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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Cuba

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Cuba, 30 January 1998, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


Cuba is a totalitarian state controlled by President Fidel Castro, who is Chief of State, Head of Government, First Secretary of the Communist Party, and commander in chief of the armed forces. President Castro exercises control over all aspects of Cuban life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy, and the state security apparatus. The Communist Party is the only legal political entity, and President Castro personally approves the membership of the Politburo, the select group that heads the party. The party controls all government positions, including judicial offices.

The Ministry of Interior is the principal organ of state security and totalitarian control. Officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), which are led by President Castro's brother Raul, have been assigned to the majority of key positions in the Ministry of Interior in recent years. In addition to the routine law enforcement functions of regulating migration, controlling the Border Guard and the regular police forces, the Interior Ministry's Department of State Security investigates and actively suppresses organized opposition and dissent. It maintains a pervasive system of vigilance through undercover agents, informers, the rapid response brigades, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR's). While the Government traditionally used the CDR's to mobilize citizens against dissenters, impose ideological conformity, and root out "counter- revolutionary" behavior, severe economic problems have reduced the willingness of citizens to participate in the CDR's and thereby lessened their effectiveness. Other mass organizations also inject government and Communist Party control into citizens' daily activities at home, work, and school.

The Government continued to control all significant means of production and remained the predominant employer, despite permitting some carefully controlled foreign investment. Foreign employers continue to contract workers through state agencies, which pay the workers extremely low wages while receiving large hard currency payments. The Government has also legalized some minor categories of self-employment. Although the Government forecast a modest economic growth rate of some 2.5 percent (down from a claimed 7.8 percent in 1996), the economy remained depressed due to the inefficiencies of the centrally controlled economic system; the deterioration of plant, equipment, and the transportation system; the collapse of trade relations with the former Soviet bloc; the loss of billions of dollars of annual Soviet subsidies; and the poor performance of the important sugar harvest. For the seventh straight year, the Government continued its austerity measures known euphemistically as the "special period in peacetime." Agricultural markets, legalized in 1994, gave consumers wider access to meat and produce, although at prices beyond the reach of most Cubans living on peso-only incomes. The system of "tourist apartheid" continued, with foreign visitors who pay in hard currency receiving preference over citizens for food, consumer products, and medical services. Citizens remain barred from access to the tourism industry's hotels, beaches, and resorts.

The Government's human rights record remained poor. It continued systematically to violate fundamental civil and political rights of its citizens. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. There were several credible reports of death due to excessive use of force by the police. Members of the security forces and prison officials continued to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and prisoners. Prison conditions remained harsh. The authorities routinely continued to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain, imprison, and defame human rights advocates and members of independent professional associations, including journalists, economists, and lawyers, often with the goal of goading them into leaving the country. The Government used internal and external exile against such persons, and political prisoners were offered the choice of exile or continued imprisonment. The Government denied political dissidents and human rights advocates due process and subjected them to unfair trials. The judiciary is completely subordinate to the Government and to the Communist Party. The Government infringed upon citizens' right to privacy. The Government denied citizens the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. It limited the distribution of foreign publications and news to selected party faithful. The Government kept tight restrictions on freedom of movement, and some religious activities were restricted. The Government was sharply and publicly antagonistic to all criticism of its human rights practices and sought to thwart foreign contacts with human rights activists. Discrimination against women and racial discrimination often occur. The Government severely restricted worker rights, including the right to form independent unions.

In April the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) again passed a resolution endorsing the report of the UNHRC Special Rapporteur, which detailed Cuba's human rights violations. For the fifth consecutive year, the Government refused the Special Rapporteur permission to visit Cuba.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings by government officials. However, there were several credible reports of death due to the excessive use of force by the national police; government sanctions against the perpetrators were typically light.

On May 21, Guantanamo policeman Marcos Moran Peregrin reportedly shot 27-year-old Gaspar Torres Vegne. Three policemen apparently stopped Torres while he was riding home on his bicycle. The ensuing police search turned violent; Torres was struck and fell to the ground, where Moran shot him. Torres died in the hospital on June 3. The Guantanamo provincial court held a closed-door trial and sentenced Moran to 3 years in prison, one-half the sentence the prosecutors requested. Subsequent to the trial, a human rights group protested the harassment by the police against Torres's nephew, Penis Fornier Torres, as an apparent reprisal for Fournier having pressed changes against Moran.

During the year, at least seven explosive devices detonated in hotels and a restaurant in Havana. One of the explosions killed an Italian tourist on September 4. On September 10, the Government announced the arrest of El Salvador citizen Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon and charged him with being the "material author" of the killings. At year's end, Cruz Leon remained in detention and had not been tried.

In October 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued its final report on the Government's July 13, 1994, sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat which killed 41 persons, including women and children. The IACHR concluded that the Government violated the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and found the Government legally obligated to indemnify the survivors and the relatives of the victims for the damages caused; at year's end, the Government had not yet done so.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners, but there were instances in which members of the security forces and prison officials beat and otherwise abused human rights advocates, detainees, and prisoners. For example, human rights groups in Pinar del Rio province reported that on March 21, police officer Luis Montano and another policeman beat Luis Reyes Ledesma and then forced him into a crypt at the Arroyo Mantua cemetery for 3 hours because Reyes refused to answer the policemen's questions.

Individuals linked to state security forces subjected human rights advocates to physical aggression and threats. On May 1, state security officers punched, kicked, and dragged human rights activist Ana Maria Agramonte from her home after she declined to restrict her movements during the May Day Communist Party celebrations. Agramonte was subsequently charged with disrespect and sentenced to 18 months in prison on May 16, without the benefit of defense counsel.

In June state security police in Cienfuegos detained human rights activists Miguel Angel Hernandez and Benito Fojaco. During the interrogations, they were put in a small storage cabinet and exposed to noxious fumes for over an hour before being released. In October state security police detained Fojaco and five other human rights activists in Cienfuegos. At year's end, they remained in detention and under investigation on charges of distributing enemy propaganda.

