Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Cuba: Information on government-sponsored petition to amend the constitution

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 13 August 2002
Citation / Document Symbol CUB02001.REF
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cuba: Information on government-sponsored petition to amend the constitution, 13 August 2002, CUB02001.REF, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f51f39e4.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Query:

Have there been any reports of threats or reprisals against Cubans who refused to sign the June 2002 Cuban government-sponsored petition to amend the constitution to make the one-party Communist state irreversible? Has anyone been threatened with the charge of peligrosidad, dangerousness?

Response:

The Government of Cuba's response to the dissident-sponsored Varela Project was to have its own petition drive. This petition called for amending the Cuban Constitution to make the one-party Communist state irreversible. The petition drive was launched with a national mobilization on 11 June 2002.

To date, independent Cuban journalists have reported a number of cases of threats or reprisals against people for not signing the petition, none of which involved threats of being charged with peligrosidad (dangerousness) under the Cuban penal code.

The incidents were reported as follows:

--Independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira, resident of the town of Isla de la Juventud in Havana province, refused to sign the petition and was visited by a Cuban army officer and officials of the local Comité de Defensa de la Revolución (CDR), Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, who pressured him and told him he was "putting in danger the future of his nine-year-old daughter," which was taken to mean that she would be ostracized in terms of opportunities in education or other areas (UPECI 19 Jun 2002).

--Juan Alberto Mirabel Cordero, out of prison under libertad condicional, conditional liberty, a form of parole (nature of conviction not reported), was pressured into signing by officials of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and the local CDR who were accompanied by a ranking police official who previously had threatened to put Mirabel Cordero back in prison (Cuba Free Press 28 Jun 2002).

--A group of Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to sign in the town of Bauta, west of Havana, were threatened with having their place of worship closed. Apparently, they continued to refuse, but to date there has been no follow-up report as to whether the threat was carried out (Cuba Free Press 26 Jun 2002).

--In the municipality of Güines southeast of the capital in Havana province, Jose Angel Mesa Pérez, apparently a vendor, was pressured to sign the referendum by CDR officials who threatened to have his self-employment license revoked (Cuba Free Press 19 Jun 2002).

--Jorge Luis Hernández, a bodega worker in the community of Taco-Taco, in the municipality of San Cristóbal, in the province of Pinar del Río, was fired after joking to customers that there was no food in the store because they had signed the petition (Cuba Free Press 5 Jul 2002).

In late June, Jorge de Armas, a 60-year-old farmer in Camagüey province, had his food quota stripped by officials of the Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cándido González, "Cándido González" Agricultural Production Cooperative, because he refused to sign the government-sponsored petition. That meant that de Armas, a founder of the cooperative, would no longer be entitled to the foodstuffs that the cooperative sells to its members (CPIC 1 Jul 2002).

Reynaldo Pérez Serrano, a hearse driver at the government-run funeral parlor in the municipality of Güines in Havana province was fired because he declined to sign the government-sponsored petition. Pérez Serrano is a military veteran who served in Angola in the 1970s. His firing apparently was also related to his recent resignation from the Asociación de Combatientes de la Revolución Cubana, Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution, and from the PCC (Lux InfoPress 20 Jul 2002).

--Yaser Ravelo Díaz was fired from his job as a cartographer at the Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas, National Statistics Office, in the eastern city of Guantánamo because he refused to sign the government-sponsored petition. Previously, in May 2002, Ravelo Díaz had been arrested under suspicion of writing anti-government graffiti, but had been released (APLO 31 Jul 2002).

--Dr. Yamilet Alberto Moya, a physician, was removed from her position as vice director of the medical clinic in the municipality of Manicaragua in Villa Clara province and told she would be transferred to a low-paying job far from her home unless she divorced her husband, Roberto Alvarez Chávez. Alvarez Chávez had refused to sign the government petition and endorsed the dissident-sponsored Varela Project. Dissident sources in Manicaragua said that the government was retaliating against people there who refused to sign the government petition by firing them from their jobs, fining them and targeting them for harassment by the police (Cuba Free Press 12 Aug 2002, "Médico Cubano…").

--Sources among dissident trade union organizations said that they were receiving daily reports of people being fired from their jobs because they had refused to sign the government-sponsored petition (Cuba Free Press 12 Aug 2002, "Empresa Extranjera…").

The government apparently exerted particular pressure on the population of at least one of the pueblos cautivos (captive towns) to sign the petition. The pueblos cautivos date back to 1970-1985 when the Cuban government forcibly relocated thousands of people from the Escambray, the mountainous region in central Cuba, because they had supported the anti-Castro guerrillas that operated there in 1960-1965. The four main pueblos cautivos are: Ramón López Peña in the municipality of San Cristóbal in Pinar del Río province; Sandino in the municipality of the same name in Pinar del Río province; Briones Montoto in the municipality of Pinar del Río in Pinar del Río province; and Miraflores in Camagüey province. During the government's petition drive, it was reported that in Ramón López Peña members of the PCC had forced an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer's to sign the petition and that the PCC had ordered that the names and addresses of all those in the town who did not sign be collected (Grupo Decoro Nov 2002; Cuba Free Press 22 Jul 2002).

A number of independent Cuban and foreign journalists reported that during the petition-drive there was an atmosphere of resignation combined with fear on the part of many Cubans. The Financial Times (London) reported, "While no one was frog-marched to the signing stations, the fear, or perhaps tired resignation, in the air was almost palpable." Some news reports suggested that the government, by utilizing a full-scale mobilization of the CDRs and other Communist Party organizations to promote and conduct the referendum, combined with Castro being spotlighted as the first signer, did not have to resort to overt or heavy-handed threats (FINANCIAL TIMES 9 Jul 2002, Cuba Free Press 1 Jul 2002, EFE 23 Jun 2002, SUN-SENTINEL 23 Jun 2002, AP 18 Jun 2002).

