Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Cuba

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 6 March 2007
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Cuba , 6 March 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f0569f20.html [accessed 23 August 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007

Cuba, with a population of more than 11 million, is a totalitarian state led by an acting president, General Raul Castro. The government exercises control through the Communist Party (CP) and its affiliated mass organizations, the bureaucracy, and the state security apparatus. General Castro was granted provisional control by his older brother, Fidel Castro, in a proclamation issued on July 31, after the latter underwent medical treatment. The Ministry of Interior is the principal instrument of state security and control, and officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which are led by Raul Castro, have occupied most key positions in the ministry during the past 15 years.

The government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. The government denied citizens the right to change their government. There were at least 283 political prisoners and detainees at year's end. Thousands of citizens served sentences for "dangerousness," in the absence of any criminal activity. The following human rights problems were reported: beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists, carried out with impunity; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; frequent harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government-recruited mobs, police, and state security officials; frequent arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations; denial of fair trial, particularly to political prisoners; and interference with privacy, including pervasive monitoring of private communications. There were also severe limitations on freedom of speech and press; denial of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including selective denial of exit permits to thousands of citizens; and refusal to recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Domestic violence, underage prostitution, sex tourism, discrimination against persons of African descent, and severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to form independent unions, were also problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government or its agents were not known to have committed any politically motivated killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners; however, members of the security forces sometimes beat and otherwise abused human rights and prodemocracy advocates, detainees, and prisoners, and did so with impunity.

Although physical torture was rare, authorities beat, harassed, and made death threats against dissidents, both inside and outside of prison. Many were interrogated and pressured to sign incriminating statements or collaborate with authorities. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical and sexual abuse, sometimes by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in isolation or punishment cells. Political prisoners and detainees who refused to wear the prison uniform or take part in "reeducation" activities were targeted for mistreatment.

On January 19, freed political prisoner Mario Enrique Mayo reported that guards at Green Sea prison in Santiago Province had tortured political prisoner Agustin Cervantes. Mayo stated that Cervantes, serving four years for dangerousness, was taken to a punishment cell where guards attached his handcuffed hands to a hook and left him suspended for at least 24 hours.

On June 14, guards at Taco Taco prison in Pinar del Rio Province punched political prisoner Orlando Zapato Tamayo repeatedly in the head while forcibly cutting his hair and shaving him. Zapata reacted by yelling "Down with Fidel!" and then spent the next 72 hours in a punishment cell. On November 2, Zapata's mother reported that a prosecutor had indicted her son for jailhouse disorder and disrespect and was seeking 15 additional years' imprisonment.

The government knowingly forced some mentally healthy prisoners to share cells with mentally disturbed inmates.

The government continued to subject persons who disagreed with it to "acts of repudiation." The government targeted dissenters by directing militants from the CP, the Union of Communist Youth (UJC), Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), the Federation of Cuban Women, the Association of Veterans of the Cuban Revolution, and other groups and individuals to stage public protests against the dissidents, usually in front of their homes. Participants shouted insults and obscenities, sometimes damaged the victim's home or property, and occasionally assaulted the victim or his relatives. Threats of beatings or killings were common. Although the government characterized acts of repudiation as spontaneous uprisings by patriotic neighbors, undercover police and State Security agents were often present and served in an organizational capacity. The government did not detain any participants in acts of repudiation, even those who physically attacked the victim; the government detained many victims following acts of repudiation. Non Communist militants who were called on but refused to take part faced potential disciplinary action. In addition to acts of repudiation, the government organized similar events called "acts of revolutionary reaffirmation," "acts of warning," and "acts of neutralization." All were aimed at ostracizing and intimidating those who questioned the government's policies.

On January 22 in the Matanzas city of Pedro Betancourt, hundreds of Communist militants surrounded a house used by the Alternative Option Independent Movement (MIOA), associated with the Sigler Amaya family. The crowd intimidated the occupants with shouted insults. Photographs showed CP and government officials leading the activity.

On March 17, a crowd of 500 Communist militants surrounded the Sancti Spiritus home of Isel Acosta Obregon, a member of the "Ladies in White" protest group and the wife of political prisoner Blas Giraldo Reyes. The participants pounded on the doors and screamed insults for four hours. The group prevented her from traveling to Havana to commemorate, with other members of the group, the third anniversary of the "Black Spring" arrests of 75 peaceful activists, including her husband (see section 2.d.).

