Human Rights Developments
In 1993, the Cuban government made a few important human rights gestures. It released a number of political prisoners before the end of their terms, in advance of the World Human Rights Conference in Vienna in June. It also slightly relaxed the travel restrictionson some former political prisoners and other dissidents. At least two were allowed to travel to the U.S. and return to Cuba, and others were permitted to leave permanently. Travel limits for the population as a whole also were reduced. There were fewer reports of mobs beating dissidents and vandalizing their homes in state-directed attacks; and while individual government critics continued to be fired from their jobs, there were fewer reports of mass expulsions.
Still, the thirty-five-year-old government of Fidel Castro only modified some of its behavior, without altering the laws that legalized and provided impunity for rights abuses.
The authorities continued to take legal and extra-legal reprisals against their opponents and critics, especially lesser-known human rights monitors and peaceful pro-democracy activists. Many peaceful dissenters continue to languish in prison serving some of the stiffest prison sentences for thought crimes in the last ten years. Cubans still must request permission from their government to leave their own country temporarily or permanently. Cuba continued to lack the laws and institutions that would protect civil and political rights on a permanent basis. There was no free press. The state continued to own all media. Speech was curbed by laws banning "enemy propaganda" and "clandestine printing." Dissidents were imprisoned on charges as serious as "rebellion." For offending the President, Cubans could be jailed for three years.
There were no legally recognized civic or political organizations are independent of the government or Communist Party. Human rights and pro-democracy groups were denied official recognition. Free association and assembly were punished under laws prohibiting "illegal association" and "public disorder." There were no free and fair elections.
Cuban courts remained subordinate to the executive, and Cuban law dictated that judges must demonstrate their "active revolutionary integration." Due process was flouted, and defendants, especially in political cases, were almost always convicted.
Prison inmates-both political and common prisoners-reported that nonviolent protests such as hunger strikes spawned retaliation in the form of beatings, confinement in harsh punishment cells, denial of medical attention and relocation to prisons far from their families. Prisoners complained of inadequate food, unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, and insufficient or lack of time outdoors.
Violation of the right to privacy was systematic. Tight political control was maintained through extensive monitoring of Cubans' daily lives, conducted by state-security police who often coerced or blackmailed people into becoming informants, as well as by state-sponsored "mass organizations" such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), which operated in neighborhoods and workplaces.
Mass organizations, together with state-security police, staged protests against "counter-revolutionaries" in ostensibly spontaneous "acts of repudiation." Mobs typically chanted slogans and often assaulted dissidents, defacing or destroying their homes. "Rapid-action brigades"-state-organized gangs of vigilantes-were deployed to crush forcibly any signs of popular discontent.
The loss of trade and subsidies from the former Soviet Bloc in combined with the long-term U.S. blockade, had plunged Cuba into its most severe economic crisis since the 1959 revolution. Food rationing was tightened during 1993; transportation was drastically curtailed by a severe fuel shortage; electricity blackouts occurred regularly.
Extreme shortages and blackouts gave rise to unrest, including stone- or bottle-throwing anti-government protests, and increased crime. In response, in 1993 the government called on the population, including the brutal rapid-action brigades, to participate in its anti-crime campaign. According to the Communist Party daily, Granma, "delinquents and anti-social elements who try to create disorder and an atmosphere of mistrust and impunity in our society will receive a crushing reply from the people," as reported by Reuters on September 8.
Rights monitors reported the increased invocation of the "dangerousness" provision of the penal code in the context of the anti-crime campaign. Cuban law provided for the application of preventive measures, including imprisonment, against those who conducted themselves in a manner that contradicted "socialist morality," even without having committed a crime. Some fourteen anti-government activists were said to have been arrested in mid-to late-1993; some of them were held under the "dangerousness" provision, while others were charged with offenses that on their face violated internationally recognized standards of freedom of expression and association.
