Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Human rights in Cuba
History and background
The Roman Catholic Church has suffered persecution at least in the first years. Not only did Castro severely limit its activities, but in 1961 he confiscated all property held by religious organizations without compensation. Hundreds of members of the clergy, including a bishop were permanently expelled from the nation. Cuba was officially atheist until 1992 when the Communist Party of Cuba agreed to allow religious followers to join the party. In 1998, Pope John Paul II visited the island and was allowed to conduct large outdoor masses. During his visit, the Pope strongly condemned Castro and his human rights record but encouraged reconciliation. That same year, Cuba approved visas for nineteen foreign priests to take up residence in the country. As well, other religious groups in Cuba such as members of the Jewish community are now permitted to hold public services and import religious materials and kosher food for passover and receive rabbis and other religious visitors from abroad.
Although exact numbers are hard to determine, several scholars have attempted to estimate the number of political killings committed by Fidel Castro’s administration. R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Hawaii, list the number of 73,000 as victims of the democide of the Castro administration. Dr. Armando Lago , of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy , cites the following numbers in "The Human Cost of Social Revolution"
- 15,000 to 18,000 executed for counterrevolutionary activities
- 1,000 extrajudicial assassinations
- 250 disappeared
- 500 died in prison for lack of medical attention
- 500 murdered in prison by guards
- 150 extrajudicial assassinations of women
Lago calculated these numbers "using old news accounts, U.S. and Organization of American States records and family histories" . Lago's study relies heavily on records of the US State Department and the Organization of American States. The US government is hostile to Cuba and the OAS has barred Cuba from participating in the organization since the 1960s.
The Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century cites different numbers, among them "Cuba, or, the pursuit of freedom" by Hugh Thomas. According to his estimate there have been "perhaps" 5,000 executions by 1970. The author of the Historical Atlas summarises his findings as follows : "The dividing line between those who have an ax to grind and those who don't falls in the 5,000-12,000 range."
The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation placed the number of political prisoners at "around 400" in 1998. Many of these were released, and in 2001, Amnesty International estimated the number of "prisoners of conscience" as being "at least seven", but several were rearrested in 2002.
Cuba placed a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in 2001 but this ended after three years when three Cubans were executed in 2003 for a ferry hijacking which ended with no injuries.
In 1960, Armando Valladares was working at the Cuban Postal Savings Bank agents of the Ministry of Communications handed him a card bearing a communist slogan and told him to put it on his worktable. The 23-year-old Valladares refused. Astonished, the agents asked him if he had anything against Castro. Valladares answered that if Castro was a communist, he did.
Armando Valladares is highly controversial figure. His detractors contend that he was a policeman under Batista and that he was part of a counterrevolutionary gang which carried out terrorist bombings and in fact plagiarized "his" poetry. . He was convicted on a charge of placing bombs in public places and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Others contend that he was never part of the Batista police, and was actually jailed for his vocal opposition to the Castro government. David Horowitz has called him a "poet" and "Human Rights Hero".
He claims to have been tortured and humiliated. One of Valladares' fellow prisoners was a young man named Roberto Lopez Chavez . While on a hunger strike to protest prison abuses, Valladares claims the guards denied him water until he became delirious, and proceeded to urinate in his mouth and on his face. Chavez died shortly after. Valladares was released from prison after twenty-two years due to the intervention of France's Socialist President François Mitterrand.
From 1959 through 1993, some 25,000 Cubans fled the island, mostly by sea in small boats and fragile rafts. At times this exodus was tolerated by the Cuban government as a "release valve", at other times they have impeded it. Some Cubans left for economic reasons, others left for political ones, but most left for a combination of the two. Others fled by way of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, which is encircled on the Cuban side by barbed-wired fences and heavily mined. It is estimated that only one of every three or four Cubans who have attempted to escape has been successful. Thousands have died in the attempt or have been captured and imprisoned.
In 1995 the U.S. government entered into an agreement with the Cuban government to resolve the emigration crisis that created the "rafter exodus" of the mid 1990s when Castro opened the shores to anyone that wanted to leave. The result of the negotiations was the Cuban Adjustment Act under which the United States was required to issue 20,000 visas to Cubans annually. However, the Bush administration has refused to comply with the act issuing only 505 visas to Cubans in the first six months of 2003.
In 1989, General Arnaldo Ochoa, once proclaimed "Hero of the Revolution" by Castro, and three other high-ranking officers were brought to trial for drug trafficking. This offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, yet Ochoa and the others were convicted of treason, and promptly executed, largely based on the use of secret evidence. Opponents of the Castro government outside of Cuba expressed skepticism about the arrest and execution of Ochoa. In the opinion of former Brigadier-General Rafael del Pino, who had been a close personal friend of Ochoa since the early days of the revolution, the arrest and execution of Ochoa was an attempt to keep another high ranking Cuban official from defecting. Del Pino, himself, defected from Cuba in May 1987.
