negotiations was the Cuban Adjustment Act under which the United States was required to issue 20,000 visas annually to Cubans emigrants. The Bush administration has refused to comply with the act, issuing only 505 visas to Cubans in the first six months of 2003.

Ochoa affair

In 1989, General Arnaldo 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, largely on the basis of secret evidence. Opponents of the Castro government outside of Cuba expressed skepticism about the arrest and execution of Ochoa. In the opinion of former Brigadier-General Rafael del Pino, who had been a close personal friend of Ochoa since the early days of the revolution, the arrest and execution was an attempt to keep a different high-ranking Cuban official from defecting. Del Pino himself defected from Cuba in May 1987.

Cason affair

Main Article: Cason affair In March 2003, the government of Cuba arrested dozens of journalists, librarians, and human rights activists, and charged them with sedition due to their alleged contacts with James Cason, head of the US interest section in Havana. The accused were tried and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 28 years. In all, 75 journalists, librarians, and dissidents were given lengthy sentences averaging 17 years each. Among those sentenced were poet and journalist Raul Rivero, economist Martha Beatriz Roque, and Christian activist Oscar Elías Biscet. Amnesty International described the closed-door trials as "hasty and manifestly unfair." [4] (http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/action/index.asp?step=2&item=10678)

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez 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."[5] (http://www.ain.cubaweb.cu/2004/marzo/25cmconferencia.htm)

During the closed-door trial, evidence was presented that the defendants had received funds from the US 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.

Defenders of the actions by the Cuban government point out that other nations have similar laws forbidding citizens from accepting money from foreign governments when it would be applied towards the subversion of domestic political order. For his part, Cason denies offering funds to anyone in Cuba.

On November 29, 2004, the Cuban government unexpectedly released three dissidents arrested in the March 2003 roundup: opposition leader Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Marcelo Lopez, and Margarito Broche. The action followed a meeting between the Spanish ambassador and Cuba's foreign minister.[6] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4053581.stm) In subsequent days four more dissidents were released: poet Raul Rivero, Osvaldo Alfonso Valdes[7] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4055647.stm), journalist Edel Jose Garcia[8] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4063617.stm), and journalist Jorge Olivera [9] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4074191.stm). Seven other prisoners had previously been released for health reasons. Sixty-one of the 75 original inmates remain behind bars.

Persecution of Gays

Homosexuals are not permitted to join the Communist Party, because being gay is assumed to be contrary to communist ethics. Homosexuality can have an adverse impact on a person's professional career in a society where all senior appointments depend on membership in the country's sole legal party. Cuba tolerates neither lesbian nor gay newspapers, nor LGBT organisations. The Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians, formed in 1994, was suppressed in 1997 and its members were arrested. Being gay is illegal if it causes a "public offence"; this vague law alas led to the arrest of men who are effeminate.

Indirect repression

According to Human Rights Watch, the Cuban government has broad authority to restrict freedom of speech, association, assembly, press, and movement. Cuban Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo once justified such restrictions as similar to laws that Spain uses to protect its monarchy from criticism. [10] (http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/cuba/Cuba996-01.htm#P359_16110).

Cuba's constitution of 1976 makes human rights subservient to the state's political aims. Article 62 states:

None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to what is established in the Constitution and by law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violations of this principle can be punished by law.

Another clause in the 1976 Cuban constitition states that anyone suspected of being prone to commit a crime in the future, as a preventive measure, can be sent to jail indefinitely.

In Cuba, it has at times been illegal to buy food from unauthorized sources. Established as early as 1962, food rationing has been condemned by opponents of the Cuban government as a form of control, since people who rely on the Cuban government for food subsidies may have those subsidies reduced or stopped if they are involved in counter-revolutionary activities. The Supply or Ration Book has controlled the amount and the frequency of Cubans' food purchases. In recent years, however, a largely-tolerated black market and grey market have arisen. Also, economic reforms have been instituted that allow farmers to sell a portion of their production in markets. These changes have loosened the previous regime of rationing.

From the age of sixteen (the legal voting age), every citizen must carry an Identity Card. This passport-like I.D. includes a complete personal history, showing present and past addresses, work history, marital status, and number of children. Castro's critics cite this as a form of oppression.

Permission from the government is required to move to another home or to change jobs. Travel abroad is highly restricted - but still possible - for workers in some fields (healthcare, schools, government) as well as for some dissidents. Castro opposition leader Oswaldo Payá has been allowed to travel abroad to receive his Sakharov Prize, while independent journalist Yndamiro Restano, permitted to leave Cuba to receive an award, has not been allowed to return.

Castro's opponents argue that organizations such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Women's Federation, the Young Pioneers, and various student organizations, coerce adults and youth into participating. Many of these organizations require their members to perform "voluntary work" in the fields, to take up sentry duties, and to attend political meetings and rallies. Supporters of the government argue that no one is forced to join these organizations but that, with the emergence of a nomenklatura in Cuba, membership confers certain social advantages, thus causing some to feel "pressured" to join if they wish to get ahead.

Human rights at Guantanamo Bay

As a result of the Spanish-American War, the United States obtained a lease on Guantanamo Bay. From 2002 the base has been used to house suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere in facilities called Camp X-Ray, Camp Delta, and Camp Echo. Allegations of mistreatment and torture at the prison camp have been made by former detainees and by international human rights organizations. The U.S. has classified the prisoners held at Camp X-Ray as "illegal combatants" rather than prisoners of war, and claims that the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions do not apply. The Bush administration also claims that Cuba retains sovereignty over the US Naval base at Guantanamo, and that the prisoners may thus be held indefinitely without the US Constitutional protections that would apply if they were being held on United States territory (see Cuban American Bar Ass'n, Inc. v. Christopher, 43 F.3d 1412 (11th Cir. 1995)).

See also:

References

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