In July state security officers conducted a search of the home of human rights activist Jesus Yanez Pelletier. The officers threatened Yanez Pelletier and his partner, warning that her children would be taken away should they continue their activities. An officer pointed to one of her children's drawings that depicted a human rights theme and said that it showed that they were not raising the children properly, that is, "within the revolution." The officer threatened to bring a government child specialist to "evaluate" the children and the adults' "fitness" to continue raising them.

Similarly, in August state security officers repeatedly threatened human rights activist Leonel Morejon Almagro (see Section l.d.) and his wife Zoiris Aguilar Callejas with the loss of their child. The officers warned that both parents might be sent to jail and the child might be taken from them to be raised by the State, unless they ceased their activities in opposition to the State.

The Government continued to subject those who disagree with it to "acts of repudiation." At state security instigation, members of state-controlled mass organizations, workmates, or neighbors are obliged to stage public protests against those who dissent from the Government's policies, shouting obscenities and often causing damage to the homes and property of those targeted; physical attacks on the victims are not uncommon. Police and state security agents are often present but take no action to prevent or end the attacks. On May 31, four men attacked independent journalist Joaquin Torres at his home in Havana; the men then led an act of repudiation against him as police stood by without intervening. In June human rights activists in Pinar del Rio were subjected to acts of repudiation at their work places by fellow workers coerced into participating by government union foremen; police or local authorities ordered other activists to go to government facilities where they were also subjected to these acts.

Prison conditions continued to be harsh. The Government claims that prisoners have rights, such as family visitation, adequate nutrition, pay for work, the right to request parole, and the right to petition the prison director. However, police and prison officials often denied these rights and used beatings, neglect, isolation, denial of medical attention, and other forms of abuse against detainees and prisoners, including those convicted of political crimes or who persisted in expressing their views. There are separate prison facilities for women and for minors.

The IACHR reported that prison authorities subjected prisoners who protested their conditions or treatment to reprisals such as beatings, transfer to punishment cells, transfer to prisons far from their families, suspension of family visits, or denial of medical treatment. A member of the France-Liberte delegation that visited Cuba in May 1995 interviewed political prisoners and stated that lengthy and often incommunicado pretrial detention constitutes a form of psychological torture. State security officials also subjected dissidents to threats of physical violence, as well as to systematic psychological intimidation, sleep deprivation, imprisonment in cells with common criminals, aggressive homosexuals, or state security agents posing as prisoners, in an attempt to coerce them to sign incriminating documents or to become state security collaborators. Prison authorities often placed political prisoners in cells with common and sometimes violent criminals and required that they comply with the rules for common criminals.

In December Amnesty International (AI) called on the Government to stop abusive treatment of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, and Francisco Herodes Diaz Echemendia, held in Combinado de Guantanamo prison. In September over 30 guards reportedly beat and badly injured the three prisoners while they were handcuffed. In October they were being held naked, in punishment cells without bedding, and being denied medical treatment. AI asked the Government to stop holding the prisoners in conditions it termed "cruel, inhuman, and degrading," to undertake an impartial investigation, and to punish those responsible for the abuses.

Jesus Chamber Ramirez, sentenced to 10 years in prison for enemy propaganda and disrespect against government authority, was regularly denied family visits for insisting that he be treated as a political rather than a common prisoner. Chamber was transferred in July from Kilo 8 prison in Camaguey to Bayamo prison, closer to his family in Santiago de Cuba, but prison guards continued to bait him and order him to shout slogans favorable to the President. Chamber responded with contrary slogans; as a result, he was charged and sentenced twice to additional 2-year terms for disrespect, with a possible third charge pending. In September, Chamber, whose prison term stands at 14 years, was again placed in solitary confinement for having shouted "down with Fidel." Chamber has held numerous hunger strikes of short duration to protest poor prison conditions; he and another inmate, Julio Moralez Gonzalez, reported that they have been beaten and punished for demanding better treatment. At year's end, Chamber's third trial for disrespect was still pending.

The rights to adequate nutrition and medical attention also were violated regularly. The IACHR described the nutritional and hygienic situation in the prisons, together with the deficiencies in medical care, as "alarming." Both the IACHR and the U.N. Special Rapporteur, as well as other human rights monitoring organizations, reported the widespread incidence in prisons of tuberculosis, scabies, hepatitis, parasitic infections, and malnutrition.

Prison officials regularly denied prisoners other rights, such as the right of correspondence, and continued to confiscate medications and food brought by family members for political prisoners. State security officials in Havana's Villa Marista facility took medications brought by family members for detainees and then refused to give the detainees the medicine, despite repeated assurances that they would.

In January prison guards placed Leonel Morejon Almagro in solitary confinement for 4 days for trying to send a letter to Cardinal Ortega requesting his intercession for a pastoral visit, which authorities had denied to Morejon since his detention 10 months earlier. On May 7, officials in Pinar del Rio's Kilometer 5 1/2 prison denied pastoral visits to Rosa Maria Pujol Llanes. Pujol's family had requested the visits because of Pujol's poor health and concern for her state of mind. Pujol reportedly lost over 50 pounds since entering prison; she is serving a 10-year sentence for "piracy."

The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights monitoring groups. Human rights activists continued to seek information on conditions inside jails despite the risks to themselves and to their prison sources. On September 5, a military tribunal sentenced human rights activist Maritza Lugo to 2 years of house arrest for "bribery," for having attempted to smuggle a tape recorder into a prison in order to obtain direct testimony from inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Law of Penal Procedures requires police to file formal charges and either release a detainee or bring the case before a prosecutor within 96 hours of arrest. It also requires the authorities to provide suspects with access to a lawyer within 7 days of arrest. However, the Constitution states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied to anyone who actively opposes the "decision of the Cuban people to build socialism." The authorities routinely invoke this sweeping authority to deny due process to those detained on purported state security grounds.

