|Political Dissention in Cuba and American Democracy
Human Rights Dossier
Cuban leader Fidel Castro established the first communist dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere after leading a coup to overthrow Fulgencio Batista in 1959, after which the Cuban people eagerly looked towards their dreams of a future in which civil liberties and free elections were restored. While successful in reducing illiteracy and providing public health care, the Castro regime is widely criticized throughout the world for its numerous human rights violations and arbitrary arrests of political prisoners. For instance, Fidel Castro implemented a system of repressive state machinery in which the government conducted the summary trials and executions of thousands, suppressed political dissidents, closed independent media outlets, and ended independent economic activity. The Cuban government commonly punishes political dissent with arbitrary and preemptive detention of its citizens. Cuba restricts freedom of movement, assembly, press, speech, and access to information. While not illegal acts in Cuba, these are rights inherent to all people. Fidel Castro handed over the leadership of the state to his brother Raúl in 2008; Raúl Castro has continued to uphold the repressive state machinery implemented by his brother despite international pressure, criticism and calls for justice.
Cuba’s human rights abuses are more prevalent than ever. Within the last fifteen years, the amount of attention the Cuban government has received from international organizations, such as the United Nations, Human Rights Council, and Amnesty International has increased dramatically. This is in part due to the introduction of the digital age and the warming of relations with the rest of the world. Previously, the government had consolidated its power to a point that independent journalists and librarians were subjected to arbitrary and periodic detentions, harassment, and seizure of equipment and books, as these were seen as necessary actions for the survival of the regime. Cuban citizens had no access to foreign magazines or newspapers, since many mainstream publications are outlawed as enemy propaganda--including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights1. Now that digital information is more readily available to international groups and other states, the Castro regime’s political abuses are being dragged into the spotlight. For example, a number of cases receive international recognition--the Damas de Blanco, El Grupo de los 75, and the fifty-three prisoners released in the negotiations with U.S. President Barack Obama. To provide a brief overview, the Damas de Blanco is an opposition movement made up of wives and female relatives of political dissidents2. El Grupo de los 75 were arrested on charges of conspiring with the United States and working to attack the independence of Cuba3. The fifty-three prisoners that were recently released are also a subject of contention. Journalists from the New York Times and the Miami Herald have reported that the nature of the release is not only dubious, but that a number of released men and women have already been re-arrested4.
A contextual analysis of the history between the West and Cuba will provide insight into the shifting relationship with the Western hemisphere--more specifically the United States. Reports from the Human Rights Watch, academic journals, and government agencies will allow us to understand the tumultuous nature of past relations, and how it will affect the world’s assertions that justice will henceforth be served for victims of the Castro regime. American rhetoric claims to be promoting the support for human rights, democratic governance, greater economic prosperity and transparency in Cuba. The Cuban people, claims the United States, must be able to move forward independently of their government in order to create a functioning and prosperous civil society.
This dossier’s objective is to reveal and analyze the most prevalent of Cuba’s human rights violations—an unprecedented number of arbitrary political detentions. Additionally, a contextual and overarching history of the West’s relationship with Cuba will provide a basis for understanding how the Obama administration and the rest of the world are working to normalize relations with the communist state. This dossier is also unique in its current prevalence to international relations and human rights—we will provide an overview into the most austere cases of human rights abuses of the last fifteen years. Additionally, it will examine how the easing of tensions with the United States will affect the perpetuation of human rights abuses. “The voices of freedom cannot be drowned out by the threats of a frightened regime. The machinery of repression has tried to quiet those voices, but in vain. Years of deception cannot hide the truth, either from the people or the international community.”5 It is important to note that relations with Cuba are changing as this report is being written, but nevertheless, we will make sure that the report is up to date and factual in its analysis.
The American Perspective
Shortly after the rise of Fidel Castro and the ousting of the Batista regime in 1959, the United States immediately began to take various measures in attempt to overthrow his government.6 From the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 to the longstanding embargo policy, the hostile relationship between the United States and Cuba has largely been driven by two main forces: ideological differences and human rights abuses in Cuba.
