The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has paid special attention to the human rights situation in Cuba and, in the use of its competence, has observed and evaluated the human rights situation in special reports4, in Chapter IV of the Annual Report5, and through the case system.6 In addition, on several occasions it has asked the Cuban State to adopt precautionary measures for the purpose of protecting the life and personal integrity of Cuban citizens.7
On January 31, 1962, the Government of Cuba was excluded from participating in the inter-American system by Resolution VI adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, held in Punta del Este (Uruguay).8 On June 3, 2009, during its Thirty-ninth Regular Session held in Honduras, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) set aside Resolution VI adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and established that “the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.”
The IACHR has recognized that the Cuban State – including the time of exclusion, is “juridically answerable to the Inter-American Commission in matters that concern human rights” since it “is party to the first international instruments established in the American hemisphere to protect human rights” and because Resolution VI of the Eighth Meeting of Consultation “excluded the present Government of Cuba, not the State, from participation in the inter-American system.”9
Based on the criteria spelled out by the IACHR in 1997 to identify those states whose human rights practices merit special attention, the Commission has considered that the human rights situation in Cuba fits within the first and fifth criteria, insofar as the political rights enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man are not observed, and structural situations persist that have a serious and grave impact on the enjoyment and observance of fundamental rights enshrined in the American Declaration.
The restrictions on the political rights to association, freedom of expression, and dissemination of ideas, the lack of elections, the lack of an independent judiciary, and the restrictions on freedom of movement over decades have come to shape a permanent and systematic situation of violation of the human rights of the inhabitants of Cuba. In the course of 2012, the information available suggests that the general human rights situation has not changed. The above-indicated human rights situations, as well as severe repression and restrictions of human rights defenders persist. Also, the IACHR received information on violence and discrimination against LGTBI persons in Cuba.
In preparing this report, the Commission has obtained information from international agencies, civil society organizations, and the Cuban government via the official web site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba. The Commission notes the scarcity of information available on human rights in Cuba from sources both on the island or abroad.
On January 23, 2013, the Commission sent this report to the State of Cuba and asked for its observations. The State did not respond.
II. ECONOMIC SANCTIONS
As regards the economic and trade embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba since 1961 and which continues in force, the IACHR reiterates its position in terms of the impact of such economic sanctions on the human rights of the Cuban population; accordingly, it reiterates that the embargo should end.10 Without prejudice to the foregoing, the economic embargo imposed on Cuba does not release the State of its obligation to carry out its international obligations, nor does it excuse the violations of the American Declaration described in this report.
III. SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA A. Respect and guarantee by the State for the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person - The death penalty
The Commission observes with concern that Cuban law makes the death penalty the punishment for a significant number of crimes, especially crimes against the security of the State. The language of the law is broad and vague, and the death penalty can be applied even in the most summary proceeding11 that does not afford the minimum guarantees necessary for the accused to be able to exercise his right to an adequate legal defense.12
As was observed in Chapter IV of the Annual report of 2008, the IACHR welcomes the fact that on April 28, 2008 the Council of State decided to commute the death penalty of those sentenced to that grave and irreparable punishment, and sentenced them to life or 30 years in prison instead. However, three people sentenced to death for supposed terrorist crimes would appear not to have had their sentences commuted.
The Commission is mindful of the State’s comment to the effect that:
Even if it is included in the national legislation, the application of this sanction has a very exceptional nature in Cuba. It is only applied by the authorized tribunal, in extremely serious cases, for a reduced number of crimes for which this sanction is established, and it is nuanced by a wide range of requisites and guarantees that must be complied with. Life-term sentences are prescribed for some crimes with the aim of using this as an alternative for the death penalty.
Philosophically speaking, Cuba is against application of the death penalty. We are in favour of eliminating it when suitable conditions exist.
We have been forced, in the legitimate defence of our national security, to establish and to apply severe laws against terrorist activities and crimes designed to destroy the Cuban state or the lives of its citizens, always adhering to the strictest legality and with respect for the most ample guarantees.”13
The IACHR hopes that the commutation is extended to include all those sentenced to the death penalty.
Having said this, the Commission observes that under Cuban law, a significant number of crimes carry the death penalty, especially crimes against the security of the State. The language of the law is broad and vague.
