Political rights are of fundamental importance and are closely related to a set of other rights that make democratic government possible. According to the Inter-American Democratic Charter signed in Lima, Peru, on September 11, 2001, representative democracy constitutes the system recognized and required in the OAS for the stability, peace, and development of the region. The existence of free elections, independent and effective branches of government, and full respect for the freedom of expression, among others, are foundational characteristics of democracy that cannot be evaluated in isolation. From that perspective, fully guaranteeing human rights is not possible with the effective and unrestricted recognition of the rights of persons to constitute and participate in political groupings.
The right to vote is one of the essential elements of democracy and one of the means by which citizens freely express their will and exercise the right to political participation. This right means that the citizens can directly and freely, in conditions of equality, choose who will represent them in making decisions on public affairs.296 Political participation in turn through the exercise of the right to be elected presupposes that citizens can run as candidates on equal conditions and that they can hold public office subject to election if they win the required number of votes. The American Convention prohibits the suspension of this right even in states of emergency.297
One of the main criteria for including Cuba in Chapter IV of the Annual Report is the lack of free elections in keeping with internationally accepted standards, which violates the right to political participation enshrined in Article XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Men, which provides:
Article XX – Right to vote and to participate in government. Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free.
Article 3 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter defines the elements of democratic government in the following terms:
Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.
The State has affirmed that “Cuba’s democratic system is based on the principle of ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’,” adding that “[t]he Cuban people participate in the exercise and active control of Government through its political and civil institutions and in the framework of its laws.”298 In addition, it has stated that the restrictions provided for by law on the enjoyment of some political rights in Cuba have been the minimum essential for ensuring the right to self-determination, peace, and life of the entire people, as a response to the mounting anti-Cuban aggressiveness of the Empire.299
The American Declaration and the Inter-American Democratic Charter reflect a broad conception of representative democracy which, as such, rests on the sovereignty of the people, and in which the functions by which power is exercised are performed by persons chosen in free elections representative of the popular will.
In the view of the Commission those elements are not present in the Cuban elections, which are characterized precisely by the lack of plurality and independence and the absence of a framework of free access to various sources of information. In light of the international standards noted, the Commission reiterates that the lack of free and fair elections, based on universal suffrage and secret ballot as an expression of popular sovereignty300, violates the right to political participation of the Cuban people.
1. Situation of Political Dissidents, and Political Repression
In 2006, the Commission notified the parties and published, in its Annual Report, Report on the Merits 67/06301, in Case 12,476 (Oscar Elías Biscet et al.) regarding the political dissidents who were detained and prosecuted by highly summary procedures in the so-called “Black Spring” of 2003, based on the application of Article 91302 of the Cuban Criminal Code, as well as Law 88 on Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba, for acts related to the exercise of fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of thought, conscience, opinion, and expression, as well as the right to peaceful assembly and free association. The sentences ranged from six months to 28 years in prison.
In Report 67/06, the IACHR concluded that the Cuban State violated several articles of the American Declaration, including Articles I, II, IV, VI, XX, XXI, XXII, XXV, and XXVI, to the detriment of the victims in the case; Article V in relation to eight of the victims; the violation of Article X to the detriment of 14 victims, and the violation of Article XVIII to the detriment of 73 victims. In addition, the Commission concluded that the State had not violated Articles IX, XI, or XVII of the American Declaration to the detriment of the victims.303
Moreover, the IACHR recommended to the State of Cuba:
1. Order the immediate and unconditional release of the victims in this case, overturning their convictions inasmuch as they were based on laws that impose unlawful restrictions on their human rights.
2. Adopt any measures necessary to adapt its laws, procedures and practices to international human rights law. In particular, the Commission is recommending to the Cuban State that it repeal Law No. 88 and Article 91 of its Criminal Code, and that it initiate a process to amend its Constitution to ensure the independence of the judicial branch of government and the right to participate in government.
3. Redress the victims and their next of kin for the pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages suffered as a result of the violations of the American Declaration herein established.
4. Adopt the measures necessary to prevent a recurrence of similar acts, in keeping with the State’s duty to respect and ensure human rights.304
From July 2010 to March 2011, the Government of Cuba released persons who had been deprived of liberty since 2003 in the “Black Spring” [Primavera Negra], including the victims of Case 12,476 before the IACHR.305 Most of the people were released under the condition to be sent to Spain.