The authorities routinely engage in arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates, subjecting them to interrogations, threats, and degrading treatment and conditions for hours or days at a time.

On July 16, the Government arrested the four members of the "internal dissident working group" (economist Martha Beatriz Roque, professor Felix Bonne Carcasses, lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano, and Vladimiro Roca Antunes), because of their peaceful activities in expressing their disagreement with the Government. In May and June, the group sought international support for its political positions and nonviolent dissent from the Government's policies. The working group also made a public appeal to citizens to exercise their legal right to abstain from participating in upcoming national elections. It held two well-attended press conferences with foreign journalists. During the second press conference, the group presented "The Homeland Belongs to All," a paper that outlined a moderate response to the platform document of the Cuban Communist Party's fifth party congress. On July 16, state security agents launched coordinated raids against the working group members' homes and took the four members to police stations. State security officers searched their homes and seized books, papers, correspondence, and personal articles such as typewriters and computers. In November the authorities transferred the four from Havana's Villa Marista state security facility to separate prisons: Roca to Ariza prison in Cienfuegos province; Gomez Manzano to Aguija prison in Matanzas province, Bonne to Guanajay prison in Havana province, and Roque to Manto Negro women's prison, also in Havana province. At year's end, there were still no indications whether the Government would put the group on trial on charges of disseminating enemy propaganda.

On June 25, the Government arrested medical doctor and human rights activist Dessy Mendoza at his home in Santiago de Cuba. Dr. Mendoza was detained because of his efforts in February to alert the public, through the international media, about an outbreak of hemorrhagic dengue fever in Santiago de Cuba, which resulted in the death of about 30 persons. In June the Government finally acknowledged the outbreak and began a belated fumigation effort in Santiago de Cuba, Havana, and elsewhere. In December the Government tried, convicted, and sentenced Dr. Mendoza to 8 years in prison for disseminating false information. The unhealthful conditions of his detention required his hospitalization.

On October 9, 10 human rights activists in Santa Clara initiated a prolonged fast to protest the incarceration of Daula Carpio Matas, who had originally been sentenced to house arrest for a previous incident. At 4:00 a.m. on October 14, police raided the home where the fast was taking place and detained the occupants. On October 23, a court convicted the fasting dissidents of association to commit crimes and disobedience, and sentenced them to a variety of terms ranging from 18 months in jail to 18 months' probation. At year's end, six of the dissidents were continuing the fast, four of them in a hospital.

The Penal Code also includes the concept of "dangerousness," defined as the "special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by his conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms." If the police decide that a person exhibits signs of dangerousness, they may detain the offender, bring him before a court, or subject him to "therapy" or "political reeducation." Government authorities regularly threaten citizens with prosecution under this article. Both the UNHRC and the IACHR condemned this concept for its subjectivity, the summary nature of the judicial proceedings employed, the lack of legal safeguards for the accused, and the political considerations behind its application. According to the IACHR, "the special inclination to commit crimes referred to in the Cuban criminal code amounts to a subjective criterion used by the Government to justify violations of the rights to individual freedom and due process of persons whose sole crime has been an inclination to hold a view different from the official view."

The Government also used exile as a tool for controlling and eliminating the internal opposition. Amnesty International noted that the Government had changed its tactics in dealing with human rights advocates, and "rather than arresting them and bringing them to trial, the tendency was to repeatedly detain them for short periods and threaten them with imprisonment unless they gave up their activities or left the country." In August the Government used these incremental, aggressive tactics to compel Diosmel Rodriguez, an activist from Santiago de Cuba, and Olance Nogueras, an independent journalist already under state-imposed internal exile in Cienfuegos, to leave the country.

The Government has also pressured imprisoned human rights activists to apply for emigration and regularly conditioned their release on acceptance of exile. On several occasions, state security officers facilitated passes to prisoners to come to the capital for the express purpose of initiating exit procedures with foreign diplomatic missions.

Amnesty International expressed "particular concern" about the Government's practice of threatening to charge, try, and imprison human rights advocates and independent journalists prior to arrest or sentencing if they did not leave the country, which it said "effectively prevents those concerned from being able to act in public life in their own country."

In August the Government began a campaign of intense harassment against Leonel Morejon Almagro, one of the founders of the Concilio Cubano, in an attempt to force him into exile. Morejon had been released from Ariza prison on May 9 after serving a 15-month sentence, ostensibly for disrespect. Upon his release, the authorities warned Morejon not to attempt to restart the Concilio, which in February 1996 attempted to bring together over 130 prodemocracy groups for a meeting in Havana. The Government's state security apparatus prevented the meeting by launching a campaign of mass detentions and intimidation against more than 200 would-be participants. State security officers repeatedly harassed Morejon's spouse and his close relatives, subjected them to numerous arbitrary house searches, and threatened them with possible detention if they did not disassociate themselves from him. Morejon was subjected to intense surveillance, and the authorities videotaped private, nonpolitical activities in an attempt to increase their pressure on him by obliging him to restrict his personal life. Since May, Morejon had been briefly detained two times and visited or called in for questioning by state security agents on more than a dozen occasions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the Constitution provides for independent courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly (ANPP) and the Council of State, which is headed by Fidel Castro. The ANPP and its lower level counterparts elect all judges. The subordination of the courts to the Communist Party--which is designated in the Constitution as "the superior directive force of the society and the state"--further compromises the judiciary's independence.

Civil courts exist at municipal, provincial, and Supreme Court levels. Panels composed of a mix of professionally certified and lay judges preside over them. Military tribunals assume jurisdiction for certain "counterrevolutionary" cases.

