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Human Rights Developments

The human rights situation in Cuba, where civil and political rights are systematically violated in law and in practice, was punctuated in 1992 by reprisals against dissidents, particularly human rights monitors and peaceful pro-democracy activists. Trials staged in courts that lack independence ended in convictions and prison sentences that rank among the stiffest for thought crimes in the last ten years. Mobs organized by government agents beat dissidents and vandalized their homes. Critics of the government were fired from their jobs, and state-security police arrested, harassed and intimidated activists and their families.

Cuba lacks the laws and institutions that would protect basic civil and political rights. There is no free press; only state-owned media may operate legally. Free speech is curbed by laws that prohibit "enemy propaganda," "clandestine printing," and "defamation of public institutions." Peaceful dissenters are imprisoned on charges as serious as "incitement" and "rebellion." For insulting President Fidel Castro, Cubans are imprisoned for up to three years. Foreign journalists who interview political dissidents are frequently expelled from the country.

As in the past, Cuba does not extend legal recognition to civic or political organizations-such as labor unions or political parties-that are independent of the government or the Communist Party. Free association and assembly are punished under laws that prohibit "illegal association." Although the national legislative election system was reformed in 1992, there is no indication that the National Assembly will emerge as anything other than the rubber-stamp body that it has been, so long as political challenges to the Communist Party continue to be suppressed severely. There are no free and fair presidential elections.

Cuban courts are subordinate to the executive, and Cuban judges are required to demonstrate their "active revolutionary integration." Once brought to trial, defendants, especially in political cases, are almost always convicted.

The violation of the right to privacy is systematic and pervasive. Tight political control in Cuba is maintained through extensive monitoring of Cubans' daily lives. The monitoring is conducted by state-security police who commonly coerce or blackmail people into becoming informants; and by government-sponsored "mass organizations" such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which operate in the neighborhood and workplace. The failure to report criminal activity, including political "crimes," is punishable under Cuban law. Mass organizations, working together with state security police, stage protests by mobs that gather in front of the homes of supposed "counter-revolutionaries" in ostensibly spontaneous "acts of repudiation." The mobs typically yell insults, chant slogans, and frequently assault the dissidents and their supporters.

Prison inmates-both political prisoners and prisoners convicted of common-law crimes-reported that nonviolent protests in their cells, such as hunger strikes, spawned retaliation in the form of beatings, confinement in harsh punishment or isolation cells, denial of medical attention and confinement in prisons far from their families. There were frequent complaints of overcrowding, poor hygiene, sub-standard diet, and insufficient time outdoors.

The loss of trade and subsidies from the former Soviet Bloc has plunged Cuba into what the government acknowledges is its most dire economic crisis since the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power. Tighter food rationing has forced Cubans to turn to the illegal but thriving black market; transportation has been drastically reduced by a severe fuel shortage; basic hygiene products are virtually unavailable. The ever-increasing difficulty of daily life has given rise to groups advocating democratic and other reforms. These, in turn, have elicited from the governmentonly ideological retrenchment and greater control and repression.

Widespread anxiety about the economy was exacerbated by the U.S. government's adoption in October of the "Cuban Democracy Act of 1992," which expanded the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. This heightened U.S. hostility has provided the Cuban government with a pretext to tighten internal security controls against "anti-social behavior." According to the official press, the government has organized gangs of vigilantes into "rapid response brigades," not only to suppress any signs of discontent, but also to monitor possible paramilitary exile incursions from Miami. The Cuban press also reports that Cuba has trained and organized six million civilians-more than half the population-into militia units, and armed many of them. It has also built underground "civil defense" tunnels where Cubans can seek refuge in the case of a U.S. invasion.

In a positive development in 1992, the Cuban government released a number of political prisoners after Manuel Fraga Iribarne, the president of the Spanish autonomous region of Galicia, interceded on their behalf. At least nine of the 19 prisoners whose cases were raised by the Galician president have been released since his September 1991 visit to Cuba. Most have been released on the condition that they leave the country.

At the same time, however, the authorities continue to harass, arrest and imprison its opponents:

· Nine professors, a researcher and a secretary at the José Antonio Echevarría Superior Polytechnic Institute of Havana were fired from their jobs in January and February 1992, after signing a letter calling for academic freedom, the release of political prisoners, and democratic reform. Five others affiliated with the Institute were fired when they endorsed the letter. Three other signers-two professors at the Superior Pedagogical Institute Enrique José Varona and a graduate of the school-were also fired.