Let us begin with an analysis of the importance of the ideological divide between the United States—and largely, the Western world—and Cuba. After Fidel Castro took power, in the midst of the Cold War and the ideological global civil war between Democracy and Communism, the economic stranglehold, especially during the Eisenhower administration, became increasingly tightened.7 In 1962, for example, President Kennedy announced a comprehensive ban on all trade with Cuba, and such restrictions were only tightened throughout the duration of the 1960’s.8 During the Reagan administration of the 1980s, President Reagan himself deemed the human rights abuses in Cuba as comparable to that of the totalitarian Nazi Germany, a statement that presumably was driven largely by ideological considerations over a general concern for human rights.9 Irrespective of these concerns, the United States failed to overthrow the revolutionary regime, and further failed to break the ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union.10
In the 1980s, the issue of human rights became the focal point for Western policy towards Cuba.11 Especially worrisome for the Reagan administration were the ideological “camps” that Cuban children were placed into, where they were indoctrinated into the threatening totalitarian and Communist ideological sentiments of the Cuban regime.12 From the perspective of the United States and the West, Cuba was seen as little more than a “tropical version of the Soviet Union,” with scores of political prisoners and “total government control of human freedoms.”13 Numerous United States congressional hearings pertaining to human rights violations in Cuba were held during the Reagan era as well. For example, in 1984, during one of these hearings, Congressman Gus Yatron, a Republican representative from Pennsylvania, stated “the Castro government actively engages in acts of torture and harassment, as well as other drastic steps to suppress all forms of political dissent.”14 As a result, in 1986, the United States released “a 38 page report on human rights abuses in Cuba,” leading many in government to compare the totalitarian regime in Cuba to the likes of North Korea.15
Such a sentiment was met with no cessation during the 1990s in the United States. The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, for example, sought to ease the effects of the embargo on the Cuban population by “prohibiting foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba,” while allowing non-governmental organizations to freely donate food and medicine to the Cuban population, so long as they were for the betterment of the people and not instead sold as exports for profit.16 With the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba fell into an economic crisis, yet continued to hold on to its Marxian dictatorial system, all the while, still “refusing to open the political process or the economy.”17 Thus, imprisonment of political dissidents was still commonplace, and with the further disintegration of the economy, over 125,000 Cubans were either exiled, fled the island, or were imprisoned.18 As a result, in 1996, the United States Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which stated that the embargo would not be lifted until free and fair elections were conducted, and human rights abuses subsided.19
However, by 1998, free and fair elections had yet to be conducted, therefore the embargo was not lifted—remaining in place only to yield negative consequences for the general Cuban population. Despite recommendations by the Council on Foreign Relations, advising the United States to reconsider their policy towards Cuba in order that the embargo would not continue to negatively affect Cuban civil society, it remained in place. It was not until December of 2014 that the efficacy of the embargo came into question.20 By 1999, there was a general consensus among those in the Clinton administration that without bipartisan reconsideration of the U.S. policy towards Cuba, the negative economic effects of the embargo upon the Cuban population would continue, only furthering animosity between the Castro regime and the United States. 21
Cuba’s Recent History
Black Spring of 2003
The early weeks of March of 2003, known as the “Primavera Negra” or “Black Spring” in Cuba, is a result from a crackdown and imprisonment of 75 journalists, librarians, activists and known dissidents of the Castro regime.22 23 According to Espinosa Chepe—former economic advisor to Fidel Castro and current activist/international journalist that was imprisoned with the other 75 activists in 2003—the purpose was to once and for all diminish the growing public dissatisfaction of Castro’s government and to create public panic.24 The imprisonment of the 75 activists in 2003 created the group, Damas de Blanco, or Women of White—women dissidents who are related to the 75 imprisoned and other political prisoners.25 Damas de Blanco have been publicly politically active ever since the Black Spring and, since 2010, are the only activist opposition group with authorization to conduct marches.26 The seventy-five prisoners were detained and tried for “conspiring with the United States against Cuba,” an ambiguous reason for detainment, and sentenced anywhere from 6 to 25 years in jail.27 Shortly after their trials in 2003, twenty of the 75 were released on a “licensed” parole due to health reasons; eight of the 20 left in exile and one died.28 Although more political prisoners were already in jail at the time, the arrests of the 75 activists became an international base for new human rights conversation to open up.29 Following the Black Spring, international political opinion declined and sanctions were taken against Cuba from the European Union.30 The sanctions taken against Cuba consisted of not permitting high political officials to visit the island or participate in cultural events. However, trade with the island remained open, making it more of a symbolic move against Cuba.31