The law and trial practices do not meet international standards for fair public trials. Almost all cases are tried in less than a day. There are no jury trials. While most trials are public, trials are closed when state security is allegedly involved. Prosecutors may introduce testimony from a CDR member as to the revolutionary background of a defendant, which may contribute to either a longer or shorter sentence. The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases such as those involving maximum prison terms or the death penalty. Appeals in death penalty cases are automatic. The death penalty must ultimately be affirmed by the Council of State.

Criteria for presenting evidence, especially in cases of human rights advocates, are arbitrary and discriminatory. Often the sole evidence provided, particularly in political cases, is the defendant's confession, usually obtained under duress and without the legal advice or knowledge of a defense lawyer. The authorities regularly deny defendants access to their lawyers until the day of the trial. Several dissidents who have served prison terms report that they were tried and sentenced without counsel and were not allowed to speak on their own behalf. Amnesty International has stated that "trials in all cases fall far short of international standards for a fair trial."

The law provides the accused with the right to an attorney, but the control that the Government exerts over the livelihood of members of the state-controlled lawyers' collectives--especially when they defend persons accused of state security crimes--compromises their ability to represent clients. Attorneys have reported reluctance to defend those charged in political cases out of fear of jeopardizing their own careers.

On July 8, a court sentenced Radames Garcia de la Vega, founder of the "Cuban Youths for Democracy Movement," to 18 months at a correctional work center for having shown disrespect to Fidel Castro. Garcia de la Vega's prodemocracy group has called for reestablishment of political autonomy for the universities and an end to the practice of admitting students to university based on their identification with the revolution. After the sentencing, group member Nestor Rodriguez Robaina reportedly shouted "Liberty" and "Long live democracy." On July 25, a court sentenced Rodriguez to 18 months' imprisonment in Guantanamo for "contempt against the dignity of the court." The State deployed uniformed and plainclothes security agents around and inside the courthouse to preclude protests that had taken place at Garcia de la Vega's trial from recurring. Other members of the group were prosecuted shortly thereafter. Heriberto Fuste was given a 2-year sentence for disrespect to Fidel Castro, while due to ill health, Heriberto Leyva was given only a fine of about $50 (1,000 pesos--the equivalent of 6 months' median salary) and warned by state security officers to leave the country. In September the authorities transferred Rodriguez to a hospital following his 14-day hunger strike to protest the Government's crackdown on prodemocracy youths while it simultaneously hosted an International Youth and Student Festival (see Section 2.b.).

According to Amnesty International, some 600 persons were imprisoned for various political crimes. Other human rights monitoring groups estimate that 800 individuals--not including those held for dangerousness--were imprisoned on such charges as disseminating enemy propaganda, illicit association, contempt for authorities (usually for criticizing Fidel Castro), clandestine printing, or the broad charge of rebellion, often brought against advocates of peaceful democratic change. In an October 1995 television interview, President Castro acknowledged and attempted to justify the existence of political prisoners in Cuba by stating that this was a normal practice in many other countries.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the Constitution provides for the inviolability of one's home and correspondence, official surveillance of private and family affairs by government-controlled mass organizations, such as the CDR's, remains one of the most pervasive and repressive features of Cuban life. The State has assumed the right to interfere in the lives of all citizens, even those who do not actively oppose the Government and its practices. The mass organizations' ostensible purpose is to "improve" the citizenry, but in fact their goal is to seek out and discourage nonconformity. Citizen participation in these mass organizations has declined; the economic crisis has both reduced the Government's ability to provide material incentives for their participation and forced many people to engage in black market activities, which the mass organizations are supposed to report to the authorities.

The authorities utilize a wide range of social controls. The Interior Ministry employs an intricate system of informants and block committees (the CDR's) to monitor and control public opinion. While less capable than in the past, CDR's continue to report on suspicious activity, including conspicuous consumption; unauthorized meetings, including those with foreigners; and defiant attitudes toward the Government and the revolution.

The Department of State Security often reads international correspondence and monitors overseas telephone calls and conversations with foreigners. The Government controls all access to the Internet, and all electronic mail messages are subject to censorship. Citizens do not have the right to receive publications from abroad, although newsstands in foreigners-only hotels and outside certain hard currency stores do sell foreign newspapers and magazines. The Government continued to jam U.S.-operated Radio Marti and Television Marti, although Radio Marti broadcasts regularly overcame the jamming attempts. Security agents subject dissidents, foreign diplomats, and journalists to harassment and surveillance, including electronic surveillance.

The authorities regularly search people and their homes, without probable cause, to intimidate and harass them. State security agents searched the homes of hundreds of political dissidents, human rights advocates, and independent journalists, seizing typewriters, personal and organizational documents, books, and foreign newspapers.

The authorities regularly detained human rights advocates after they visited foreign diplomatic missions, confiscated their written reports of human rights abuses, and seized copies of foreign newspapers and other informational material.

There were numerous credible reports of forced evictions of squatters and residents who lacked official permission to reside in Havana (see Section 5).

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government does not allow criticism of the revolution or its leaders. Laws against antigovernment propaganda, graffiti, and insults against officials carry penalties of from 3 months to 1 year in prison. If President Castro or members of the National Assembly or Council of State are the object of criticism, the sentence can be extended to 3 years. Charges of disseminating enemy propaganda (which includes merely expressing opinions at odds with those of the Government) can bring sentences of up to 14 years. Local CDR's inhibit freedom of speech by monitoring and reporting dissent or criticism. Police and state security officials regularly harassed, threatened, and otherwise abused human rights advocates in public and private as a means of intimidation and control.

The Constitution states that electronic and print media are state property and "cannot become in any case private property." The Communist Party controls all media as a means to indoctrinate the citizenry. All media must operate under party guidelines and reflect government views.

In February government officials telephoned foreign correspondents to warn them against attending a seminar to which both official and independent journalists were invited. A state security crew videotaped the arrival and departure of all individuals attending the event. In April a state security crew videotaped the arrival and departure of foreign diplomats who visited the home of independent journalist Olance Nogueras in Cienfuegos, and attempted to ask them questions as they departed.