While the Cuban government considerably reduced travel limitations for the population in general, significant restrictions that ran contrary to international norms on freedom of movement remained. The extralegal harassment that once accompanied procedural requirements to leave the country by those who were stigmatized as "disaffected," reportedly diminished significantly. The growing number of lancheros, or boat people, who fled to the U.S.-more than 1,100 by mid-year-was caused less by Cuban restrictions than by the difficulty of obtaining U.S. visas. Still, Cubans were required to seek permission from their government to leave and return to their country-an inherent limitation-and those who wished to travel had to be age twenty-years-old and over. Those caught attempting to leave the country in makeshift vessels could expect to be detained for a period of time by state security police. Repeat offenders were likely to serve one year in prison.
In addition, the Cuban government continued to deny permission to travel to those with whom it might have a political quarrel. For example, Yara Silva Urquiza Bustamante, the thirteen-year-old daughter of Lissette Bustamante, a prominent journalist who defected to Spain in 1992, was refused permission to leave Cuba. In October 1993, prize-winning writer Norberto Fuentes was arrested for trying to leave the country illegally by boat after repeatedly being denied permission to travel.
Several shooting incidents were reported in mid-1993 involving people fleeing the country. On July 1, Cuban Coast Guards shot and killed three Cubans at the coastal town of Cojimar after they boarded a speedboat that had come from Florida to collect them. This was one of at least three incidents in which Cuban exiles inthe U.S. attempted to bring back family members in boats and were captured by Cuban authorities for entering Cuban waters illegally. Around the same time, the U.S. State Department reported shooting and grenade-throwing by Cuban border guards against Cubans swimming to the U.S naval base at Guantánamo to seek asylum. According to the U.S. government, four Cubans were killed in two incidents at the end of June.
In a welcome development, in 1993 the Cuban government released several well-known political prisoners, including María Elena Cruz Varela, a prominent poet arrested in 1991 and sentenced to two years in prison for "illegal association" and "defamation of state institutions;" José Luis Pujol, a dissident arrested in 1992 and sentenced to a three-year prison term on charges of offending the government; and Marco Antonio Abad and Jorge Crespo, who were arrested in 1991 and sentenced to two-year prison terms for offending the president and spreading "enemy propaganda" in a film they made.
Despite having released some political prisoners, Cuban authorities continue to harass, arrest and imprison its critics and opponents. Rafael Gutiérrez Santos, an independent labor activist, was detained for six months in the first half of the year by state security police for alleged crimes against the security of the state. His arrest followed an announcement of the formation of the National Commission of Independent Unions. Other members of this group reportedly received official warnings from the police not to pursue their activities.
Guillermo Fernández Donate, of the Socialist Democratic Current, reportedly was arrested by state security police in mid-year for possessing "enemy propaganda." Over the last year, Fernández, also a member of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, and his wife, Eurídice Sotolongo Losada, lost their jobs in a state architecture firm because of his opposition activities.
Domiciano Torres of the Democratic Civic Party, a pro-democracy group, was detained in August by state security police who beat him severely at the time of his arrest. Torres, a professor of architecture who lost his job in 1992 because of his dissident activities, reportedly faced charges of spreading "enemy propaganda." After being held for forty-two days by State Security, he was reportedly transferred to the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, a form of harassment commonly inflicted on jailed dissidents.
Rolando Roque Malherbe of the Cuban Civic Current, a pro-democracy group, was summoned for questioning by the police and the local CDR on September 23, the day before a party at his home in Havana, to which he had invited dissidents and diplomats. On September 24, plainclothes police surrounded Roque's home and prevented his guests from entering. Roque remained in detention until September 27. A prominent physicist, Roque lost his job in 1992 after signing an open letter to the participants in that year's Iberoamerican Summit in Spain calling on them to press the Cuban government to respect human rights.
Félix Bonne Carcasés of the Cuban Civic Current was held for three weeks in October by the Department of Technical Investigations in Havana. His arrest followed a search by state- security police, whoconfiscated some documents. Bonne, an electrical engineer, had also lost his job after signing the letter to the Iberoamerican Summit.