On August 3, a government-organized mob of approximately 100 persons staged an act of repudiation in front of the Las Tunas home of Yamile de los Angeles Llanes, wife of political prisoner Jose Garcia Paneque. Llanes was at home with 11 youngsters at the time, when a member of the mob yelled, "Let's set the house on fire and burn the worms!"

On August 19-20, a half-dozen Communist militants occupied the hallway of dissident Martha Beatriz Roque's housing complex for six hours during the night. The men behaved as though they were drunk, hurled insults and obscenities at Roque, and hammered on her window with the butt of a pistol, inviting her to "step outside so we can kill you."

On October 10 in Santa Clara, participants in an act of repudiation beat independent librarians Orestes Suarez Torres and his wife, Nancy Gonzalez Garcia, after they left a dissident gathering. Twelve assailants broke Suarez's ribs and left both victims with black eyes, bruises, and cuts.

On December 10 in Havana, the government deployed at least 100 state security officials and no less than 200 Communist militants to confront and attack 12 peaceful prodemocracy activists holding a silent march to mark Human Rights Day. Militants shoved, punched, and kicked the activists, who were led by dissident Darsi Ferrer Ramirez. State Security agents detained all of the participants for a number of hours.

Citizens also often attacked dissidents in individual confrontations. For example, on January 29, a proregime militant assaulted dissident Felix Bonne on the street following Bonne's visit to the Havana home of a fellow activist. The militant approached Bonne from behind and said, "This area is off-limits to counterrevolutionaries." When Bonne turned and started to reply, the militant knocked him to the ground with punches to the head and stomach.

State security officers, police, military officials, and officers of the Technical Investigations Department occasionally made death threats against human rights activists and other dissidents. In July state security agents told Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, head of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, that he would "not be around" to see his daughter grow up. On August 1, an Army colonel approached Julia Cecilia Delgado, acting president of the Liberal Party, and threatened to put her "six feet under," saying dissidents like her were endangering the country.

Death threats behind bars were not uncommon. For example, on August 8, two common criminals, Arnolis Torres Rueda and Joel Zayas, acting on orders of guards at Playa Manteca prison in Holguin Province, threatened to kill political prisoner Fidel Garcia Roldan for his prodemocracy positions.

Dissidents also received death threats from unknown sources. On January 2 and 4, Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) received a death threat in a phone call made to a relative. The caller said: "We are with a revolutionary group, and we are going to kill Oswaldo Paya."

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life-threatening; conditions at detention facilities were even worse. Prison authorities frequently beat, neglected, isolated, and denied medical treatment to detainees and prisoners, particularly those convicted of political crimes or those who persisted in expressing their views. Authorities also often denied family visitation, adequate nutrition, exposure to natural light, pay for work, and the right to petition the prison director. The government sent most political convicts to prisons located far from their families, increasing their and their families' sense of isolation.

On July 5, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced the "cruel, inhumane, and degrading" conditions at the country's prisons, which it said were overcrowded, unsanitary, and offered inadequate nutrition. The commission also complained that brutal prison staff members enjoyed almost total impunity, and that "rare is the day" that the commission failed to receive a report about a terrible beating behind bars.

Power and water cuts were frequent at prisons, and inmates often suffered from extreme heat. Prisoners sometimes were held in punishment cells that lacked light and fresh air, had little access to water, and only a hole for a toilet. Reading materials were either prohibited or heavily restricted. Prison officials regularly denied prisoners other rights, such as the right to correspondence.

Prison food was often inedible, and food from outside was essential to meet nutritional needs. In May an inmate at Camaguey's Kilo 8 prison was reportedly killed in a fight in a dispute over a piece of chicken. Rice was often either putrefied or contained worms. Drinking water, when available, was often contaminated. Prisoners' relatives are ostensibly allowed to bring them 40 pounds of food each visit, but in practice prison guards often prevented the relatives of political prisoners from bringing in provisions.

Overcrowding was common. Released political prisoner Albert Dubouchet stated that during the first six months of the year at Quivican prison in Havana Province, he and approximately 150 other prisoners lived in an area roughly as long and three times as wide as a bowling lane.