The International Youth and Student Festival took place from July 28 to August 6 in Havana. The official, independent, and foreign media were all objects of intense scrutiny during this period. Government press officials publicly chastised the foreign correspondents' corps on several occasions for not devoting more coverage to the festival, and accused it of showing political bias by not doing so. Several independent journalists, including Raul Rivero, Mercedes Moreno, Luis Lopez Prendes, Ramon Alberto Cruz Lima, and Nicolas Rosario Rosabal, were warned by state security agents to stay away from the festival sites and its participants, and not to report on any aspect of the festival. Following the festival's closing ceremonies, the authorities punished three employees of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) for allowing the broadcast of a festival performance by the Charanga Habanera musical group that was considered "obscene and antirevolutionary." Beatriz Ruiz, the musical director of the ICRT, was fired; assistant director Rene Arencibia was suspended for 3 months; and Jose Pulido, the producer of official government entertainment shows, was required to denounce his mistakes publicly before ICRT employees. The Government has since reinstated the three journalists but to different assignments. The Charanga Habanera group was prohibited from all performances or musical activities and from traveling outside the country for 6 months. State security agents detained independent journalist Raul Rivero from August 12 to 15, after he spoke about the festival on Radio Marti, and strongly warned him to give up reporting or leave the country.

The temporary suspensions of official media representatives highlighted the difficult ideological tightrope government reporters and editors must walk. The increased pressure on foreign and independent journalists to follow the party line also indicates the degree to which the Government continues to attempt to shape media coverage, even among groups nominally outside the official realm of control.

The Government continues to subject independent journalists to internal travel bans, arbitrary and periodic (overnight or longer) detention, harassment of friends and relatives, seizures of written manuals and computer and office equipment, and repeated threats of prolonged imprisonment. In July the authorities arrested independent journalist Lorenzo Paez Nunes and subsequently sentenced him to 18 months in prison. According to his family, Hector Peraza was arrested in July and detained for 2 months the day after he received a visit from a "foreigner who gave him a computer." State security agents harassed family members when pressure on independent journalists was not successful in forcing them to abandon their work or their country. The daughters of independent journalists Ana Luisa Lopez Baeza and Maria de Los Angeles Gonzalez Amaro were publicly insulted and lost their jobs because of their mothers' work. Raul Rivero's octogenarian mother's poor health was aggravated by two visits from state security officials who claimed that they would detain Rivero for alleged "subversive activities" and urged her to make Rivero leave the country. In August independent journalists Olance Nogueras and Lazaro Laso went into exile following months of continued harassment. The Government had specifically banned Nogueras from entering Havana; in July the authorities detained him while traveling to the capital and forcibly returned him to Cienfuegos.

Many other journalists were subjected to detention and seizure of personal property. On May 31, four members of a neighborhood CDR assaulted independent journalist Joaquin Torres Alvarez. They knocked to the ground Torres's mother, who needs a cane to walk, when she tried to come to her son's defense. Two policemen present during the assault prevented neighbors from assisting Torres.

Amnesty International, the Inter-American Press Society, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists repeatedly called international attention to the Government's continued practice of detaining independent journalists and others simply for peacefully exercising their right to free speech.

The Government rigorously monitored other forms of expression and often arrested persons for the crimes of disseminating enemy propaganda and clandestine printing. In the Government's view, enemy propaganda includes materials such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international reports of human rights violations, and mainstream foreign newspapers and magazines.

The Government prohibits all diplomatic missions in Havana from printing or distributing publications, particularly newspapers and newspaper clippings, unless those publications deal exclusively with conditions in the mission's home country and receive prior government approval. It also infringed on diplomatic pouch privileges to seize allegedly subversive materials.

In December 1996, the Government passed the Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty Law, which proscribes citizens from providing any information to, or seeking any information from, any representatives of the U.S. Government, which might be used directly or indirectly in the application of U.S. legislation. This includes accepting or distributing any publications, documents, or other material that the authorities might interpret as facilitating implementation of such legislation. Although no one has been charged with violating this law, it has raised concerns among many independent journalists.

The Government circumscribes artistic, literary, and academic freedoms. The educational system teaches that the State's interests have precedence over all other commitments. Academics and other government officials are prohibited from meeting with some diplomats in Havana without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Government criticized a foreign mission's gift of books, which included works of fiction and a volume of sports history, to a provincial library. The Ministry of Education requires teachers to evaluate students' ideological character and note it in records that students carry throughout their schooling, which affect their future educational and career prospects. As a matter of educational policy, the Government often demands that teaching materials for courses such as mathematics or literature have an ideological content.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the Constitution grants limited rights of assembly and association, these rights are subject to the requirement that they may not be "exercised against ... the existence and objectives of the socialist State." The law punishes any unauthorized assembly of more than three persons, including for private religious services, even in a private home, by up to 3 months in prison and a fine. The authorities selectively enforce this prohibition and often use it as a legal pretext to harass and imprison human rights advocates.

In the weeks leading up to the International Youth and Student Festival, state security agents harassed dozens of human rights activists and independent journalists to warn them against approaching and interacting with any of the 10,000 foreign participants whom it claimed would attend the event. Prodemocracy youth activists in Santiago de Cuba were imprisoned (see Section l.e.), and independent journalist Raul Rivero was briefly detained for reporting on the event. State security agents withheld the identity cards of some activists to prevent them from legally leaving their homes during the festival. State security agents warned other activists that festival delegates, public festival activities, hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-related facilities were off-limits to them on penalty of incarceration.

The Government denies citizens the freedom of association. The Penal Code specifically outlaws "illegal or unrecognized groups." The Ministry of Justice, in consultation with the Interior Ministry, decides whether to give organizations legal recognition. The authorities have never approved the existence or a public meeting of a human rights group.