Once Fidel Castro stepped down and his younger brother, Raúl Castro, took over in 2008, Spanish representatives in the European Union succeeded after pressing firmly to lift the sanctions placed on Cuba since 2003.32 Spain had already been pushing for sanctions against the island to be lifted since 2005, when the E.U. suspended the sanctions but did not completely remove them, stating that humanitarian changes to the island cannot proceed if dialogue is not open.33 Spain and Cuba began the Dialogue for Human Rights meetings in 2007, which were mediated by the Catholic Church.34 But once Raúl Castro took over power and the sanctions made by the EU on Cuba lifted, representatives of the Catholic Church, even the Spanish Minister of External Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, made more visits.35 These meetings between the three actors finally yielded results, but only once Spain agreed to take in the majority of the freed political prisoners and their families.36 By the middle of 2011, Cuba had released 166 political prisoners, 52 of whom were the rest of the original 75 arrested during the Black Spring of 2003.37
Summit of the Americas
The US and Cuba were able to come to an agreement in late 2014 where both countries would make an effort to normalize relations.38 On December 17, 2014, the agreement was announced and both countries released prisoners the other had requested to be freed—Cuba released 53 of its current political prisoners, while the US released 3 Cubans detained for espionage.39 Then on April 12, 2015, a historic meeting occurred at the XII Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama where for the first time since the embargo was put in place the leaders of both countries met in person to discuss the status of the relation between the two countries and try and make a plan for the future of that relationship.40
The case of Cuba is unique to Latin America—separated from the United States by merely an ocean and described as the “tropical Soviet Union.”41 When the Castro regime came into power in 1959, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in an ideological battle in order to become the next global hegemon. The Castro regime aligned with the Soviet bloc rather than with the United States, and within a matter of years, the United States had lost the Cold War in Cuba and imposed an embargo that was only recently reevaluated in 2014. The embargo imposed in 1961 by President Kennedy was largely a failure; it cut off support for the Cuban people and solidified the strength of the Castro regime over the state. The Bay of Pigs invasion was yet another failure that the United States cannot undo. Taken, as a whole, general U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba was a defeat that the United States has not yet forgotten. However, escalating tensions with Russia has given the United States an opportunity to rewrite history. The Obama administration’s “reset” on Cuban relations is in fact a chance to, in a way, “beat” the Russians and gain influence over Cuba. U.S. involvement in Cuba is easily justified to the American people and to the rest of the world, since Cuba is considered to be the battleground of a new political and ideological bout between the U.S. and communism. According to some political analysts, we have thus entered into a New Cold War with Cuba.
However, this New Cold War rhetoric is slightly different than that of its predecessor. It is not about winning a war of ideologies—Democracy vs. Communism—but rather the United States’ primary goal of “promoting democracy and freedom” across the globe. However, the rhetoric regarding Cuba is not so much about the promotion of democracy—as America would have it seem—but rather about the failure to promote and secure democracy in Latin America during the Cold War. This draws into question the effectiveness and reality of America’s efforts to promote human rights in the world. Does the United States really work to promote human rights or are they only working to secure their political influence across the globe? Is America’s rhetoric regarding the promotion of peace, democracy, and freedom a farce?
Upon a closer examination of U.S. policy in Cuba, we can conclude that there is no policy that is directly improving conditions of human rights on the ground. Just as this policy is grounded in the New Cold War paradigm, it is of equal importance to denote this paradigm as one of imperialism, whereby more emphasis is placed on the amount of influence in a region, and less about the physical territory of the region. For example, as part of the agreement between Cuba and the United States, the embargo would be lifted under the condition that 53 political prisoners would be released. However, even with the release of these prisoners, dozens more political prisoners remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups. Thus, one must question the legitimacy of the claims and actions of the United States. If the embargo was reconsidered while scores of long term and short-term political prisoners are still in Cuban prisons, their human rights denied under the gauze of the United States promoting freedom, democracy, and human rights, what is the true aim of the improved relations between the two countries?
It is clear that current relations between the United States and Cuba are less about human rights and the betterment of the Cuban economy, and more about U.S. relations in the region. Many experts have pointed to the meeting of President Obama and Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama as marking “better prospects for Cuba’s economy and U.S. relations more broadly in Latin America.”42 However, human rights abuses have been largely ignored. The embargo itself will require congressional approval to be lifted, which is highly unlikely in the near future. We can conclude, then, that economic conditions in Cuba have not improved, and that human rights abuses are still occurring, despite the rhetoric of freedom and democracy.
