Amnesty International Report 2004 - Cuba
|Publication Date||26 May 2004|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2004 - Cuba , 26 May 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/40b5a1f20.html [accessed 4 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Covering events from January - December 2003
2003 saw a severe deterioration in the human rights situation in Cuba. In mid-March the Cuban authorities carried out an unprecedented crack-down on the dissident movement. Seventy-five long-term activists were arrested, unfairly tried and sentenced to up to 28 years' imprisonment; they were prisoners of conscience. In April, three men convicted of involvement in a hijacking were executed by firing squad, ending a three-year de facto moratorium.
Criticism from the international community, including countries and individuals previously supportive of the Cuban government, intensified. The Cuban authorities sought to justify these measures as a necessary response to the threat to national security posed by the USA. The US embargo and related measures continued to have a negative effect on the enjoyment of the full range of human rights in Cuba.
Prisoners of conscience
Eighty-four prisoners of conscience remained held, seven of whom were awaiting trial at the end of the year.
Crack-down in March
A government crack-down in March led to the imprisonment of most of the leadership of the dissident movement including teachers, librarians, journalists, medical personnel, and political and human rights activists. Only a few very well-known figures critical of the regime were not affected.
Detainees were brought to trial immediately and subjected to hasty and unfair proceedings. Most were charged under Article 91 of the Penal Code with "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state" or under the previously unused Law for the Protection of the National Independence and the Economy of Cuba. The latter mandates stiff prison terms for anyone found guilty of supporting US policy against Cuba. The dissidents were convicted on the basis of activities such as giving interviews to the US funded broadcasting station for Cuba, Radio Martí; receiving materials or funds believed to have originated in the US government; or having contact with officials of the US Interest Section in Havana, whom Cuban authorities had accused of engaging in subversive and provocative behaviour. By the end of the year all the sentences had been ratified by the Supreme Popular Court, exhausting the possibilities for appeal under Cuban law. Following a detailed assessment of the available evidence against them, AI considered that all 75 were prisoners of conscience.
- Marcelo López Bañobre, a member of the Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional, Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for, among other activities, "sending information to international organisms like Amnesty International".
There were continuing concerns about the health of many prisoners of conscience. Some were reportedly denied access to appropriate medical attention and held in harsh conditions. Access to family was limited, as many of the prisoners were held in facilities far from their home provinces.
- Roberto de Miranda Hernández, aged 56, was believed to have suffered a heart attack, cardiac pain and a stomach ulcer in custody. The health of Oscar Manuel Espinosa Chepe, aged 63, deteriorated after his arrest, making it probable that he would need a liver transplant. The families of both claimed that prison conditions contributed to their illnesses.
A handful of prisoners of conscience were released during 2003.
- Yosvany Aguilar Camejo, José Aguilar Hernández and Carlos Oquendo Rodríguez were released on 11 October after having spent 20 months in prison. The latter was the only one of the three to have been tried and sentenced.
- Bernardo Arévalo Padrón was released in November after having served six years for "disrespect" towards President Fidel Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage.
- Eddy Alfredo Mena González, sentenced in 2000 to five years' imprisonment on charges including "disrespect" and "public disorder", was also released.
The three-year de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty ended with the execution by firing squad of Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac on 11 April. They were among a group of people convicted of hijacking a Cuban ferry with several dozen passengers on board. The hijacking was resolved without violence. The three men were brought to trial, found guilty under "anti-terrorism" legislation, and had their appeals denied all within the space of one week. This raised profound concerns about the fairness of the judicial procedure to which they were subjected. President Castro said the executions were necessary to halt hijackings and stem a growing migration crisis from Cuba to the USA. Approximately 50 prisoners remained on death row at the end of the year.
In April the UN Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution asking the Cuban government to achieve similar progress in respecting civil and political rights as it had done in economic and social rights. It also called on Cuba to receive the visit of the personal representative for Cuba of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Cuban government responded that they did not accept the mandate of the resolution and would not allow the High Commissioner's representative onto the island.
In November, for the 12th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the USA to end its embargo.
In March the US government tightened rules for travel from Florida in the USA to Cuba.
The Cuban government angrily protested against the expulsion of 14 diplomats from Florida, USA, because of alleged "inappropriate activities"; the inclusion of Cuba in the US annual report on trafficking in persons; and renewed US allegations of a Cuban biological weapons program.
In August, 12 alleged boat hijackers were forcibly returned from the USA – a step criticized by the Cuban exile community and Florida Governor Jeb Bush. In a move that was interpreted by some as a response to such criticism, the US government announced the creation of a commission for a transition to democracy in Cuba and improvements in the broadcasting and distribution of printed materials to Cuba. In October the US Agency for International Development announced that it would increase aid to dissidents in Cuba.
European Union (EU)
Days before the March crack-down the EU opened its first ever office in Cuba. The EU condemned the crack-down in Cuba in April, June and July. In June the EU announced a number of measures in response to the crack-down, such as inviting dissidents to national day celebrations and scaling back high-level diplomatic and cultural contacts while maintaining economic ties. In response, Fidel Castro and Raul Castro, First Vice-President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, led demonstrations outside the embassies of Spain and Italy, accused by Cuba of instigating the measures, and suspended the agreement establishing the Spanish Cultural Centre in Havana. In August, Cuba wrote to the EU saying that it would no longer accept development aid from the EU or its member states, as a rejection of the conditionality of EU aid on human rights improvements. The EU deplored this decision. However, it reiterated its commitment to supplying aid to the Cuban people and called for the embargo imposed on Cuba by the USA to be lifted immediately.
The dissident movement
The activities of the dissident movement stalled following the imprisonment of middle-ranking activists in the opposition movement. Trials in April revealed the existence of 12 state security agents who had infiltrated the dissident movement, some several years earlier. This, together with the publication of two books on alleged state security activity within the dissident movement, was seen as an attempt to promote suspicion and mistrust among those dissidents still at liberty.
In October, in the first big movement of opposition after the March crack-down, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, leader of the unofficial political group Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, Christian Liberation Movement, presented more than 14,000 new signatures for the Varela Project – a petition for a referendum on political and economic reforms – to the General Assembly. The Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee of the Cuban Parliament had ruled the initiative unconstitutional in January. In December, Oswaldo Payá presented for public debate a national plan for transition to democracy.
Restrictions on travel outside Cuba continued to be applied to the most prominent dissidents. In June, Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, Vladimiro Roca Antúnez, Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas were not allowed to travel to Italy to attend a seminar on the democratic opposition movement in Cuba organized by an Italian political party; Vladimiro Roca was denied permission to travel to Mexico in July to witness Mexico's federal elections; and Oswaldo Payá was prevented from attending a session in the European Parliament to which he had been invited.
AI country visits
AI last visited Cuba in 1988. The government did not respond to AI's repeated requests to be allowed into the country.