Cubans who spoke about the petition to independent Cuban or foreign journalists tended to do so anonymously. A number said they were afraid of losing jobs if they did not sign. A receptionist at a Havana hotel said, "I am going to sign because I don't want any problems with my work" (AFP 16 June 2002). A housewife said, "I twisted and turned all night, telling myself I shouldn't sign. But, of course, in the end, I did…I've got to think of my husband's job, my children" (FINANCIAL TIMES 9 Jul 2002).

Some Cubans interviewed were less specific about the pressures they felt to sign, saying only that if they did not, "some harm would come to them" (BBC Mundo 17 June 2002). Others said it was necessary to sign, "so as to not call attention to one's self" (Cuba Verdad 19 Jun 2002).

A woman who had recently received a U.S. lottery visa said she was afraid that if she did not sign the government would deny her a tarjeta blanca, the white card granting permission to leave the country. An older woman said she signed because she was afraid her son who had no job would be harassed or arrested if she did not (Cuba Verdad 19 Jun 2002).

A man said that whether one signed or not made no difference, because the government "is going to report whatever numbers it needs to win while we all continue in the same shit" (Cuba Verdad 19 Jun 2002) One woman said, "You know what is expected of you. So you go and get it over with" (SUN-SENTINEL 23 Jun 2002).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References:

Agence France Presse (ARP). "Apatía y escaso Fervor en el ‘Referéndum' Cubano" (Havana: 16 Jun 2002). URL: www.cubanet.org/CNews/y02/jun02/17o1.htm.

Associated Press (AP). "Cubans Back Socialism, Castro Says" (Havana: 18 Jun 2002). Nexis.

Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO). Herrera, Juan Carlos. "Despiden a Trabajador que no Suscribió la Inamovilidad de Comunismo" (Guantánamo: 31 Jul 2002). URL: www.cubanet.org/CNews/y02/ago02/02a2.htm.

BBC Mundo. "Cuba: Votantes ‘Aprueban' Reforma" (Havana: 17 Jun 2002). URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/Spanish/latin_america/newsid_2048000/2048313.s tm.

Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey (CPIC). Hernández, Normando. "Suprimen Cuota Alimenticia a Campesino que No Firmó Reforma Constitutional" (Camagüey: 1 Jul 2002). URL: www.cubanet.org/CNews/y02/jul02/02a1.htm.

Cuba Free Press. Torres Iznaga, José. "Ejercen Fuertes Presiones para que los Ciudadanos Firmen la Modificación Castrista a la Constitución" (Havana: 19 Jun 2002). URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020619kk.html.

Cuba Free Press. Del Carmen Carro, María. "Se Niegan Testigos de la Secta Religiosa ‘Testigos de Jehová' a Firmar Modificación de la Constitución" (Havana: 26 Jun 2002). URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020626kk.html.

Cuba Free Press. Torres Iznaga, José. "Obligan a Firmar Incapacitados" (Havana: 28 Jun 2002). URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020628aa.html.

Cuba Free Press. Roselló, Richard. "Exigen a los Cubanos la Firma a la Modificación de la Constitución" (Havana: 1 Jul 2002). URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020701ll.html.

Cuba Free Press. Torres Iznaga, José. "Expulsan a Bodeguero de su Puesto de Trabajo" (Havana: 5 Jul 2002) URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020705mm.html.

Cuba Free Press. Torres Iznaga, José. "Dementes Firman por el Cambio de la Constitución Cubana" (Havana: 22 Jul 2002) URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020722gg.html.

Cuba Free Press. Torres Iznaga, José. "Médico Cubana Expulsada de su Cargo" (Havana: 12 Aug 2002) URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020812.gg.html.

Cuba Free Press. Torres Iznaga, José. "Empresa Extranjera Viola Los Derechos de Trabajadores Cubanos" (Havana: 12 Aug 2002). URL: www.cubafreepress.org/art1/cubap020812.bb.html.

Cuba Verdad. Cortina Rey, Amarilis. "Cubanos Suscriben Modificación Constitucional ‘para No Señalarse'" (Havana: 19 Jun 2002). URL: www.cubanet.org/CNews/y02/jun02/19a8.htm.

EFE News Service. "Cuba: Castro Calls National Assembly into Special Session" (Havana: 22 Jun 2002). Nexis.

FINANICIAL TIMES. Schweimler, Daniel. "Sugar and tourism force a bitter pill on Cubans" (Havana: 9 Jul 2002).

Grupo Decoro. Maseda, Héctor. "Los Pueblos Cautivos (I)" (Havana: Nov 2001). URL: www.cubanet.org/CNews/y01/nov01/27a8.htm.

Grupo Decoro. Maseda, Héctor. "Los Pueblos Cautivos (II)" (Havana: Nov 2001). URL: www.cubanet.org/CNews/y01/nov01/30a6.htm.

Lux InfoPress. Zamora Lambrada, Alicia. "Despedido un chofer por sus opiniones" (Havana: 20 Jul 2002). URL: www.cubanet.org/Sindical/news/y02/07220202.html.

SUN-SENTINEL. Bauza, Vanessa. "Socialism Reigns, But Where's The Zeal?" (Havana: 23 Jun 2002).

Unión de Periodistas y Escritores Cubanos Independientes (UPECI). Armenteros, Fara. "Amenazan a periodista Cubano que no apoya la llamada reforma constitucional" (Havana: 19 Jun 2002). URL: www.cubanet.org/CNews/y02/jun02/20a3.htm.

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