· In a similar case, three drafters of the "Socialist Democratic Project," a document calling for democratic change and constitutional reform, were fired from their jobs after submitting the proposal to the Communist Party Central Committee. They are Nestor Baguer, a journalist; Manuel Díaz Martínez, a poet; and Vladimiro Roca, an international affairs expert. An act of repudiation was subsequently held at Roca's Havana home. Reprisals were taken against two other signers: Enrique Julio Paterson was summoned to state security police headquarters for questioning, and a group of officially sponsored thugs physically assaulted Rolando Prats. Dimas Cecilio Castellanos, a professorat the Superior Institute of Agricultural Sciences, was fired from his job in April for possession of a tape recording of the document.

· In February in Santiago, police arrested Eduardo Vidal, Jorge Vázquez and Rigoberto Carcelles, three members of the pro-democracy group, Liberación, a Christian Democratic movement that advocates reform of the Cuban Constitution. In June, they were sentenced on charges of "enemy propaganda" to prison terms of five and six years.

· Yndamiro Restano, head of the social-democratic, pro-democracy Harmony Movement (mar), was arrested in Havana in December 1991 and tried in May 1992 along with María Elena Aparicio, another mar member. They were convicted of rebellion for their peaceful advocacy of democracy, and sentenced to prison terms of ten and seven years, respectively-among the harshest sentences imposed on peaceful activists in the last decade.

· Marco Antonio Abad and Jorge Crespo, artists and filmmakers, who were arrested at the end of 1991, were tried in October on charges of offending Fidel Castro ("contempt") and "enemy propaganda." Each faces eight years in prison for making an independent film that is deemed by the authorities to be "damaging to the honor and dignity of our Head of State."

The Right to Monitor

Human rights monitoring is illegal in Cuba. Despite numerous petitions for official recognition submitted to the Ministry of Justice by the various human rights monitoring groups currently attempting to function in Cuba, none has gained legal status. Laws restricting free expression and association, combined with near-constant surveillance by the state-security police, ensure that human rights monitoring is frequently punished.

Cuban rights activists are routinely harassed, questioned, intimidated and threatened by the state-security police, and frequently arrested. Since 1989 Cuban authorities have made more than 230 arrests of human rights monitors and pro-human rights political activists. At least 50 rights monitors and political dissidents are currently believed to be serving prison terms of up to ten years for their peaceful advocacy. Scores of others have been subjected to acts of repudiation or beatings by thugs.

State-security police frequently search the homes of human rights monitors, confiscating possessions such as typewriters, tape recorders and documents. Many human rights monitors have been firedfrom their jobs. At various times they have been either prevented from leaving the country or pressured to flee. Members of human rights groups are officially denounced as "counter-revolutionaries."

· On January 15, state security police arrested Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, his brother Sebastian Arcos Bergnes, and Jesús Yanes Pelletier, leaders of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, one of Cuba's two main human rights groups. A mob reportedly held an act of repudiation at the Havana home of Gustavo Arcos shortly before his arrest. The protest was reportedly staged in an ostensibly spontaneous reaction to a televised segment of the trial of three exiles who had been caught at the end of December 1991 entering the country illegally with arms and explosives. In that segment, the defendants read the names and addresses of the three activists, whom they testified they were instructed to contact if they ran into trouble. Gustavo Arcos and Jesús Yanes were released without charge a day later. Sebastian Arcos was kept in detention and tried in October on charges of spreading "enemy propaganda." He was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.

· On January 16, an act of repudiation that lasted more than 24 hours was staged at the Havana home of Elizardo and Gerardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (ccdhrn), Cuba's other leading human rights group. Human rights activist María Celina Rodríguez was badly beaten by members of the mob, forced into a police car and held for several hours, for trying to reach Sánchez's home.

· On January 31, a mob staged an act of repudiation at the home of detained activist Luis Alberto Pita Santos of the Association of Defenders of Political Rights. His home was ransacked and family members were detained by state security police for several hours. Pita, who had been imprisoned since October 1991, was tried in March 1992 on charges of offending the head of state, "clandestine printing," and "illegal association." He was sentenced to five years in prison.

· On March 4, Elizardo Sánchez was beaten by a rapid-action brigade as he and another rights activist, Lázaro Loreto, went to visit theircolleague, political dissident José Luis Pujol. The mob, which was staging an act of repudiation at Pujol's home, forcibly brought Sánchez to a police station, while Loreto and Pujol were arrested by police. Sánchez and Loreto were released the next day. Pujol was kept in detention and later tried and sentenced in July to three years in prison on charges of "contempt" for offending the president.