This realization brings with it many implications. If we define imperialism as a policy of expanding influence throughout a region through forces originating from a regime, then we can define the changing tides of U.S. policy towards Cuba as an extension of U.S. imperial prowess. The United States has been the subject of much praise throughout the world as a result of the beginnings of normalized relations with Cuba. However, human rights have continued to be abused, political prisons of dissidents have remained full, and economic conditions continue to worsen. In fact, between January and August of 2014, over 7,188 short-term prisoners were arrested and detained as a result of protesting or exercising the basic human right of freedom of expression.43 Regardless, the international community has continued to vocalize its praise of the United States and Obama’s efforts to improve relations with the Castro regime. U.S. influence in the region has increased as a result of such praise.
It is worth noting that it is only U.S. influence in the region that has increased as a result of these normalization efforts. The Cuban people continue to suffer, as dissidents of the Castro regime are frequently imprisoned. The praising of U.S. efforts to normalize relations with Cuba has only served to legitimize the oppression of the Cuban people, and to expand influence in the region in an all-too-familiar imperialist manner.
The new changes being made to the relationship between the US and Cuba has made many Castro opposition leaders come out and voice their detestation. Many dissidents and exiled Cubans feel that the reopening of relations between US and Cuba, and the fact that the US removed Cuba from the state-sponsored terrorist list, is a betrayl. In an interview with José Basulto, the founder of the group Hermanos al Rescate (Brothers to the Rescue) stated that as “Cuba [has been] practicing terrorism for more than half a century” it would be immoral for the U.S. to take Cuba off the states of terrorism list.44 He brought up the example of February 24, 1996 when two small planes belonging to his Hermanos al Rescate group, a group dedicated to rescuing Cubans that flee Cuba by raft, were shot down by air missiles from Cuban MIG fighter planes over international waters, resulting in the death of three pilots.45 Sharing his sentiment on the opening of talks and renewed relations between Cuba and the United States, Basulto stated that “‘opening relations with a country (Cuba) that has not made any changes or concessions on human rights” is an “insult” to the exiled and a “loss of time for the United States.’”46*
Additionally, some believe that these diplomatic changes legitimize Cuba’s oppression and human rights violations.47 Sylvia Iriondo—President of Mar por Cuba, or Sea for Cuba, an activist Castro opposition group—stated in her interview with El Mundo, that the meeting in Panama between the two leaders and the new agreements just “[legitimize] the oppression, violence, and barbarity that continues to hold the Castro regime.”48 This outrage towards the US having Cuba release 53 more political prisoners as the requirement to getting taken off the US Terrorist list, and the consideration of lifting the embargo seems to be a consensus among Cuban dissidents. They share a belief that this agreement does not hold the Castro regime accountable for any substantive changes in the realm of human rights violations.49
Recent evidence suggests that these renewed relations have yet to be able to enforce any substantial changes to the system of oppression and violation of human rights in Cuba. Already, supports are surfacing that two of the fifty-three prisoners released in the US-Cuba agreement have already been re-incarcerated.50 And according to both the Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional (CCDHRN)51 and the Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos (OCDH),52 in 2014 alone there were around 9,000 arbitrary detainments; the CCDHRN counted 489 arrests for political motives for just the month of December that year.53 The end of Cuba’s oppressive state machinery that began with Fidel Castro in 1959 is not within sight, as the United States would have you believe. The continued detention of political dissidents reveals that Cuba will continue on its historic path of oppression. If the United States truly holds the belief hat human rights are a top-priority issue in regards to mending the broken relationship with Cuba, it cannot tolerate the continuation of these abuses and violations of human rights. Otherwise, the U.S. will reveal that the only interests it has in Cuba are purely imperialistic in nature, absent of any moral values.
Agence France-Presse. "Detienen a Un Centenar De Damas De Blanco En Marcha En Cuba." La Jornada. July 13, 2014. Accessed May 14, 2015.
This article, from La Jornada a renowned left oriented news group from Mexico, writes about the event where around one hundred women from the Castro regime opposition group “Damas de Blanco” or Women in White, were arrested while on their Sunday march after mass the week of the publication of this article. The march coincided with the twenty-year anniversary of the sinking of a tugboat that left 37 dead.
Dozens of police officers showed up with buses to arrest these women on march and they loaded onto the busses peacefully without resistance. This article noted that since the foundation of this group in 2003, they have been arrested and detained frequently but always released within a couple hours to a couple of days. This article and event is a good example of how the Castro government has been known to constantly imprison activists without valid reasons just to suppress the people of cuba from really organizing.