Inmates friendly with prison guards often received preferential treatment. This led to abuse, whereby favored inmates assaulted other prisoners with impunity. Those in the guards' good graces sometimes extorted or stole money from fellow prisoners. Guards also mobilized preferred inmates to punish prisoners for defiance. At the Holguin provincial prison on July 26, guards directed a group of hardened convicts to attack prisoners who refused to watch a reeducation program.

Some inmates resorted to self-mutilation, often to seek a transfer to a prison closer to family. In March political prisoner Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta sewed his mouth shut as part of a hunger strike protest after guards beat him at Kilo 8 prison in Camaguey. On August 8, the independent press group Young People Without Censorship reported that Adrian Loaiza, a prisoner at Camaguey's Kilo 8 prison, carved deep gashes on his arms to gain a transfer to Cienfuegos, where his family resided.

The government stated that prison guards only use force when strictly necessary to restore order, but during the year guards often resorted to violence and showed little tolerance for special requests. On February 3, guards at Kilo 5.5 prison in Pinar del Rio beat Iraudy Casero Basilet unconscious after he demanded medical attention. Guards at the same prison sent political prisoner Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero to a punishment cell in November for five days after he requested greater access to fresh air. When political prisoner Normando Hernandez failed to stand at attention during a head count at the same prison on March 28, a guard clubbed him in the leg, threw him down a flight of stairs, and then made him stand in the heat for seven hours. On July 22, five guards at the Holguin provincial prison beat inmate Carlos Hernandez Infante after he demanded medical attention.

There was anecdotal evidence of guard brutality against inmates at 100 y Aldabo and Villa Marista, two detention centers in Havana. Some violence was inmate-on-inmate, with guard collusion. Sources who had contact with inmates reported that at 100 y Aldabo, male inmates paid guards for access to individual female cells, where they raped young female inmates.

During the first seven months of the year, at least two inmates committed suicide at Quivican prison in Havana Province, which credible sources attributed to the harsh conditions at the prison. On January 1, inmate Roberto Alfonso Arteaga asphyxiated himself at Villa Clara Youth Prison. At Kilo 5.5 prison in Pinar del Rio, inmate Arami Monet Cabrera hanged himself on January 5.

Health conditions and hygiene at prisons were very poor. Family members reported widespread serious disease and illnesses among political prisoners, for which the prison staff sometimes withheld treatment. Digestive disorders were widely reported, and preventable ailments such as beri-beri and dengue fever were common.

Poor prison conditions prompted a number of political prisoners to wage hunger strikes. Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, Alexis Rodriguez Fernandez, and Agustin Cervantes Garcia staged a hunger strike from April 28 until May 19 at Green Sea prison in Santiago Province to protest mistreatment and "systematic humiliation." Others waged hunger strikes to protest State Security harassment of their family members. For this reason, political prisoner Lester Gonzalez Penton maintained a hunger strike March 20-29 at La Pendiente prison in Santa Clara.

Sexual assault occurred at prisons, but the government did not disclose such incidents. At Manto Negro prison in Havana, the country's biggest women's prison, forced homosexual relationships were common. In many such cases, women serving lengthy sentences targeted younger women. Those who resisted faced potential violence including beatings, stabbings, and chemical attacks using hair-coloring products. Guards frequently looked the other way and failed to punish perpetrators.

The government operated two or three detention/rehabilitation centers for prostitutes in the Havana area. Human rights activists claimed that these facilities held dissidents as well as prostitutes.

Although officials sought to separate the juvenile and adult prisoners, juveniles sometimes were held in the same facilities as adults. In February and March, the government held 16-year-old Maddiel Bachiller Pedrozo, the son of a dissident, at the Villa Marista detention center, where he shared a cell with two adult males. At Manto Negro women's prison, the staff forced girls ages 16 and 17 to share cells with much older women.

The government did not release information on the treatment of minors at either youth or adult prisons or detention centers. On April 17, prisoner Miguel Angel Vidal reportedly denounced beatings by two guards of 18 male minors at area six of La Pendiente prison in Santa Clara.