Capital punishment is the penalty for crimes against the security of the State; against peace and international law; against public health; against life and bodily integrity; against the normal conduct of sexual relations; against the normal development of childhood and adolescence; and against property rights. The crimes against the security of the State that carry the death penalty are the following: acts committed against the independence and territorial integrity of the State; those aimed at promoting war or armed action against the State; the provision of armed services against the homeland; providing aid and comfort to the enemy; espionage; insurrection;14 sedition; usurpation of political or military control; sabotage; terrorism; hostile acts against a foreign State; genocide; piracy; enrolling in the service of a foreign military force; apartheid15 and other acts against the security of the State. Other capital offenses include: the unlawful production, sale, use, trafficking, distribution and possession of drugs, narcotics, psychotropic substances and others having similar effects;16 murder;17 rape;18 violent pederasty;19 corruption of minors;20 robbery committed with violence or intimidation.21 The death penalty is also the punishment for a significant number of offenses criminalized in broad or vague language that include expressions like “dangerous state.”22
Furthermore, as previously noted, in Cuba the death penalty can be ordered even in especially expedited summary proceedings. The Commission has written that “[a]lthough Article XVIII of the American Declaration refers to the simple and brief procedure whereby the courts will protect persons from acts of authority that violate any fundamental rights, the requirement of simplicity and brevity cannot be applied to a trial that does not allow the accused to defend themselves with all the guarantees of due process of law, and even more so in cases where the penalty that could be applied is irreversible by nature, that is, death.”23
According to the information available to the Commission, the last time the death penalty was used in Cuba was in 2003, when Messrs. Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac24 were executed. However, the death penalty continues to be applied in the especially expedited summary trials. The Commission believes that if capital punishment is an option, then the judicial branch must be an independent one, where judges exercise a high degree of scrutiny and respect the guarantees of due process. Here, the Inter-American Court has written that:
capital punishment is not per se incompatible with or prohibited by the American Convention. However, the Convention has set a number of strict limitations to the imposition of capital punishment.25 First, the imposition of the death penalty must be limited to the most serious common crimes not related to political offenses.26 Second, the sentence must be individualized in conformity with the characteristics of the crime, as well as the participation and degree of culpability of the accused.27 Finally, the imposition of this sanction is subject to certain procedural guarantees, and compliance with them must be strictly observed and reviewed.28
The IACHR observes that the gradual trend in the hemisphere is toward abolition of the death penalty29 and, in that respect, welcomes the statement made by the Cuban State to the effect that:
Even if the death penalty [sic] prescribed in the national legislation, Cuba understands and respects the arguments of the international movement that proposes its elimination or a moratorium. For that reason, our country has not rejected initiatives in the United Nations having this aim.30
B. Right to liberty and security of the person
With respect to the right to liberty and security of the person, the American Declaration indicates that every human being has the right to liberty31 and no one may be deprived of it except in those cases and as per the forms established by pre-existing laws.32 According to the American Declaration, every person who has been deprived of liberty has the right to have the legality of his or her detention ascertained without delay by a court, and to be tried without undue delay, or otherwise to be released.33 In addition, every person accused of a crime has the right to be heard impartially and in a public proceeding, to be judged by courts previously established as per pre-existing laws, and to not be subject to cruel, infamous, or unusual punishment.34
In relation to the right to personal liberty, the IACHR has observed with concern35 the continuation on the books and enforcement of criminal statutes in Cuba of the offense called “pre-delictive social dangerousness” (“peligrosidad social pre-delictiva”), provided for in the Criminal Code. Article 72 of the statute provides that:
Dangerous state is considered to be the special proclivity one finds in a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by the conduct observed in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality.
The definition of “estado peligroso” (“dangerous state”) is contained in Article 73(1) of the Criminal Code, which establishes that such a state “is noted when any of the following indicators of dangerousness is observed in the subject: (a) habitual drunkenness or dipsomania; (b) drug addiction; and (c) antisocial conduct.” Article 73(2) provides:
anyone who habitually breaks the rules of social coexistence through acts of violence, or by other provocative acts, violates the rights of others, or who by his or her general conduct violates the rules of social co-existence or disturbs the order of the community, or lives as a social parasite from the work of others, or exploits or practices socially reproachable vices, is considered to be socially dangerous by virtue of such anti-social conduct.
Article 75(1) of the Criminal Code provides that “anyone who, although not covered by any of the dangerous states described in Article 73, has ties or relations to persons who are potentially dangerous to society, to other persons, and to the social, economic and political order of the social State and may therefore be inclined to commit crimes, shall be warned by the competent police authority.”
If a person engages in one of the forms of conduct defined as dangerous, security measures, both pre- and post-delictive, may be applied to him or her. Article 78 of the Criminal Code provides that the person found to be in a “dangerous state” may be subject to the imposition of therapeutic, re-educational, or surveillance measures by the organs of the National Revolutionary Police. One of the therapeutic measures consists – according to Article 79 – of being confined to care facilities, psychiatric institutions, or detoxification centers.36 The re-education measures are applied to allegedly anti-social individuals and consist of confinement in a special establishment for work or study, and handing the person over to a work collective for monitoring and orienting their conduct. These measures are imposed for at least one year and no more than four years.