Alissa Del Riego and Adrianna C. Rodriguez, “Ladies in White: The Peaceful March Against Repression in Cuba and Online,” Harvard Journal of Human Rights 24, accessed May 12th, 2015, http://harvardhrj.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/221-240.pdf
Authors Alissa Del Riego and Adrianna C. Rodriguez, Harvard Law School J.D. candidates wrote an article for the Harvard Human Rights Journal a detailed account of the suppression of Cuban citizens in the early 2000’s, specifically the imprisonment, violence, and silencing of political dissidents known as the Ladies in White. The authors do not put forth an argument, but rather illuminate the repressive forces that opponents of the Castro regime face on a regular basis.
This article contains many salient components, all of which formulate a coherent picture of how dissidents in Cuba are treated. Additionally, the authors present many qualities of everyday life in Cuba as one that is based on restriction, censorship, and scare tactics to ensure that no political opposition finds any medium through which to express discontent with the Castro regime. As Harvard Law students, the authors seem to have the background from which to analyze the legality of the measures taken by the Cuban government to suppress its own citizenry (especially its active opponents). Regardless, the article is laid out in such a way that it is accessible and comprehensible to the average reader of the Harvard Human Rights Journal.
This article’s importance rests on the fact that it sheds light to an important group in the realm of human rights issues in Cuba. Furthermore, it does much to expand the notion of the internet as a medium through which freedom of expression and opinion can flow.
“CFR Backgrounders: U.S.-Cuba Relations,” last modified April 15th, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/cuba/us-cuba-relations/p11113.
This article, released by the Council on Foreign Relations, a self-proclaimed non-partisan think tank, is the source of great praise for the establishment of normalized relations between the United States and Cuba under the Obama administration. The underlying tone and thus the argument presented in this seemingly objective article is one of great support for the decision by President Obama to begin to normalize an outdated and unsuccessful policy towards Cuba.
In terms of presenting support for their argument, authors Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee utilized various tools to emphasize the growing support for the weakening grip of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Such tools include numerous poll results, depicting the support of both the American and Cuban populations for the normalization of relations between the two countries. And though other strong tools are utilized in order to support their argument, there are clear weaknesses in this article. Though it claims to be a non-partisan organization, and despite the fact that the authors do recognize arguments in support for the Obama administration and its decision to normalize relations with Cuba, along with those who do not support this decision, there is clear bias in favor of the policy of containment utilized by the U.S. during the Cold War. Upon a close reading of the historical timeline presented in the article, one can easily decipher said bias.
The article is important in regards to informing an ill-informed reader on the basics of U.S.-Cuban relations from 1961 until today. And this such article would be appealing to any blind patriot. However, it does little more than that. But for purposes for simplistic historical knowledge, and with the addition of a timeline in the article, it is useful for purposes of succinct, basic history.
Ed McCaughan and Tony Platt, “Overview and Introduction to Human Rights and U.S.-Cuban Relations in the Reagan Era,” Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order 15 (1988): 2, accessed May 12th, 2015.
Authors Ed McCaughan and Tony Platt, both on the editorial board of Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order, wrote on U.S.-Cuban relations during the Reagan Era. Their article emphasizes the failure of the current U.S. policy towards Cuba, and the various ways by which this policy is exaggerated. They argue that this policy has ultimately been a failure, and offers a number of solutions to this unsuccessful policy.
The authors have both traveled to Cuba on many occasions, and as editors of Social Justice, they seem to offer somewhat of a respectable amount of authority on the topic of America’s policy regarding Cuba. Additionally, the layout and presentation of the article are quite effective. By introducing the various aspects of what was then (1988) the current U.S. policy towards Cuba (economic embargo, travel restrictions, media bias, censorship, etc.) and then moving to several solutions for consideration regarding how to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the reader obtains a comprehensive and succinct introduction and solution to the failed U.S. policy towards Cuba.
This short article provides a positive lens by which to analyze Cuban-American relations. When read today, when the U.S. and Cuba have began to normalize relations, it is particularly interesting to see how many of the solutions offered were in fact utilized. This article is important in terms of understanding Cuba as merely a failed effort on the part of the U.S. to diminish socialist/communist presence in the country. Furthermore, it shows that perhaps the sole reason for the previously tarnished relationship between the two countries is due mainly to Cold War politics that never ceased until 2014.
EFE. "Exiliados Cubanos Denuncian Que La Reunión De Obama Y Castro Legitima La 'opresión' Castrista." ELMUNDO. April 11, 2015. Accessed May 27, 2015.