· Other human rights activists who were subjected to acts of repudiation, briefly detained, summoned for questioning by the police or harassed at their homes by members of mass organizations included Francisco Chaviano González, Gladys González, Rodolfo González, Lázaro Linares Echevarría, and Aida Valdés.

· Bienvenida Cúcalo Santana, of the Cuban Humanitarian Women's Movement, was arrested in December 1991, reportedly tried in September 1992, and sentenced to three years in prison for spreading "enemy propaganda."

· Juan José Moreno of ccdhrn was arrested on September 21 by state security police in Holguín province. He was one of some 15 people who were detained in the provincial prison and accused of spreading "enemy propaganda."

· Police again arrested Elizardo Sánchez of ccdhrn on October 9. While Sánchez was taken into detention, police searched his home-which doubles as the office of the Cuban Commission-and confiscated typewriters, tape recorders, and a camera. Meanwhile, an act of repudiation was staged outside. Sánchez, who was released without charge on October 12, is thought to have been detained to prevent him from attending two social functions-a party at his home to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the ccdhrn, to which a number of diplomats were invited, and a reception at the Spanish embassy to which he was invited.

International human rights monitoring has been severely curtailed since a brief opening in 1988. Despite repeated requests, Americas Watch has yet to receive permission from the Cuban government to conduct the kind of open investigation it undertakes routinely elsewhere in the region. Over the years, members of the Americas Watch board and staff have been allowed access to Cubaonly under the auspices of other organizations.

The Cuban government refused to cooperate with the resolution adopted in March 1992 by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which authorized the appointment of a special rapporteur for Cuba to investigate human rights conditions and report his findings to the next commission session. The Cuban government's 1988 agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross granting access to Cuban prisons and political prisoners remains suspended after being broken by the Cuban government in 1990.

U.S. Policy

In 1992, relations between the United States and Cuba focused on the debate over the "Cuban Democracy Act of 1992," which broadened the trade embargo against Cuba in an attempt to speed the collapse of the Castro government and establish democracy in Cuba. The explicit intent of the law is to foster democracy by punishing the Castro government while rewarding the Cuban people. It extends the current embargo by prohibiting foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. This extra-territorial effect of the law could translate into a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for the Cuban government. At the same time, the law allows food to be donated to nongovernmental organizations-such as the Catholic and Protestant churches-and individuals. Medicines and medical supplies may be exported as long as the Cuban government allows on-site inspection to ensure that the supplies "benefit ... the Cuban people" and are not sold for re-export. The law also allows the U.S. government to provide "assistance, through appropriate nongovernmental organizations, for the support of individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent democratic change in Cuba."

While Americas Watch commends efforts to pressure the Cuban government to improve its human rights practices, it has objected to provisions of the law, as well as the pre-existing embargo, that continue to impede human contacts by maintaining restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens and on telephone communications. Under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and successive accords reached by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (csce), the United States agreed to lift restrictions limiting "human contacts," including bans on travel and telephone communications. The principles set forth in the instruments would clearly favor the removal of any barrier to such contacts raised by a csce government in its relations with other nations.

Although the embargo allows U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, they are prohibited from spending any money there without the permission of the U.S. Treasury Department. If citizens defy this restriction, they can be prosecuted for "trading with the enemy," imprisoned for up to 12 years and fined up to $250,000; corporations are subject to $500,000 fines. Further, the Treasury Department may now impose a civil penalty of up to $50,000 against violators of the "Cuban Democracy Act."

Exceptions are made for only four categories of visitors to Cuba: U.S. or foreign government officials or officials of any intergovernmental organization of which the U.S. is a member; family members with relatives in Cuba; academics and researcherswith Cuba-specific expertise; and news media personnel. No other American can travel to Cuba, except as a guest of the Cuban government. The travel ban also applies to Americans who since 1988 have been permitted to import "informational materials" from Cuba-books, films, records and, since April 1991, art. Would-be importers may not travel to Cuba to arrange for these materials to be sent to the United States. The "Cuban Democracy Act" does not affect this ban. The embargo also impedes telephone communications between Cubans and Americans by blocking payment of revenue due to Cuba for completing calls. The Cuban Democracy Act does not alter this arrangement. On November 24, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution, by a vote of 59 to 3, with 71 abstentions, calling on the U.S. to discontinue the embargo against Cuba.