The IACHR reiterates that the guilty judgments handed down against the political dissidents should be set aside since they were based on laws that imposed illegitimate restrictions on human rights.306 In addition, granting conditional release amounting to house arrest [licencias extrapenales], to those who having been released opted to stay in Cuba does not constitute compliance with the recommendations that the IACHR issued in its merits report.307
According to the information received, in the course of 2014 the Government continued to carry out what the IACHR has referred to as a tactic of political repression on the basis of systematic arrests for several hours or a few days, threats, and other forms of harassment directed against opposition activists.308
In 2014, the Government has apparently continued its tactic of short-term arbitrary detentions without a court order, targeting political opponents, human rights activists, and independent journalists, who are usually held incommunicado for periods ranging from hours to days, normally at police stations. The IACHR has referred to this situation as a tactic of political repression on the basis of systematic arrests for several hours or a few days, threats, and other forms of harassment directed against opposition activists. In this regard, in 2012, the Committee against Torture expressed concern about the use of ambiguous criminal concepts such as “pre-criminal social dangerousness” to justify the imposition of security measures, restrictions on freedom of movement, intrusive surveillance, physical aggression and other acts of intimidation and harassment allegedly committed by officers of the National Revolutionary Police and members of State security bodies.
In 2014, the level of physical assaults, threats, harassment, and acts of repudiation against human rights defenders in Cuba continued, particularly those involved in the defense of the rights of persons who have been deprived of liberty for political reasons. According to Amnesty International, the Cuban Government does not recognize monitoring and protection of human rights has a legitimate activity, nor does it grant legal status to local human rights organizations.309 As noted, the repression of human rights defenders in Cuba takes the form of physical assaults and detentions for short periods of time, ranging from a few hours to several days.
Specifically, the Commission has received information confirming the same pattern as that identified in Chapter IV of the 2013 Annual Report, which typically featured physical assaults, arbitrary detentions, and restrictions on the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of assembly of human rights defenders, political dissidents, and women defenders belonging to the Ladies in White. group. In this regard, on May 12, 2014, the Commission extended the precautionary measure granted on 28 October 2013 (PM 264/13) for the members of the Ladies in White.
The IACHR was also informed of an alleged practice on the part of the State whereby health clinics refuse to treat persons involved in the work of defending human rights, even in those cases where the condition of the human rights defender is extremely serious.310 The IACHR recalls that the right of every person, without discrimination, to physical, mental and moral integrity is protected under the American Convention on Human Rights. The right to personal integrity in the area of health is closely related to the right to health, since adequate and timely health services are one of the principal means of guaranteeing the right to personal integrity.
Organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights have told the IACHR that family members of human rights defenders in Cuba tend to be victims of intimidation and threats from State authorities, as a form of repression and punishment for the work their family members do.311 In the case of the Ladies in White, they testified that the majority are mothers whose children are treated differently by the National Education System. For example, their children are required to receive Communist indoctrination and can be expelled from school if they refuse. One of the reports the Commission received concerned the daughter of one of the Ladies in White who was 14 when she finished her basic secondary school studies, but was not allowed to pursue pre-university studies on the grounds that her mother was a counter-revolutionary.312 The Commission was also informed that the sons and daughters of political dissidents are expelled from university because of the work their parents do. These acts of repression are also evident in the difficulty that adults have in finding jobs or becoming integrated into social life in Cuba.313
The Commission was also informed that in October 2014 Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, a Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) activist who was traveling to the Czech Republic to address a meeting of civil society organizations on various human right situations, was stopped by customs agents at the international airport in Havana and prevented from traveling without explanation. On September 30, 2014, he had also been prevented from traveling to a similar event in Chile.314
According to civil society organizations, the case of Sonia Garro Alfonso, a member of the Ladies in White group (an opposition movement consisting of female relatives of jailed dissidents) and founder of the Independent Afro-Cuban Foundation, a civil society organization,315 is illustrative of deprivations of liberty of this type, given that she has been held in pretrial detention accused of the crimes of “public disorder” and “attempted murder” since March 18, 2012, when she was arrested along with her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González and Eugenio Hernández Hernández, also political dissidents and accused of the same crimes, in an operation carried out by members of the ant-riot forces, police, and state security agents, at their home in Havana. Mrs. Garro has reportedly been in detention for more than two years, which exceeds the statutory limit of six months established by Cuban law for keeping a person in custody while under investigation. She was freed on December 9th 2014, although the charges against here were not removed.316 She has been refused medical assistance on several occasions and the authorities are allegedly obstructing her, her family, and human rights organizations from having information about her state of health, given that they are not allowed access to the medical records at the prison where she is interned.317