Along with recognized churches, the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas, small human rights groups, and several nascent fraternal or professional organizations are the only associations outside the control of the State, the Communist Party, and their mass organizations. The authorities continue to ignore these groups' applications for legal recognition, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association. All other legally recognized "nongovernmental" groups are affiliated with or controlled by the Government.

c. Freedom of Religion

In recent years, the Government has eased the harsher aspects of its repression of religious freedom. In 1991 it allowed religious adherents to join the Communist Party. In 1992 it amended the Constitution to prohibit religious discrimination and removed references to "scientific materialism," i.e., atheism, as the basis for the Cuban State. Nevertheless, the State prohibits members of the armed forces from allowing anyone in their household to observe religious practices, except elderly relatives if their religious beliefs do not influence other family members and are not "damaging to the revolution."

With the advent of the scheduled visit to Cuba by Pope John Paul II in January 1998, on November 1 the Catholic bishops issued a public statement that appealed to the Government to recognize the Church's role in civil society. The document stated that "freedom to hold mass must not be confused with freedom of religion," and asserted that the Church has a role to play in the creation of civil society, the family, as well as the temporal areas of work, the economy, the arts, sports, and the scientific and technical worlds. The bishops stated that the Church must open doors, prepare for a transformation, and help bring about reconciliation between all Cubans.

In preparing for the Pope's visit, the Government further relaxed its restrictions on religion, especially towards the Roman Catholic Church. In June the Government granted the Church permission to hold its first outdoor mass since 1961. The Government permitted a limited number of public masses since then. The Church also was allowed to conduct door-to-door visits to inform parishioners of the papal visit. On January 13, 1998, the Government allowed Cardinal Ortega a live, 30-minute appearance on national television to speak about the papal visit. However, the Government continued to limit strictly the Church's access to the media and refused to allow the Church to have an independent printing capability. It maintained its prohibition against the establishment of religious schools. The Government agreed to increase slightly the number of foreign priests and nuns allowed in the country.

The Government continued to enforce a resolution preventing any Cuban or joint enterprise from selling computers, fax machines, photocopiers, or other equipment to any church. It also maintained a December 1995 decree completely prohibiting nativity scenes and prohibiting Christmas trees and decorations in public buildings, except those related to the tourist or foreign commercial sector. In 1996 the Government had held the semi-annual ANPP session on Christmas eve and Christmas day to manifest its nonacceptance of religious holidays. (Official recognition of all religious holidays ended in 1961.) However, in December President Castro allowed Christmas to be recognized as a holiday as a one-time exception, as a special good will gesture in honor of the Pope's scheduled visit.

Students who profess a belief in religion continue to be stigmatized by other students and teachers and have been formally disciplined for bringing Bibles or other religious materials to school.

The Government requires churches and other religious groups to register with the provincial Registry of Associations to obtain official recognition. The Government prohibits, with occasional exceptions, the construction of new churches, forcing many growing congregations to violate the law and meet in people's homes. Government harassment of private houses of worship continued, with evangelical denominations reporting evictions from houses used for these purposes. In April government authorities in Holguin province detained Pentecostal pastors Emilio Morales and Roberto Rubio and ordered their informal chapels closed. The authorities have also threatened to close informal Protestant churches in the western towns of Moa and San German and evict the congregations from their premises. In September local government authorities allowed the Catholic Church to hold outdoor masses in the towns of Guines and Jaruco, but scheduled town "parties" to coincide with these services so that music and other distractions competed with the masses.

The Government, however, relaxed restrictions on members of Jehovah's Witnesses, whom it had considered "active religious enemies of the revolution" for their refusal to accept obligatory military service or participate in state organizations. The Government authorized small assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses, the opening of a Havana central office, and the publishing of the group's magazine and other religious tracts.

State security officials regularly harassed human rights advocates prior to religious services commemorating special feast days or before significant national days. State security agents in Havana and Pinar del Rio went to the homes of activists only hours before the September 8 feast day and warned the activists to stay away from any church or face detention. State security officers retained activists' identity cards to prevent them from legally leaving their homes. Similar government harassment of human rights and opposition activists occurred during other anniversaries, religious commemorations, or other events, particularly on July 13, the third anniversary of the Coast Guard's sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat which killed 41 people. Nevertheless, church attendance in all denominations has grown in recent years.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Prior to 1997, the Government generally had not imposed legal restrictions on domestic travel, except for persons found to be HIV positive, whom it initially restricts to sanitoriums for treatment and therapy before conditionally releasing them to the community. However, state security officials forbade some human rights advocates and independent journalists from traveling outside their home provinces, and the Government began to sentence others to internal exile.

In April the Council of Ministers approved Decree 271, aimed at stemming migration from the provinces to the capital city. Human rights observers noted that while the decree affected migration countrywide, the decree was targeted at individuals and families from the poorer, predominantly black and mulatto eastern provinces.

The Government imposed some restrictions on both emigration and temporary foreign travel. It allows the majority of persons who qualify for immigrant or refugee status in other countries to leave Cuba. In certain cases, however, the authorities delay or deny exit permits, usually without explanation. Some of the denials involve professionals who tried to emigrate and who the Government subsequently banned from working in their occupation. The Government refused permission to others because it considers their cases sensitive for political or state security reasons. The Government also routinely denies exit permits to young men approaching the age of military service until the age of 27, even when it has authorized the rest of the family to leave. The Government also has a policy of denying exit permission for several years to relatives of individuals who have successfully migrated illegally (e.g., merchant seamen who have jumped ship overseas; sports figures who "defected" while on tour abroad). However, in most of those cases approved for migration to the United States under the September 9, 1994, U.S.-Cuban migration agreement, the applicants eventually receive exemption from obligatory service and receive exit permits.

Migrants who travel to the United States must pay fees of $550 per adult, $350 per child, and airfare. These fees--which must be paid in dollars--are equivalent to 2 1/2 years of a professional person's salary. In April 1996, a ministerial decree reduced the fee by one-half for needy individuals. However, by year's end, 490 of the individuals initially approved still could not pay the travel amount.