The United States continues to fund TV-Martí, the U.S. Information Agency's (usia) television broadcasts to Cuba, even though its transmissions have been successfully blocked by Havana and cannot be seen in Cuba. The Cuban government has retaliated by attempting to block the usia's widely listened-to Radio Martí broadcasts, which Cubans can now receive only by short-wave radio.

On three occasions in the last year, Cuban exile groups based in Miami entered Cuban waters with the intent to commit acts of violence in Cuba. In at least one case, the target was a civilian hotel-a wholly inappropriate target even in the midst of an armed conflict.

In one case in December 1991, three men on a small boat, in possession of weapons and explosives, were captured by Cuban authorities. They confessed to belonging to a U.S.-based exile terrorist organization and to undertaking a mission to commit acts of sabotage in public places in Cuba. They were convicted and sentenced to death by a Cuban court in January 1992. Within three weeks of their capture, one was executed by firing squad, while the two others had their sentences commuted to 30 years in prison. Americas Watch opposed the death sentences, particularly in light of the absence of a trial before an independent judiciary. An anti-Castro exile group, Comandos L, claimed responsibility for the mission.

In another incident, on July 4, 1992 four men entered Cuban waters but were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard after their boat stalled. The men, who were found by the Coast Guard to be in possession of weapons, were members of Comandos L. In the third incursion, in October, the Melia Varadero beach hotel on the northern coast of Cuba was strafed by machine-gun fire coming from a speedboat. Comandos L claimed responsibility for the attack.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the cases, and one of the men implicated in the second incident has been arrested. Vigorous prosecutions and public condemnations would send an important signal that the United States is not only uninvolved in these activities-a frequent accusation by the Cuban government-but that it will not tolerate such acts, particularly against civilians.

The State Department, in conjunction with the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, has been producing consistently reliable human rights reports on Cuba since 1989. The State Department's CountryReports on Human Rights Practices for 1991, issued in January 1992, provides an accurate account of human rights violations in Cuba. The State Department also regularly issues statements condemning the arrests and unfair trials of human rights and pro-democracy activists.

The U.N. Response

The U.S. delegation again led the campaign to censure Cuba before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva in February and March. Headed by Ambassador Kenneth Blackwell, the U.S. effort lacked the selective, highly ideological rhetoric that characterized the campaigns waged by the previous U.S. Ambassador, Armando Valladares, a former long-term Cuban prisoner. The U.S. delegation also balanced its initiative on Cuba with forceful efforts against other violator countries.

At the previous Commission session in 1991, Rafael Rivas Posada of Colombia was appointed special representative to Cuba. Ambassador Rivas was the Latin America representative in a 1988 visit to Cuba by a Commission delegation. Although the Cuban government did not permit the special representative to travel to Cuba, he produced a substantive report detailing 128 cases of abuse, based on information available from nongovernmental sources. Ambassador Rivas met in October 1991 with a broad spectrum of human rights monitors who follow developments in Cuba, including Americas Watch.

The Commission's 1992 resolution on Cuba raised the pressure on Cuba by upgrading the special representative to a special rapporteur. Cuba was also sharply criticized in a resolution that passed by a vote of 23 to 8, with 21 abstentions, and one commission member absent. As with the special representative, the Cuban delegation immediately announced that Cuba would not cooperate with the special rapporteur.

Ambassador Rivas was offered but declined the position of special rapporteur. Carl Johan Groth of Sweden, an Ambassador to Cuba from 1969 to 1971, was named rapporteur by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Mr. Groth was expected to produce an interim human rights report to the General Assembly in late November and a full report to the Commission in 1993. Americas Watch has met with him and provided him information on human rights conditions in Cuba.

The Work of Americas Watch

Americas Watch was not permitted by the Cuban government to visit Cuba in 1992. In April, Americas Watch requested permission to observe the trials of Yndamiro Restano, the pro-democracy activist, and Sebastian Arcos, the human rights monitor, but never received a response from the Cuban authorities.

In February, Americas Watch published a lengthy newsletter on Cuba, "Tightening the Grip, Human Rights Abuses in Cuba," which covered the period from August 1991 to February 1992. The release of the newsletter was timed to coincide with the meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

On August 12, Americas Watch testified on human rights violations in Cuba before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee inhearings on the "Cuban Democracy Act."

Americas Watch continued to campaign on behalf of individual political prisoners. In 1992, imprisoned poet María Elena Cruz Varela, serving a two-year term on charges of "illegal association" and "defamation of state institutions," received the Hellman-Hammett Award for persecuted writers from the Fund for Free Expression, a division of Human Rights Watch.

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