Interview with leaders of various Castro opposition groups and their stances on the new dialogue being promoted between the United States and Cuba. And their positions on the seventh Summit of the Americas meeting in Panama City, Panama, where the historic meeting between President Barak Obama, of the U.S. met Raul Castro, the current president of Cuba; an event that has not occurred in half a century.
Elisabeth Malkin and Victoria Burnett, “Cuba Frees 53 Prisoners, U.S. Says,” New York Times, January 2, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2015.
This New York Times article addresses the release of fifty-three Cuban political prisoners as part of the deal with the United States to restore diplomatic relations and ramp up economic exchanges. However, many opposition figures and human rights activists claim that the Cuban government did not hold up its side of the deal and released fewer prisoners than they said they did. For example, some claim that a number of the listed prisoners had been released prior to the deadline and had already finished their sentence. The release of a small number of prisoners is not enough to combat the repressive state machinery imposed by the Castro regime.
Espinosa Chepe, Oscar. "Black Spring of 2003: A Former Cuban Prisoner Speaks." - Committee to Protect Journalists. March 17, 2009. Accessed May 27, 2015.
Testimony of a journalist imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, part of the 75 cubans imprisoned. Oscar Espinosa Chepe is a journalist in Cuba who writes reports for international news organizations such as The Miami Herald, and Spain’s El Pais.
"EU Lifts Sanctions against Cuba." BBC News. June 20, 2008. Accessed May 31, 2015.
Article written by the BBC about the 2003 sanctions on Cuba by the European Union being completely removed in 2008 even after they were already suspended in 2005. This complete removal of the sanctions was mainly possible with the help and support of Spain backing up the platform of opening dialogue with Cuba.
Franks, Jeff. "Cuba Frees Last of Prisoners from 2003 Crackdown." Reuters. March 23, 2011. Accessed May 30, 2015.
A Reuters report on the history of the 75 political activists who were imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. And an overview of the sanctions put in place against Cuba by the European Union in retaliation for the unlawful arrests.
“Human Rights Watch: Cuba, International Policy,” accessed May 12th, 2015, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/cuba/Cuba996-12.htm
This report by Human Rights Watch gives the reader a very sophisticated, accessible, and orderly presentation of Cuba’s relations with the international community. Most specifically, this report denotes the inherent failures of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and how other Western nations are beginning to lose sight of the human rights abuses committed by the Castro regime, despite the failure of the embargo. The report also criticizes the policy towards Cuba of Canada and the European Union, giving a full picture of the overall failed policies of various nations towards Cuba, and Cuba to the rest of the world.
The report is very well structured and presents a vast amount of information pertaining to the relationship of the West to Cuba in a presentable manner. Human Rights Watch (as mentioned in a previous annotation) is a sophisticated network of activists who provide intelligence from on the ground sources and through various monitoring activities. Thus, they exercise much authority on issues of human rights abuses. Furthermore, it is clear that all sides of the political coin are considered and subject to critique, an important aspect of reporting anything, but especially regarding failed diplomatic and economic policies and human rights abuses.
Though we know now that Obama has decided to take steps towards the normalization of relations with Cuba, this article is important in that it gives a contextual, overarching history of the West with Cuba. It is salient merely in the fact that all sides of the debate are considered, critiqued, and presented in an accessible manner. For scholars of human rights in Cuba and for scholars of international relations in Latin America, this study is important in that it makes coherent a large, (and often times) convoluted issue of Cuba’s relations with the West.
Human Rights Watch, “Cuba’s Repressive Machinery: Human Rights Forty Years After the Revolution--Political Persecutions,” June 1999. Accessed May 12, 2015.
The report provided by Human Rights Watch gives the reader a clear sense of the repressive state machinery put in place by the Castro regime in the 1950’s. Section IV of the report discusses political persecutions. Some criminal offenses include meeting to discuss the economy or elections, writing letters to the government, reporting on political or economic developments, speaking to international reporters, or advocating the release of political prisoners. While the number of arbitrary detentions has gone down in the last decade, the Cuban government continues to preemptively arrest a number of activists, doctors, reporters, and more.
Section IV of the Human Rights Watch report provides insight into a number of prosecutions during the late 1990s. It includes Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, director of Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes, who was arrested for “dangerousness” and sentenced to four years. The case of Dr. Dessy Mendoza Rivero is also discussed. Dr. Dessy Mendoza Rivero reported to the international press that there was a dengue fever epidemic in Santiago and that the government did not report its severity. The doctor was arrested on charges of “propagating an epidemic,” “illicit association,” and “enemy propaganda.” This section of the report provides insight into the types of charges the Cuban people face and the level of control of the Cuban state.