These rules of the Cuban Criminal Code are supplemented by Decree No. 128, issued in 1991, which establishes that the declaration of pre-delictive dangerousness must be decided in a summary proceeding. According to that decree, the National Revolutionary Police puts together a case file that shows the conduct of the “dangerous person” and presents it to the Municipal Prosecutor, who has two days to decide whether to present it to the Municipal Court. If the Municipal Court considers the case file complete, it sets the date for the hearing in which the parties appear. Twenty-four hours after the hearing is held the Municipal Court must hand down its judgment.
The Commission considers that the criminal law should punish offenses or even frustrated attempts to commit an offense, but never attitudes or presumptions of an offense.37 The IACHR is concerned about the use of the criminal law provisions concerning dangerousness, for it is a subjective concept on the part of the person making such a determination, and its vagueness constitutes a factor of juridical insecurity for the population, since it creates the conditions for the authorities to commit arbitrary acts. The Commission also considers it extremely serious that these provisions – which are per se incompatible with the principles established in the American Declaration – are applied using a summary procedure to persons who have not committed any offense but who according to the discretion of the Cuban authorities are considered dangerous (peligrosas) to society, and therefore deserving of severe measures of security depriving them of liberty.38 In these cases, the State intervenes without limitations and does not hesitate to violate the right to individual liberty.
The impairments to the personal liberty of political dissidents in Cuba will be evaluated in the next section.
C. Respect for and guarantee of political rights
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.39 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.40
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:
Artcle 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.”41 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.42
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 sovereignty43, violates the right to political participation of the Cuban people.
1. Situation of Defenders, Political Dissidents, and Political Repression
In 2006, the Commission notified the parties and published, in its Annual Report, Report on the Merits 67/0644, 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 9145 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.46
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.47
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.48 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.49 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 report on the merits.50
According to the information received, in the course of 2012 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.
In effect, in the course of 2012, information has continued to be received on physical attacks, threats, harassment, and acts of repudiation against human rights defenders, particularly in the context of the repression of expressions of social protest related to the rights of persons deprived of liberty due to their dissidence or political opposition. The report by Amnesty International published on March 22, 2012, is consistent with the assessment made by the Commission in its 2011 Annual Report, indicating that the repression of human rights defenders in Cuba takes the form of physical assaults and detentions for brief periods ranging from a few hours to several days.51
According to the Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional, during the first half of 2012 there were more than 3,000 temporary detentions allegedly due to “political motivations.”52 The figures offered by the same organization indicate the following record of detentions per month: January, 631; February, 604; March, 1,158; April, 402; May, 423; and June, 427 detentions. According to the organization, in all cases the detentions were carried out arbitrarily and using different modalities, that is, for a duration of “a few hours” or several days, and in some cases “confinement under subhuman conditions” was reported, or “the subsequent abandonment of detainees in remote or desolate places.” In addition, the detentions were said to be carried out by the political police and were said to have been aimed at impeding the participation of the persons detained in different types of activities (political, social, religious, etc.). The organization highlights that the figures would represent more than twice the number of detentions recorded for the same period in 2011, and four times more than the record obtained in 2010; which would mean an upward trend in what is referred to as “low-intensity” political repression.
By press release of January 23, 2012, the Inter-American Commission condemned the death of Cuban dissident Wilmar Villar, who was a member of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba, an opposition group in Cuba.53 According to the information available, Mr. Villar died after having been on a hunger strike to protest the criminal proceeding brought against him and the judgment handed down by a Cuban court that convicted him of “contempt of authority, resistance, and attempted criminal activity” (“desacato, resistencia y atentado”).