The government sometimes denied political detainees and prisoners pastoral visits. In June and July, authorities at Red Ceramic prison in Camaguey denied a written request from independent journalist Armando Betancourt Reina to see a Catholic priest.

The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights groups. The government did not permit access to political detainees by international humanitarian organizations. The government has denied prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross since 1989.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although prohibited by law, the government effectively and frequently used arbitrary arrest and detention to harass opponents.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The Ministry of the Interior exercises control over police, the internal security forces, and the prison system. The National Revolutionary Police (PNR) is the primary law enforcement organization and generally was effective in investigating common crimes. Specialized units of the Ministry of the Interior's State Security service are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing opposition political groups. The PNR played a supporting role by carrying out house searches and provided interrogation facilities for State Security agents.

Members of the security forces acted with impunity in committing numerous, serious human rights abuses. While the PNR ethics code and Interior Ministry regulations ban police brutality, the government did not announce any investigations into police misconduct during the year. Corruption was a problem (see section 3).

CP officials and leaders of neighborhood CDR branches lack formal law enforcement powers but wielded considerable authority and often used it to mobilize action against anyone expressing criticism of the government or its leaders.

Arrest and Detention

The police have broad detention powers, which they may exercise without a warrant. Under the law, police can detain without a warrant not only persons caught in the act but also someone merely accused of a crime against state security.

The law 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 authorities to provide suspects with access to a lawyer within seven days of arrest. In practice the law was not respected. According to the CCDHRN, the government held at least 15 dissidents without formal charges during the year.

On September 1, approximately 50 state security officials took dissident doctor Darsi Ferrer Ramirez into custody and held him at a police station for 19 hours, leaving his small child home alone. The authorities accused Ferrer of putting up stickers with the word "CHANGE," an accusation Ferrer denied. The authorities confiscated his shirt and shoes before allowing him to walk home.

Bail was available, although typically not in cases involving antigovernment activity. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served if convicted. The government denied prisoners and detainees prompt access to family members.

Conditional probation was available, but the government was able to revoke this status on political grounds. On April 3, the Havana Municipal Court revoked the conditional probation of Mayda Barbara Jordan Contreras, who was sentenced to 15 years for her part in a spontaneous 1994 protest known as the "Maleconazo." Jordan was reincarcerated for her failure to join proregime mass social organizations. Throughout the year, the government threatened to return to prison dissidents who were on conditional probation and continued, or were accused of continuing, their opposition activities (see section 2.d.).

The law provides that all legally recognized civil liberties may be denied to anyone who "actively opposes the decision of the people to build socialism." Government officials routinely invoked this authority to deny due process to persons detained on purported state security grounds. The authorities routinely engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates. Police frequently lacked warrants when carrying out arrests or issued warrants themselves at the time of arrest. Authorities sometimes employed false charges of common crimes to arrest political opponents and often did not inform detainees of the charges against them. During the year, the government greatly increased its use of interrogations, warnings, fines, and short term detentions. Authorities continued to detain human rights activists and independent journalists for short periods, including house arrest, often to prevent them from attending or participating in events related to human rights issues (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

The penal code includes the concept of "potential 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 bring the offender before a court or subject him to therapy or political reeducation. The government increasingly applied this statute during the year, and the CCDHRN estimated in November that between 2,000 and 3,000 citizens, at least 19 of them activists, were being held for dangerousness.

According to the CCDHRN, during the year authorities detained at least 152 citizens for peaceful democratic or political activity; most were held for a day or two, or for a few hours. At year's end at least 18 political prisoners were still awaiting trial; of these, three were taken into custody during the year.

Authorities sometimes detained independent journalists to question them about contacts with foreigners or to prevent them from covering sensitive issues or criticizing the government (see section 2.a.). The government often released activists without charges after months of detention. On January 30, State Security officials detained two Czech women who had been taking photographs of a Havana slum. The authorities denied them contact with their embassy for 11 hours and then expelled them from the country.

The government used house arrest without due process. On March 20, State Security officials informed former political prisoner Miguel Valdes Tamayo that he would no longer be allowed to leave his home unless accompanied by a State Security official.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for independent courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly of People's Power (ANPP) and the Council of State. The ANPP and its lower-level counterparts choose all judges. Thus, in practice the CP controlled the courts.