Jeronimo Andreu and Ezequiel Molto, “Presos de las buenas intenciones”, El Pais, May 12, 2013. Accessed May 15, 2015.
This article from the spanish newspaper “El Pais” dives into the aftermath that occurred in Spain once Spain received 115 exiled cuban political prisoners and their families; which came to a grand total of around 700 people. Different interviewed cubans in that group reported that the situation they were in now wasn’t much better than where they were in cuba, except now they are free. They reported that they were promised jobs, a living, and a house if they agreed to be exiled to Spain. But what they received was a dwindling 400 euros from the Red Cross and 595 euros from the government.
Jeya Lorenz and Madeline Bair, “Political Dissidents Speak Out Against the Regime in Cuba,” Witness (blog), November 4, 2013, http://blog.witness.org/2013/11/political-dissidents-speak-out-against-the-regime-in-cuba/
"Las Damas De Blanco." Las Damas De Blanco. Accessed June 1, 2015.
Home page to the activist group Damas de Blanco, or Women of White. Their website provides the history behind their group and the group’s mission.
This blog post discusses one of the largest organized opposition protests ever seen by the Castro regime. The church in Santiago, Cuba, dedicated to the country’s patron saint, Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre, is a mecca for locals and tourists alike. But September 8, 2013 was marked differently. As captured on video, dozens of critics of the Castro regime walked up the stairs of the church, forming the letter L, for “liberation” with their fingers. The political dissidents were speaking out for the numerous political prisoners of the Castro regime.
However, a number of these activists were arrested during this protest. What is unique is the style of documentation. This blog shows its viewers one of the rare videos of political protest in Cuba. It allows the international system to see, second-hand, the human rights abuses that pervade Cuban society.
Marc A. Caputo, “Diaz-Balart: Cuba already backsliding, re-arrested 2 of 53 political prisoners released in Obama deal,” Miami Herald, January 16, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2015.
Recently, the Cuban government released fifty-three political prisoners as part of negotiations with the United States. However, journalist Marc Caputo with the Miami Herald, reports that the Cubans are already backsliding on their deal. That is, they have already re-arrested two of the released prisoners. These two activists Rolando Reyes Rabanal and Luis Enrique Labrador, were arrested while attempting to join a pro-democracy movement--Movement for a New Republic. The arrests of the two men reveals that the Cuban government has not made any steps in protecting human rights and refuses to tolerate political dissent.
“One World Nations Online: History of Cuba,” accessed May 30th, 2015, http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/History/Cuba-history.htm
This website explores the historical relationship between the United States and Cuba from the time of Spanish colonization to 2006, when Raul Castro gained power. Of specific interest for purposes of the dossier are the sections relating to Cuba-U.S. relations following the fall of the Batista regime and the rise of Fidel Castro. Furthermore, this article provided relevant information pertaining to the New Cold War between the U.S. and Cuba, which was a focal point of our analysis.
State Department on Repression in Cuba, 2013, The Dream Deferred: Fear and Freedom in Fidel’s Cuba, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the Bureau of Public Affairs Fact Sheet.
This document, presented by the State Department, is a fact sheet entitled "The Dream Deferred: Fear and Freedom in Fidel's Cuba.” It begins with a brief description of the hopes of the Cuban people when Fidel Castro drove out President Fulgencio Batista. The Cuban population eagerly awaited the restoration of civil liberties and free elections. However, Fidel Castro implemented a system of repressive state machinery in which the government conducted the summary trials and executions of thousands, suppressed political opposition, closed independent media outlets, and ended independent economic activity.
The fact sheet goes on to describe the types of repression and human rights abuses experienced by the Cuban people. The government tightly controls distribution of information within Cuba, including access to the Internet, and reinforcement of revolutionary ideology and discipline is emphasized over any freedom of expression. Independent journalists and librarians are subjected to arbitrary and periodic detentions, harassment, and seizure of equipment and books. Cuban citizens have no access to foreign magazines or newspapers, since many such mainstream publications are outlawed as enemy propaganda--including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fact sheet concludes with a statement about the resilience of the Cubans despite the continuation of a repressive state--”The voices of freedom cannot be drowned out by the threats of a frightened regime. The machinery of repression has tried to quiet those voices, but in vain. Years of deception cannot hide the truth, either from the people or the international community.”
