Forty years after the revolution, Cuba's Fidel Castro maintains control through intimidation, repressive laws, and by imprisoning dissidents, Human Rights Watch said in a reportCuba's Repressive Machinery: Human Rights Forty Years After the Revolution .

Cuba's Repressive Machinery details how Cuba's laws deny basic rights such as freedom of expression, association, and movement, and describes the plight of dozens of individuals prosecuted under those laws. The 263-page report also details ill-treatment rising to the level of torture in Cuban prisons. Labor rights are routinely violated in Cuba's expanding foreign investment sector, the report shows, by laws obstructing union formation and requiring state control of hiring.

"Forty years after assuming power, the Castro government still prosecutes dissidents for peacefully expressing their views," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division. "Cuba stands alone in the hemisphere for this kind of human rights abuse: criminalizing free speech and association, imprisoning dissidents, and denying access to international human rights monitors."

Vivanco noted that the trial of four prominent dissidents earlier this year showed that the Castro government was intent on quashing any vocal opposition. He noted that Cubans are tried for crimes such as "enemy propaganda" and "contempt for authority," and that the government also use an ill-defined provision again "dangerousness" to detain even Cubans who have not committed any crime.

The Human Rights Watch report also criticizes the U.S. trade embargo, imposed in 1961 as part of Washington's efforts to overthrow Castro. "Rather than a calibrated tool that can respond to changes in Cuban human rights practices," Vivanco said, "the embargo is an all-or-nothing policy." Under current law, the embargo cannot be lifted—in whole or in part—until a transition government, one that includes neither Fidel Castro or his brother Raul, is in place in Cuba.

The indiscriminate nature of the embargo has brought international condemnation, from the United Nations General Assembly, Pope Jean Paul II, and governments of every political stripe. "The embargo has become counterproductive to the promotion of human rights," Vivanco said. "It has divided the international community and enabled Castro to justify repression on anti-imperialist grounds." Cuba's Repressive Machinery also shows how the embargo's travel limits themselves violate human rights.

In addition to outlining how Cuban laws criminalize free expression and association, the report shows how a lack of independent judges and access to attorneys compromises the right to a fair trial. The government's failure to ensure due process rights makes Cuba's use of the death penalty especially troubling, according to the report, which notes recent executions by firing squad.

Although respect for religious rights in Cuba has grown in recent years, the report finds continuing restrictions on public expressions of faith, on prisoner'' access to pastoral care, and on the distribution of humanitarian aid by church groups.

Cuba's Repressive Machinery offers detailed recommendations to the Cuban government, as well as to governments of the United States, Europe, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as to international investors in Cuba.

Human Rights Watch urges the European Union and Canada to take a more active role in promoting human rights. "The European Union has adopted a solid human rights policy toward Cuba," said Vivanco, "but we encourage the E.U. to press Cuba more vigorously for reforms." On Ottawa's position, Vivanco said, "We are pleased that Canada has decided to reexamine its 'constructive engagement' policy with Cuba, which did not produce human rights improvements. We urge the Canadian government to redouble its efforts to win Cuban human rights gains."

Human Rights Watch urges that crimes in Cuba's penal code whose definitions violate international human rights norms should be repealed or narrowed, including: contempt for authority, clandestine printing, illegal exit, defamation of institutions and mass organizations, and failure to comply with the duty to denounce.