Pro-democracy advocates who continued to languish in prison included Yndamiro Restano of the Harmony Movement (MAR), who was arrested in Havana in 1991 and convicted with María Elena Aparicio, another MAR member, on charges of rebellion. They were serving terms of ten and seven years, respectively. Omar del Pozo, of the non-governmental group National Civic Union, was tried in a military court in Havana in August 1992 along with three others including one state security agent. He was convicted of spreading "enemy propaganda" reportedly because he received information from the state security officer, and was sentenced to fifteen years in jail.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights monitoring continued to be illegal in Cuba. Despite numerous petitions for official recognition submitted to the Ministry of Justice by the various groups currently attempting to function in Cuba, none gained legal status. Laws restricting free expression and association, combined with near-constant surveillance by the state-security police, ensured that human rights monitoring was frequently punished.
Cuban rights activists were routinely harassed, questioned, and threatened by the security police, and often arrested. Since 1989, Cuban authorities have made hundreds of arrests of human rights monitors and pro-human rights political activists. During 1993 dozens were believed to be serving prison terms of up to fifteen years for their peaceful advocacy. Scores of others had been subjected to government-sponsored acts of repudiation and beatings by plainclothes state agents.
Security police frequently searched the homes of human rights monitors, confiscating typewriters, tape recorders and documents. Many activists had been fired from their jobs. They had been prevented from or pressured into leaving the country.
Rodolfo González González, a leading member of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, was arrested at home by security police during the December 10 Human Rights Day crackdown on activists in 1992. He was being held in Guanajay prison in Havana and, after ten months, continued to await trial.
Amador Blanco Hernández of the José Martí National Commission on Human Rights was arrested at his home in Caibarién, Villa Clara province, also on December 10, 1992. Another member of the group, Joel Mesa Morales, was arrested in January 1993. Blanco and Mesa were tried in September 1993 on charges of spreading "enemy propaganda" and were sentenced to prison terms of eight and seven years, respectively.
On May 1, 1993, May Day, after attending mass at a Havana church, some fifty activists were attacked by scores of plainclothes police and "rapid response brigades" as they marched silently down the street carrying a Cuban flag. The marchers were beaten with pipes and clubs. César Guerra Pérez, Armando Sánchez and at least six others were reported to have been bloodied in the attack. The night before the attack, police arrested two organizers of the march, Paula Valiente and Juan Guarino. On May 17, they were eachsentenced to a two-year suspended sentence on charges of inciting crime. Valiente was reportedly briefly detained on July 8 for planning another peaceful procession. Guarino was reportedly rearrested in September.
Others continued in prison, such as Sebastián Arcos, a leading member of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights who was arrested by state security police in January 1992 and sentenced (for spreading "enemy propaganda") to a prison term of four years and eight months. Luis Alberto Pita Santos, head of the Association of Defenders of Political Rights, who had been imprisoned since October 1991, was convicted on charges of offending the head of state, "clandestine printing," and "illegal association." He was sentenced to a five-year term. After reportedly spending seven months in an isolation cell in Boniato prison in Santiago de Cuba, Pita was moved to Kilo-8 prison in Camagüey, where he was said to have been beaten and, during the day, chained at the ankles for protesting his continued incarceration.
Pablo Reyes Martínez of the National Civic Union was arrested in 1992 and convicted of spreading "enemy propaganda." He was sentenced to eight years in prison for reporting on human rights abuses by phone for an exile radio station in the U.S.
The Right to Monitor
International human rights monitoring was severely curtailed after a brief opening in 1988 when Cuba was under international pressure to allow prison inspections by international organizations. Despite repeated requests, Americas Watch still did not 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 Cuba only under the auspices of other U.S. organizations.
For the second consecutive year, the Cuban government refused to cooperate with the resolutions adopted by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which provided for a special rapporteur to investigate human rights conditions in Cuba and report his findings to the commission. The Cuban government's 1988 agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross granting access to Cuban prisons and political prisoners remained suspended, having been broken by the Cuban government in 1990.
The United States imposed a trade embargo against the government of Fidel Castro at the height of the Cold War, more than three decades ago. In 1992, three years after the demise of the Soviet Bloc, President Bush signed into law the Cuban Democracy Act, which expanded the embargo with the intent to speed the collapse of the Castro government and foster democracy.