The Penal Code provides for imprisonment from 1 to 3 years or a fine of $15 to $50 (300 to 1,000 pesos) for unauthorized departures by boat or raft. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated that it regards any sentence for simple illegal exit of over 1 year as harsh and excessive. Under the terms of the May 2, 1995, U.S.-Cuba migration accord, the Government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned to Cuba from international or U.S. waters, or from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, as a consequence of their attempt to emigrate legally.

In August 1994, the Government eased restrictions on visits by, and repatriation of, Cuban emigrants. Cubans who establish residency abroad and who are in possession of government-issued "permits to reside abroad" may travel to Cuba without visas. The Government reduced the age of citizens eligible to travel abroad from 20 to 18 years and extended the period for temporary stay abroad from 6 to 11 months. In November 1995, the Government announced that emigrants who are considered not to have engaged in "hostile actions" against the Government and who are not subject to criminal proceedings in their country of residence may apply at Cuban consulates for renewable, 2-year multiple-entry travel authorizations.

The Constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted "for their ideals or struggles for democratic rights against imperialism, fascism, colonialism, and neocolonialism; against discrimination and racism; for national liberation; for the rights of workers, peasants, and students; for their progressive political, scientific, artistic, and literary activities, for socialism and peace." The Government honors the principle of first asylum and provided it to a small number of persons in 1996. According to the UNHCR, five foreign nationals sought asylum or refugee status from the Government in 1996. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to countries where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have the legal right to change their government or to advocate change. The Constitution proscribes any political organization other than the Communist Party. While the Constitution provides for direct election of provincial, municipal, and National Assembly members, the candidates must be approved in advance by mass organizations controlled by the regime. In practice, a small group of leaders, under the direction of President Fidel Castro, select the members of the highest policymaking bodies of the Communist Party--the Politburo and the Central Committee.

The authorities tightly control the selection of candidates and all elections for government and party positions. At least 10 election petitions filed with candidacy committees in Havana and Cienfuegos provinces were ignored, even though they carried the requisite number of signatures, according to Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, president of the Christian Liberation Movement, a dissident group. The candidacy committees are composed of members of mass organizations such as the CTC and the CDR and are responsible for selecting candidates, whose names are then sent to municipal assemblies which select a single candidate for each regional seat in the ANPP. A dissident or opposition candidate has never been allowed to run for office.

The Government has ignored calls for democratic change. Although President Castro signed the Declaration of Vina del Mar at the VI Ibero-American summit in November 1996, in which government leaders reaffirmed their commitment to democracy and political pluralism, the Government continued to oppose independent political activity. In February 1996, the European Union suspended negotiations toward a cooperation agreement because of lack of progress toward political or economic reform and in December of that year adopted the Common Position on Cuba, which is binding on all member states. It directly links improvement of European Union relations with Cuba to progress toward a democratic transition and an improvement in the human rights situation. The Government rejects any change judged incompatible with the revolution. The Government has systematically retaliated against those who peacefully sought political change.

Although not a formal requirement, Communist Party membership is in fact a prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement.

Government leadership positions continue to be dominated by men. There are very few women or minorities in policymaking positions in the Government or the party. There are two women in the 24-member Politburo and 18 in the 150-member Central Committee. The head of the Union of Communist Youth is a woman. Although blacks and mulattos make up over half the population, they hold only 5 seats in the Politburo.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not recognize any domestic human rights groups, or permit them to function legally. The Government subjects domestic human rights advocates to intense intimidation, harassment, and repression. In violation of its own statutes, the Government refuses to consider applications for legal recognition submitted by human rights monitoring groups.

In its annual report the IAHRC examined recent measures taken by the Government and found that they "do not comprise the bedrock of a substantive reform in the present political system ... that will permit the ideological and partisan pluralism implicit in the wellspring from which a democratic system of government develops." The IAHRC recommended that the Government provide reasonable safeguards to prevent violations of human rights, unconditionally release political prisoners and those jailed for trying to leave the country, abolish the concept of dangerousness in the penal code and eliminate other legal restrictions on basic freedoms, cease harassing human rights groups, and establish a separation of powers so that the judiciary would no longer be "subordinate to political power."

The Government has steadfastly rejected international human rights monitoring. In 1992 Cuba's U.N. representative stated that Cuba would not recognize the UNHRC mandate on Cuba and would not cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. This policy remains unchanged. The Government consistently refused even to acknowledge requests by the Special Rapporteur to visit Cuba.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Cuba is a multiracial society with a black and mixed-race majority. The Constitution forbids discrimination based on race, sex, or national origin, although evidence suggests that racial and sexual discrimination occur often.


Violent crime is rarely reported in the press, and there are no publicly available data regarding the incidence of domestic violence. The law establishes strict penalties for rape, and the Government appears to enforce this law. Prostitution has increased greatly in the last few years; press reports indicate that tourists from various countries visit specifically to patronize inexpensive prostitutes. Despite the Government's tight control over society in general, episodic government statements and efforts to crack down on prostitution appear to have little lasting effect. Most observers believe that the regime tolerates or tacitly encourages prostitution in order to boost its tourist industry, and the police appear to make arrangements with the prostitutes that allow them to function largely without interference. In November the Dutch NGO Pax Christi released in book form a 1996 report on the human rights situation in the country. It noted that sex tourism was thriving and that it was tolerated by the Government as yet another way to attract hard currency to the island. NGO representatives interviewed Cubans who described their country as "a brothel more than ever, only now it's for tourists from other countries."

The Family Code states that women and men have equal rights and responsibilities regarding marriage, divorce, raising children, maintaining the home, and pursuing a career. Women are subject to the same restrictions on property ownership as men. The maternity law provides 18 weeks of maternity leave and grants working women preferential access to goods and services. About 40 percent of all women work, and they are well represented in the professions.