The IACHR received information that indicates that on April 30, 2012, 10 human rights defenders were assaulted, beaten, and arrested in the city of Colón, Matanzas, while staging a demonstration across from the offices of the State Security agency and the institutional headquarters of the Communist Party in that city to demand the return of a banner and edible goods that were said to have been confiscated from some political dissidents. Among the persons said to be affected were Iván Hernández Carrillo, Diosdado González Marrero, Francisco Rangel Manzano, Iván Méndez Mirabal, and the Ladies in White Blanco Alejandrina García de la Riva, Asunción Carrillo, Leticia Ramos Herrería, Caridad Burunate Gómez, Mercedes Caridad Laguardia, and Yanelis Pérez Rey.54
The IACHR also received information on the alleged detention of José Daniel Ferrer García, leader of the organization Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU), on April 2, 2012, while his home was being searched by state agents, who were also said to have mistreated his older daughter and to have pillaged his personal belongings. According to the information provided, the UNPACU was organizing a peaceful demonstration to demand the release of other activists who were said to have been arbitrarily detained, and who at that moment remained in prison.55
It was reported that this same defender was detained once again on May 9, 2012, and subjected to other acts of harassment, such as the surveillance of his home by two patrol cars of the political police, who were said to have threatened to detain him if he attempted to go to the city of Havana, or that they would place nails to pop the tires of bicycles or cars of persons who attempted to go to his home. On November 5, 2012, the IACHR decided to grant precautionary measures on his behalf and on behalf of Andrés Carrión Álvarez, Ángel Moya Acosta, Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Pedro Arguelles Morán, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, and others, who were allegedly said to have been subjected to continuous arbitrary assaults and detentions, apparently due to their opposition to the government. Precautionary measures were granted considering that their lives and personal integrity were being placed at risk.
In October 2012, the organization “Directorio Democrático Cubano” reported that attacks were suffered by three of its members (Yanisbel Valido Pérez, Hanoi Almeida Pérez, and Alexei Sotolongo Díaz) after they were arrested on October 17 with the alleged participation of officials from the Ministry of Interior. According to the organization’s spokespersons, the three persons detained were subjected to “extreme beatings” and one of them had blows to the head and memory lapses.56
The Commission was informed that during the month of November 2012, numerous detentions continued against opposition activists. By press release of November 9, 2012, the IACHR condemned the wave of arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders that took place in the first days of November in Cuba, when it was reported that at least 37 persons were detained, especially in the cities of Havana and Camagüey.57
The IACHR notes the detentions that occurred on November 7 and 9 allegedly by officials of the State Security Department in conjunction with the National Revolutionary Police. According to the information provided on November 7, attorney Yaremis Flores Marín was detained as she left her home situated in the province of Havana, by security and police agents. Her family members reported that the authorities had not given them information on her whereabouts until November 8 when, through the “switchboard of the National Revolutionary Police – 106t” they indicated that she was detained at the “Criminal Investigation and Operations Division” and that an investigation had been initiated against her for the crime of “dissemination of false news against international peace.”58 According to the information provided, Ms. Flores was released the night of November 9; nonetheless, the release papers did not indicate whether she would continue to be under investigation and on what charges.
Related to Ms. Flores’s arrest, the IACHR also received information that indicates that the day of her detention a group of persons went to Department 21 of State Security to request information as to her whereabouts. These persons included her husband, Veizant Boloy González; Antonio González-Rodiles Fernández, director of the independent project “Estado de Sats”; Rolando Reyes Rabanal, an independent journalist and member of the “Movimiento opositores por una nueva República” (“Movement opponents for a new Republic”) and the “Comisión de Atención a Presos Políticos y sus familiares” (“Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and their family members”); Andrés Suárez, a member of the “Comisión de Atención a Presos Políticos y sus familiares”; and another group of persons who left after receiving no response from the authorities. Nonetheless, they were said to have been violently arrested subsequently by persons in plainclothes who identified themselves as agents of the security corps59. As reported, an agent was said to have grabbed Mr. Rodiles “by the head and beaten him against the rear windshield of the patrol car where … he was along with another official wearing a green uniform from the Ministry of Interior, he was beating him on the ribs to force him into the car, while two other men grabbed him by the feet for the same purpose.” The rest of the persons detained were transferred to different police units where they reported they remained for several hours until they were released with no charges being brought against them. The Commission learned that a complaint was filed with the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic regarding these events to have the complaints investigated, to have sanctions imposed on the officials involved, and for compensation for the damages caused.60
Regarding the situation of Mr. Rodiles, the information available indicates that he was detained at the Division of Criminal Investigations and Operations of the Ministry of Interior, for the crime of resisting authority, where he remained until November 26, 2012.61 Mr. Rodiles publicly denounced the physical violence to which he was subjected during his arrest and in the wake of which he had marks on his body and had suffered pain during the time he was detained. His family members denounced that the forensic exam to show the lesions received during his detention was not performed.62
Various Cuban organizations indicated that several persons, among them Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and other activists, went to the police station of Acosta, in Havana, to call for the release of those who were arrested; as a result, they themselves were detained. Human rights defender Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, was said to have declared that subsequently her husband, Ángel Moya, was arbitrarily detained along with Julio Aleaga, Librado Linares, Félix Navarro, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Eduardo Díaz Fleites, and Guillermo Fariñas Hernández.63
It was also reported that in the city of Camagüey Virgilio Mantilla Arango was arrested in a violent procedure, and that subsequently Humberto Galindo Moya, Elicardo Freire Jiménez, and Ángelo Guillermo Álvarez Olazábal were so arrested. The persons who were said to have gone to the police unit of the Garrido district in the city of Camagüey to demand the release of the political prisoners were also said to have been arrested. They are: Pablo Jiménez, Alberto Faustino Calá, Jeiser Torres, and Santos Manuel Fernández Sánchez.