The Commission was informed that the trial of Sonia Garro Alfonso and activists Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González and Eugenio Hernández Hernández had been postponed for the fourth time on November 7, 2014.318 According to publicly available information, it is not uncommon for the trials of dissidents to be postponed. Amnesty International has stated that the Cuban authorities’ continual postponing of the trial without explanation raises concerns that the charges against the three may be politically motivated, and it has called on the Cuban authorities to ensure both that the trial “goes ahead in accordance with international standards, including the right of the accused to call defense witnesses and to challenge the evidence against them” and that the three defendants are “released immediately and allowed to await their trial outside of prison.”319 Furthermore, the Commission recalls that in the course of the 2013 hearing on the human rights situation of the Ladies in White in Cuba, it was also informed that since Ms. Garro Alfonso had been in prison, the prison authorities had refused to provide medical care, and her health had deteriorated.320
For their part, Amnesty International321 and Human Rights Watch322 have published reports to the effect that in Cuba, arbitrary detentions for short periods of time are a routine practice in the case of peaceful demonstrators, independent journalists and human rights activists, and is a way of restricting their liberty for having exercised their freedom of expression, their right of assembly, their freedom of association and their freedom of movement. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) has expressed concern at the growing criminalization of the exercise of civil and political rights. It reports that the individual or collective demonstration of popular discontent is an offense liable to prosecution ex officio.323 In 2014, the month-by-month figures for arbitrary temporary or politically motivated detentions were as follows: 1,052 in January; 1,051 in February; 813 in March; 905 in April,324 and 1,120 in May.325 In April 2014, the CCDHRN identified 90 cases of dissidents physically assaulted by the police or parapolice and another 104 of dissidents subjected to so-called “acts of repudiation,” other forms of harassment, or vandalism, generally of the homes of peaceful dissidents.326 According to the CCDHRN, the May 2014 figure of 1,120 detentions of peaceful dissidents is among the highest for politically motivated detentions in recent decades.327 The Cuban Human Rights Observatory (OCDH) reports that in October 2014 there were 787 arbitrary detentions, including 510 detentions of women, and underlines that this figure represents an increase of 229 over the preceding month. The IACHR observes with concern that the figures for 2014 indicate a clear trend toward increasing political repression in Cuba throughout 2014.328
Specifically in relation to the January 2014 figures for temporary detentions, according to media and civil society reports, in the days leading up to the second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), held in Havana from January 28 to 29, 2014, repression of dissidents escalated, resulting in the cancelation of various parallel forums.329 Amnesty International reports that dozens of dissidents were arbitrarily detained, while others were coerced not to participate in private events taking place in parallel with the second CELAC Summit.330 For its part, the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and Reconciliation recorded a total of 40 people arbitrarily detained for brief periods by the secret police between January 23 and 26, 2014. It also identified five people placed under house arrest and at least 18 who had been threatened or otherwise harassed by the authorities to prevent them from traveling to Havana.331
Since 2013, the CCDHRN has expressed concern at the many repressive actions organized, encouraged or allowed by the political secret police.332 According to the domestic press, in February 2014, the political secret police illegally detained and physically assaulted 70 dissidents meeting in various public places.333 For its part, the CCDHRN reports that, between January and June 2013, repressive actions resulted in 11 cases of physical assault, 15 victims of acts of repudiation, three victims of vandalism, and 71 people who reported having been subjected to various forms of harassment for their political opinions.334
The Commission has been told by human rights defenders that government sympathizers continue to stage “acts of repudiation” in front of human rights organizations and the homes of the Ladies in White.335 In this connection, the Ladies in White reported various instances of repression of the Ladies in White in 2014, such as the detention of several Ladies in January 2014 after they had been subjected to more than four hours of acts of repudiation, consisting of various objects being thrown by paramilitary mobs. [See section on defenders].
Hunger strikes remain a recurring method of putting pressure on the Cuban government. According to various media reports, trade unionist Jorge Ramírez Calderón, who is in the Nieves Morejón prison for disorderly conduct, atentado (violence or intimidation against a State official), and desacato (disrespect), declared a hunger strike on November 3, 2014 to demand the hours of sunlight to which he is legally entitled.336 According to the domestic press, Ernesto Castañeda Masó went on hunger strike on October 27, 2014 to protest allegedly having been charged with trumped up offenses because he had accused General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja (President Raúl Castro’s son-in-law) of abuse of power.337 Furthermore, political dissident Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta went on hunger strike in the Combined Eastern Prison on December 25, 2013, because of the poor condition of the food he received in solitary confinement.