The Constitution calls on the Government to protect "family, maternity, and matrimony." It also states that children, legitimate or not, have the same rights under the law and notes the duties of parents to protect them. Education is free and is grounded in Marxist ideology. State organizations and schools are charged with the "integral formation of children and youth." The national health care system covers all citizens. There is no societal pattern of abuse of children, other than in the area of prostitution where young girls (between the ages of 13 and 20) form the bulk of the large number of prostitutes who cater to foreign sex-tourists.

People With Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination based on disability, and there have been few complaints of such discrimination. There are no laws that mandate accessibility to buildings for people with disabilities.

In March police forcibly removed visually-impaired and other disabled street-hawkers from the front of Havana's railway station. The disabled vendors attempted to hold a protest outside the capitol building, but police prevented the demonstration and briefly detained some of the disabled protesters.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Many blacks have benefited from the social changes of the revolution, and much of the police force and army enlisted personnel is black. Nevertheless, there have been numerous reports of disproportionate police harassment of black youths. During the year, there were numerous credible reports of forced evictions of squatters and residents lacking official permission to reside in Havana. The evictions, exacerbated by Decree 217 (see Section 2.d.), primarily targeted individuals and families from the eastern provinces, which are traditionally areas of poor, black, or mixed-race populations.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution gives priority to state or collective needs over individual choices regarding free association or provision of employment. The "demands of the economy and society" take precedence over an individual worker's preferences. The law prohibits strikes; none are known to have occurred. Official labor organizations have a mobilization function and do not act as trade unions, promote worker rights, or protect the right to strike. Such organizations are under the control of the State and the party.

The Communist Party selects the leaders of the sole legal labor confederation, the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), whose principal responsibility is to ensure that government production goals are met. Despite disclaimers in international forums, the Government explicitly prohibits independent unions and none are recognized. There has been no change since the 1992 International Labor Organization (ILO) finding that independent unions "do not appear to exist" and its ruling that Cuba violated ILO norms on freedom of association and the right to organize. Those who attempt to engage in union activities face government persecution. Workers can and have lost their jobs for their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union. Several small labor organizations have been created, but function without government recognition and are unable to represent workers and work on their behalf. The Government actively harasses these organizations.

The CTC is a member of the Communist, formerly Soviet-dominated, World Federation of Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining does not exist. The State Committee for Work and Social Security (CETSS) sets wages and salaries for the state sector. Since all legal unions are government entities, antiunion discrimination by definition does not exist.

In July the Government passed Decree Law 171, which imposed severe restrictions on the right of private citizens to rent their homes, rooms in their homes, or motor vehicles, along with a new punitive tax. This decree law signaled an economic policy reversal by the Government. In 1993 the Government had removed some restrictions on self-employment imposed in 1968 and allowed people to apply for licenses to work in over 125 different occupations, expanded to over 160 in 1994. Besides adding another 20 occupational categories, in 1995 the Government removed its previous ban on self-employment licenses for university graduates. However, university graduates cannot get self-employment licenses in their professions and must remain employed in their state job to qualify for a self-employment license.

There are no functioning export processing zones, although the 1995 Foreign Investment Law (Law 77), authorized the establishment of free trade zones and industrial parks. Law 77 continued to deny workers the right to contract directly with foreign companies investing in Cuba without special government permission. Only one foreign company has secured permission to employ workers directly. The Government requires foreign investors to contract workers through state employment agencies, which are paid in hard currency and, in turn, pay workers very low wages in pesos. Workers subcontracted by state employment agencies must meet certain political qualifications. According to Marcos Portal, Minister of Basic Industry, the state employment agencies consult with the party, the CTC, and the Union of Communist Youth to ensure that the workers chosen deserve to work in a joint enterprise.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Neither the Constitution nor the Labor Code prohibit forced labor. The Government maintains correctional centers where it sends people for crimes such as dangerousness. They are forced to work on farms or building sites, usually with no pay and inadequate food. The authorities often imprison internees who do not cooperate. The Government employs special groups of workers, known as "microbrigades," on loan from other jobs, on special building projects. Microbrigades have become more important in the Government's efforts to complete tourist and other priority projects. Workers who refuse to volunteer for these jobs often risk discrimination or job loss. However, microbrigade workers reportedly receive priority consideration for apartments. The military channels some conscripts to the Youth Labor Army, where they perform their 2-year military service working on farms that supply both the armed forces and the civilian population. The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and enforces this prohibition effectively.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum working age is 17 years. The Labor Code permits employment of 15- and 16-year-olds to obtain training or fill labor shortages. All students over age 11 are expected to devote 30 to 45 days of their summer vacation to farm work, laboring up to 8 hours per day. The Ministry of Agriculture uses "voluntary labor" by student work brigades extensively in the farming sector. The law requires school attendance until the ninth grade, and this law is generally respected. The Government prohibits forced and bonded child labor and enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varies by occupation and is set by the CETSS. The minimum monthly wage for a maid, for example, is $8.25 (165 pesos); for a bilingual office clerk, $9.50 (190 pesos); and for a gardener $10.75 (215 pesos). The Government supplements the minimum wage with free medical care and education, and subsidized housing and food. Even with these subsidies, however, a worker must earn far more than the average monthly wage to support a family. Corruption and black market activity are rampant. The Government rations most basic necessities such as food, medicine, clothing, and cooking gas, which are in very short supply.

The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workdays in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The Government also reduced the workday in some governmental offices and state enterprises to save energy. Workplace environmental and safety controls are usually inadequate, and the Government lacks effective enforcement mechanisms. The Labor Code establishes that a worker who considers his life in danger because of hazardous conditions has the right not to work in his position or not to engage in specific activities until such risks are eliminated. According to the Labor Code, the worker remains obligated to work temporarily in whatever other position may be assigned to him at a salary prescribed by law. Industrial accidents apparently are frequent, but the Government suppresses such reports.

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