Civilian courts existed at the municipal, provincial, and appellate levels. Panels composed of professionally certified and lay judges presided over them. Military tribunals, which were governed by a special law, assumed jurisdiction for certain "counterrevolutionary" cases. The military tribunals tried civilians if a member of the military was involved with civilians in a crime. In these tribunals, there was a right to appeal and access to counsel, and the charges were made known to the defendant.

Trial Procedures

The courts undermined the right to a fair trial by restricting the right to a defense and often failed to observe due process rights nominally available to defendants. While most trials were ostensibly public, trials were closed when there were alleged violations of state security. Almost all cases were tried in less than one day; there were no jury trials. The law provides the accused with the right to an attorney and, except in cases involving state security, the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, but many defendants either had no defense attorney or met an attorney only minutes before the start of their trial. Moreover, the government's control over members of the lawyers' collectives compromised their ability to represent clients, especially those accused of state security crimes.

On July 4, a court in the Holguin city of Gibara convicted Alexander Santos Hernandez, of the Cuban Liberal Movement, of dangerousness and sentenced him to four years in prison. Santos was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced in less than 24 hours. Colleagues said Santos had angered authorities by celebrating the movement's fourth anniversary.

Criteria for presenting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. Often the sole evidence provided, particularly in political cases, was the defendant's confession, usually obtained under duress and without legal advice. A defendant's right to present witnesses was arbitrarily observed. Defense attorneys were given access to the police dossier and the prosecutor's written accusation only at, or minutes before, the trial. Because of this constraint, and because most trials last less than eight hours, defense attorneys did not have time to arrange for testimony by defense experts.

Prosecutors may introduce testimony from a CDR member about the revolutionary background of a defendant, which may contribute to a longer or shorter sentence. The law presumes the accused are innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this presumption in practice. The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty. Appeals in capital cases are automatic. The Council of State ultimately must affirm capital punishment.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The CCDHRN stated that the government held at least 283 political prisoners and detainees as of December 31; 47 of them were convicted of terrorism and 30 of dangerousness. At least three political prisoners spent the year on death row, but none was executed. The authorities incarcerated persons for such offenses as disrespect of the head of state (Angel Fernandez Rivera, sentenced on September 7 to 15 months in prison); disrespect and scorn of patriotic symbols (Yoandri Gutierrez Vargas, sentenced on July 24 to one year); public disorder (Armando Betancourt Reina, sentenced on May 22 to three years); and attempt to leave the country illegally (Yonger Robles Miranda, sentenced in 2003 to six years' imprisonment). Other charges included disseminating enemy propaganda, illicit association, clandestine printing, or the broad charge of rebellion, which sometimes was brought against advocates of peaceful democratic change. Dissidents were among the 2,000 to 3,000 citizens serving sentences of up to five years for the crime of potential dangerousness, also known as social dangerousness. At year's end, 59 of the 75 peaceful activists, journalists, union organizers, and opposition figures arrested and convicted in 2003, mostly on charges of violating national security and aiding a foreign power, remained in prison.

On April 12, police detained prodemocracy activist Manuel Antonio Batista Perez, who was subsequently convicted of dangerousness and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. On May 20, police detained Miguel Angel Lopez Herrera of the November 30 Democratic Party for "disrespecting the head of state." He was convicted on August 30 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. On July 12, a court in Santiago de las Vegas, Havana Province, convicted dissident Camilo Cairo Falcon of public disorder and sentenced him to one year of correctional work. Communist militants had savagely beaten Cairo in July 2005 as he and other dissidents commemorated the 1994 sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat.

Mistreatment of political prisoners and detainees was widespread (see section 1.c.). Beatings were not uncommon, and many political inmates were denied privileges given to ordinary prisoners, such as access to an exercise yard or sunshine. In April at Guayabo prison on the Isle of Youth, a fellow prisoner punched political prisoner Fabio Prieto Llorente in the presence of a guard, who took no action against the attacker. Rather, the guard took Prieto to a punishment cell.

The government continued to deny human rights organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to political prisoners and detainees. Authorities denied visits to families of political prisoners and detainees. Prisoners in punishment cells had no access to lawyers.