While some saw the hostile U.S. posture towards Cuba as a way to pressure the Cuban government to initiate democratic reform, others considered it an excuse for the Cuban government to crack down on internal democracy advocates and deny civil and political rights. Americas Watch objected to aspects of U.S. policy that impeded 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 U.S. vowed to lift limits on "human contacts," including bans on travel and telephone communications. The principles set forth in the instruments clearly favored the removal of any barrier on such contacts raised by a CSCE government in its relations with other nations.
During 1993, the embargo allowed U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, but prohibited them from spending money without permission from the U.S. Treasury Department. For defying the embargo, a U.S. citizen could be prosecuted for trading with the enemy, jailed for up to twelve years and fined up to $500,000 for corporations, and $250,000 for individuals. The Treasury Department was authorized to impose a civil penalty of up to $50,000 on violators of the Cuban Democracy Act.
Fines could not be levied against four categories of visitors to Cuba: U.S. government officials; family members with relatives in Cuba; academics, researchers with Cuba-specific expertise, and religious groups; and journalists. All other Americans traveling to Cuba were required to be guests of the Cuban government.
The Clinton administration embraced the Cuban Democracy Act but began to interpret its provisions in a way that, despite the restrictions enshrined in the law, would allow it slightly to increase human contacts. Since 1988, Americans who have been permitted to import books, films, records and art from Cuba, have been barred from traveling there to conduct business. In 1993, the administration allowed an American poster-art importer to spend money on travel to Cuba after years of repeated Treasury Department denials. However, the administration refused permission to a group of U.S. mathematicians to participate in an internationally sponsored conference in Havana in September 1993.
The embargo impeded telephone communications between Cubans and Americans by blocking payment of monies owed to Cuba that had been held in escrow for three decades. In 1993, the Cuban government announced that it was reducing the number of phone calls it would complete to and from the U.S. to a tiny fraction of normal demand. This may have been an effort to force U.S. callers to connect with Cuba via Canada, where phone companies paid Cuba its share of revenues. In response, while the U.S. banned the re-selling of calls through Canada in July, it issued new guidelines that could increase direct links to Cuba.
The administration lifted the limits on circuits between the U.S. and Cuba, and permitted U.S. long-distance companies to offer Cuba 50 percent of revenues for completing calls-most of which were billed in the U.S. However, it refused to allow Cuba access to the approximately $80 million that remained in a blocked account. The Cuban government rejected the U.S. offer.
The U.S. continued to fund TV-Martí, the U.S. Information Agency's (USIA) television broadcast to Cuba, even though its transmissions had been successfully blocked by Havana and could not be seen in Cuba. The Cuban government retaliated by blocking the USIA's medium-wave radio broadcasts to Cuba, the widely-heard Radio Martí, which thereafter could be heard mainly on short-wave only. In 1993, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop funding both TV-and Radio Martí; the Senate voted to renew funding for both. As of early November, the matter was still undecided.
To its credit, the Bush administration's State Department once again produced a solid human rights report on Cuba. Its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1992 provided a largely accurate account of violations in Cuba, and was notable for the abundance of cases and issued it addresses in detail.
The U.S. delegation again led the campaign to censure Cuba at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) meetings in Geneva during the spring of 1993. Headed by Richard Schifter, the U.S. delegation balanced its initiative on Cuba with forceful efforts against other violator countries and avoided the ideologically-charged confrontations of past sessions. The 1993 UNHRC resolution on Cuba extended the mandate of the special rapporteur for another year. Again, the Cuban government quickly announced that Cuba would not cooperate with the rapporteur.
Mr. Carl Johan Groth of Sweden, named rapporteur by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutrous-Ghali in 1992, accepted the post for another year. Despite the fact that Mr. Groth had been denied permission to visit Cuba in 1992, he presented a report to the commission in February 1993 that reflected the broad range of concerns of Cuban human rights monitors while being thorough and balanced.
The Work of Americas Watch
Americas Watch published a lengthy newsletter on Cuba in February, "Perfecting the System of Control, Human Rights Violations in Castro's 34th Year," which covered the period January 1992 to February 1993. The release of the newsletter was timed to coincide with the meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. In September 1993, Americas Watch met with the U.N. special rapporteur on Cuba.