Main Article: Cason affair In March 2003, the government of Cuba arrested dozens of journalists, librarians, and human rights activists and charged them with sedition due to their alleged contacts with James Cason , head of the US interest section in Havana. After being tried the accused were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 28 years. In all, 75 journalists, librarians, and dissidents were given lengthy sentences averaging 17 years each. Among those sentenced were poet and journalist, Raul Rivero , economist, Martha Beatriz Roque , and Christian activist, Oscar Elías Biscet. Amnesty International described the closed-door trials as "hasty and manifestly unfair". 
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque denied these charges and stated: "Cuba has the right to defend itself and apply punishment just like other nations do, like the United States punishes those who cooperate with a foreign power to inflict damage on their people and territory".
During the closed-door trial, evidence was presented that the defendants had received funds from the US Interests Section. Cuban officials claim that the goal of this funding was to undermine the Cuban state, disrupt the internal order and damage the Cuban economy.
Defenders of the actions of the Cuban government point out that other nations have similar laws forbidding people from accepting money from foreign governments towards subverting the domestic political order, although Cason denies offering funds to anyone in Cuba.
On November 29, 2004, the Cuban government unexepectedly released three dissidents arrested in the March 2003 roundup: opposition leader Oscar Espinosa Chepe , Marcelo Lopez and Margarito Broche. The action follows a meeting between the Spanish ambassador and Cuba's foreign minister. In subsequent days four more dissidents were released, poet Raul Rivero , Osvaldo Alfonso Valdes  journalist Edel Jose Garcia  and journalist Jorge Olivera . Seven other prisoners had previously been released for health reasons. 61 of the 75 original inmates remain behind bars.
Persecution of Gays
Homosexuals are not permitted to join the Communist Party, since being gay is assumed to be contrary to communist ethics. This can have an adverse impact on a person's professional career in a society where all senior appointments depend on membership in the country's sole legal party. Cuba tolerates neither lesbian or gay newspapers nor LGBT organisations. The Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians , formed in 1994, was suppressed in 1997 and its members were arrested. Being homosexual is illegal if it causes a "public offence," and this vague law las led to the arrest of men who are effeminate.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Cuban government has broad authority to restrict freedom of speech, association, assembly, press, and movement. Cuban Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo once justified such restrictions as similar to laws that Spain used to protect its monarchy from criticism. .
Cuba's constitution of 1976 makes human rights subservient to the state's political aims. Article 62 states:
- None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to what is established in the Constitution and by law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violations of this principle can be punished by law. Another clause in the 1976 Cuban constitition states that anyone suspected of being prone to commit a crime in the future, as a preventive measure, can be sent to jail indefinitely.
In Cuba, it has been illegal to buy food from unauthorized sources. Established as early as 1962, food rationing has been condemned by the opponents of the Cuban government as a form of control, since people who rely on the Cuban government for food subsidies can have those subsidies reduced or stopped if they are involved in counter-revolutionary activities. The Supply or Ration Book has controlled the amount and the frequency with which food may be purchased. In recent years, however, a black market and grey market has arisen that is largely tolerated. Also, economic reforms have been instituted that allow farmers to sell a portion of their production in markets. These changes have loosened the previous regime of rationing.
From the age of 16 (the legal voting age), every citizen must carry an Identity Card. This passport-like I.D. contains a complete personal history, showing present and past addresses, work history, marital status, and number of children. While Castro's critics cite this as a form of oppression, his supporters point out that similar I.D. cards are in use in some democratic industrialized countries such as France and Spain, and that, by itself, the card does not restrict a citizen's activities in any way.
Permission from the government is required to move to another home or change jobs. Travel abroad is highly restricted - but still possible - for workers in some fields (healthcare, schools, government) as well as some dissidents. Castro opposition leader Osvaldo Paya has not been allowed to travel abroad, while independent journalist Yndamiro Restano , permitted to leave Cuba to receive an award, has not been allowed to return.
Castro's opponents argue that organizations such as the local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Women's Federation, the Young Pioneers, and student organizations coerce adults and youth into participating. For the CDR's, while depending on the individual "leaders", this is usually not the case. Many of these organizations require their members to perform "voluntary work" in the fields, take up sentry duties, and attend political meetings and rallies. Others argue that no one is forced to join these organizations but that with the emergence of a nomenklatura in Cuba, membership in these organisations confer certain social advantages, thus some may feel "pressured" to join if they wish to get ahead.
Human rights at Guantanamo Bay
As a result of the Spanish-American War the United States obtained a lease on Guantanamo Bay. From 2002 the base has been used to house suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere at Camp X-Ray, Camp Delta and Camp Echo. The U.S. has classified the prisoners held at Camp X-Ray as "illegal combatants" rather than prisoners of war, claiming that the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions therefore do not apply. The Bush administration also claims that, technically, Cuba retains sovereignty over the US Naval base at Guantanamo, and therefore the prisoners may be held indefinitely without the US Constitutional protections that would apply if they were being held on United States territory (see Cuban American Bar Ass'n, Inc. v. Christopher, 43 F.3d 1412 (11th Cir. 1995)).
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