The information received by the IACHR indicates that the reprisals against human rights defenders include searches of their persons and homes. It was reported that on September 6, 2012, members of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Cívica y Desobediencia Civil “Orlando Zapata Tamayo” held a march in opposition to the government. While there were no arrests during the demonstration, once it was over the home of Misahel Valdés Díaz, a member of the national executive committee of the Frente and its coordinator in Santiago de Cuba, had been searched, and that in that operation Vivian Hernández Peña, a member of the organization Ladies in White, was arrested, along with Misahel’s wife and daughters, one of them two years of age.64
The IACHR has continued receiving information that is said to confirm that there is a climate of hostility and cruelty against women human rights defenders in Cuba, and especially against the members of the group Ladies in White, which takes the form of an attitude of repression and repudiation of the organization’s activities. According to the information received, women human rights defenders continue to the be victims of repeated physical assaults, are arbitrarily detained during demonstrations of social protest, and are limited or impeded from peacefully exercising their right to assembly.
The IACHR monitored this situation during its 144th period of sessions. Specifically, during the hearing regarding acts of aggression directed against women human rights defenders by security agents of the Cuban State, the IACHR was told that such acts of aggression had worsened since 2011. According to the information provided by the persons who requested the hearing, of the more than 1,000 arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders reported in Cuba as of March 2012, more than 50% were of women defenders.65
The type of acts of aggression perpetrated against women human rights defenders in Cuba was also a topic taken up during that hearing. In this respect, the IACHR was informed that in addition to the beatings, searches of homes, death threats, and arbitrary arrests that women human rights defenders have been subjected to constantly were new forms of aggression, as there have been reports of women sexually harassed and threatened with rape, and of women who had been forcibly stripped in public and even bitten by security agents, in both public places and in the detention centers to which they are said to have been taken.66
In the case of the group Ladies in White67, the information received by the IACHR indicates that the attacks, threats, and acts of aggression against their members were constant and would be aimed at avoiding holding events and public expressions of social protest, as well as the peaceful exercise of the right to assembly. More details on this topic are explained in Section D of this report.
The IACHR received information about the detention of Leticia Ramos Herreria, a member of the Ladies in White, and Eduardo Pacheco Ortiz, both members of the “Movimiento Independiente Opción Alternativa – MIOA,” which occurred on November 3, 2012, allegedly by state security agents in the municipality of Cárdenas, province of Matanzas. According to the report, both were forced by the security agents to get out of the vehicle in which they were travelling and to get into a jeep of the National Revolutionary Police in which they were taken to a local police unit where they were physically assaulted.68
In addition, the IACHR has learned that the threats received by the women defenders referred to possible acts against the members of their families, especially against their children. In this respect, the Commission was informed that after the death of dissident Willmar Villar Mendoza, on January 19, 2012, his wife Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, a member of the Ladies in White, had been approached by state agents who allegedly threatened to take her two daughters, 7 and 5 years of age, if she continued her activities in the organization.69 In addition, Damaris Moya Portieles, an activist with the Movimiento Femenino por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks, was said to have been arrested on May 2, 2012, and according to the information available, the officials of the political police threatened to rape her 5-year-old daughter.70
In the face of the situation described, the IACHR has granted precautionary measures to protect the life and integrity of several women human rights defenders and their families in Cuba. Such was the case of Damaris Moya Portieles, mentioned in the previous paragraph. The IACHR also granted precautionary measures on behalf of Sonia Garro, a member of the organization Ladies in White and of the Fundación Afrocubana Independiente, who was at the women’s prison known as Penitenciario de Mujeres de Occidente pursuant to a preventive detention measure, and deprived of food as the result of an incident that occurred with a woman prisoner. Finally, the IACHR ordered precautionary measures on behalf of Yoanni María Sánchez Cordero, who was reportedly being subjected to frequent acts of aggression and detention, presumably due to having published several articles on the Internet regarding the human rights situation in Cuba.
In addition to the acts of aggression against women human rights defenders, in 2012 the IACHR has continued receiving information regarding physical attacks and arbitrary detentions of dissident leaders and opponents of the government. According to the information, these detentions intensified around the visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the city of Havana for the purpose of repressing any expression, denunciation, or protest related to the defense of human rights that might occur during that event.71