The Path to Freedom: Countering Repression and Strengthening Civil Society in Cuba, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Cong. (2012) (testimony of Roberta S. Jacobson). Web. Accessed May 12, 2015.
Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, is testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Jacobson argues that supporting human rights, democratic governance, and greater prosperity should be a fundamental U.S. objective throughout the hemisphere, especially in Cuba. She also points out that the Cuban government commonly punishes political dissent with arbitrary and preemptive detention of its citizens. Cuba restricts freedom of movement, assembly, press, speech, and access to information. Jacobson points out that the aforementioned actions are not criminal, but rather inherent to all people and that they are rights that must be defended. The Cuban people, she argues, must be able to move forward independently of their government and create a civil society.
Tran, Mark. “EU Scraps Sanctions Against Cuba” The Guardian. June 20, 2008. Accessed June 1, 2015.
International debate on Human Rights violations in Cuba arises after the European Union removes sanctions it had implemented on the island back in 2003.
Vicent, Mauricio. "Disminuye El Número De Presos Políticos En Cuba, Aunque Sigue La Represión." EL PAÍS. July 5, 2010. Accessed May 15, 2015.
At the time of this article in July of 2010, the author had found out from The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) that there were still 167 political prisoners, which were 34 less than the end of 2009. The head of the CCDHRN, Elizardo Sanchez, informed the journalist that of the 167 political prisoners, 10 are serving their sentences out of jail due to health reasons while another 25 are still very ill inside the jails. He continued by stating that while the totalitarian regime continues, the situation of human rights for Cubans will never significantly improve.
Vicent, Mauricio. "Un Preso Político Cubano Del Grupo De Los 75, En Libertad." EL PAÍS. January 17, 2009. Accessed May 14, 2015.
In 2003, 75 Cubans from a Christian opposition group were arrested and detained for 6 years. This article from the biggest newspaper journal out of Spain, “El Pais”, reports on the situation of the 75 prisoners after one of them, Renaldo Labrada, had been released that year in 2009, after being imprisoned for “‘conspirar’ con Estados Unidos y ‘atentar contra la independencia’ de Cuba ‘conspirar’ con Estados Unidos y ‘atentar contra la independencia’ de Cuba”, “‘conspiring’ with the United States and ‘attacking against the independence’ of Cuba”. That group of 75 had collected 25,000 signatures in 2002 and was planning on taking them to the government in hopes of asking for a referendum, called Project Varela, calling for political change. Labrada was included on the Amnesty International’s list of prisoners of consciousness. Although the Cuban government still refuses to view them as such and continues to call them “‘mercenaries’ funded by the United States”. Labrada’s release caused for the third round of discussions to open again in the Dialogue on Human Rights, meetings on the subject matter between the governments of Spain and Cuba since 2007. This article is an example of political prisoners in Cuba and the juxtapose positions between political activists and the government; and how they have been arrested and detained for expressing their discontent with the Castro regime.
“World Report 2015: Cuba,” last updated 2015, http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/cuba
Human Rights Watch released their annual report on Cuba in their 2015 World Report. This report denotes the most recent violations of human rights (based on the UDHR), spanning such phenomena as limits to freedom of expression, the repression of human rights activists, unsustainable prison conditions, and arbitrary detentions.
As an NGO, the quality of work expulsed by Human Rights Watch has historically been reliable and often looked to as a source of intelligence for human rights abuses as they occur on the ground. From individual testimony to large-scale monitoring projects, Human Rights Watch has again provided salient information regarding the human rights abuses in Cuba from 2014 and into 2015. Such abuses include over 7,000 arbitrary detentions of political dissidents from January to August of 2014, the broad, unspecified reasons to prevent political dissidents from leaving and reentering Cuba, and the limiting of freedom of expression vis-a-vis the blockage of internet usage for a large portion of the rural population. The report also denotes the shifting tides of relations between Cuba and the West. Such measures include establishing normalized relations with the United States, the push towards normalized economic relations with the European Union, and the allowance (but strictly monitored) of groups to examine prison conditions in Cuba.
Human Rights Watch and their annual World Reports play a vital role in the dissemination of knowledge regarding human rights violations worldwide. Their report on Cuba is of no exception. Documenting the various aforementioned abuses put pressure on regimes violating human rights to mend their ways, as well as expand the knowledge of human rights scholars and activists worldwide.