During the year, the government released a number of detainees who had been held for long periods without charge. In October and November, the government freed without comment Ricardo Medina Salabarria, Francisco Moure Saladrigas, Mario Gonzalez Perez, Santiago Valdeolla Perez, and Alberto Hernandez Suarez. All had been taken into custody in July 2005 in connection with a protest.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is a judiciary for civil matters. The law provides citizens alleging human rights violations the right to lodge a formal complaint with prosecutors, but the CCDHRN noted that CP control of the courts discouraged citizens from seeking recourse to the civil judiciary. The CCDHRN was not aware of any successful rights-related lawsuit during the year or of any damages ordered by any court in connection with a human rights case.

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

While the constitution provides for the inviolability of a citizen's home and correspondence, official surveillance of private and family affairs by government controlled organizations, such as the CDRs, remained pervasive. The government employed physical and electronic surveillance against nonviolent political opponents. The state interfered in the lives of citizens, even those who did not actively oppose the government and its practices. The authorities employed a wide range of social controls to discover and discourage nonconformity.

The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and CDR block committees to monitor and control public opinion. CDRs continued to report on suspicious activity, including conspicuous consumption; unauthorized meetings, including those with foreigners; and what it considered defiant attitudes toward the government and the revolution.

In January a government fraud inspector visited the housing complex of dissident Osmany Rodriguez Sanchez of the Jose Luis Boitel Association of Political Prisoners and found a rigged electric meter. Although the meter served the entire complex, the inspector fined only Rodriguez, after consulting with the local CDR chief and a CP official.

State Security read international correspondence and monitored overseas telephone calls and conversations with foreigners. The government also monitored domestic phone calls and correspondence and sometimes denied telephone service to dissidents. During the year, State Security agents subjected journalists and foreign diplomats to harassment and surveillance, including electronic surveillance and surreptitious entry into their homes (see section 2.a.).

In mid February state telecommunications company ETECSA terminated telephone service to Waldimar Ibarra Santana, president of the Cuban League of Independent Farmers, in Santiago. ETECSA explained that the government had ordered the service to be shut off. On February 9, a CDR official approached Ibarra's mother and played a tape recording in which Ibarra could be heard speaking with a Radio Marti reporter. The official accused Ibarra of using the telephone to undermine the revolution.

There were numerous credible reports of forced evictions of squatters and residents who lacked official permission to reside in Havana and other major cities. The husband of a dissident painter was not permitted to reside legally with his wife under the same roof in Havana. Twice during the year he was expelled to the city where the government had ordered him to live.

The government sometimes used the children of dissidents as a means of punishing the parents. For example, authorities occasionally threatened parents with the loss of custody of their children for taking part in counterrevolutionary activities. On April 27, a State Security officer in Santa Clara encouraged the former husband of dissident Noelia Pedraza Jimenez to seek custody of their five-year-old son, who lived with Pedraza. The officer hinted that courts would support the custody claim. On October 17, dissident Niurka Brito Rivas was jailed for three days after failing to fill out a "survey" given to her by her daughter's elementary school. The survey, which was not given to other parents, asked Brito to identify her political affiliation and economic situation. Children of dissidents were exposed to frequent intimidation and occasional violence, including sexual harassment. On February 19, dissident Maria de los Angeles Cabello reported that a teacher had sexually harassed her 12-year-old child.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press insofar as they "conform to the aims of socialist society," a clause effectively barring free speech, and in practice the government did not allow criticism of the revolution or its leaders. Laws against antigovernment propaganda, graffiti, and disrespect of officials impose penalties of between three months and one year in prison; criticism of the president or members of the ANPP or Council of State is punishable by three years' imprisonment. Disseminating "enemy propaganda," which included expressing opinions at odds with those of the government, is punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment. The government considered the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international reports of human rights violations, and mainstream foreign newspapers and magazines to be enemy propaganda. Local CDRs inhibited freedom of speech by monitoring and reporting dissent or criticism.

The government considered print and electronic media to be state property. All media must operate under CP guidelines and reflect government views. The government owned and the CP controlled all media except for a few small, unauthorized church run publications. The law bars "clandestine printing." The government was the sole book publisher in the country, and state censors required prepublication approval.

Catholic church run publications were subject to governmental pressure; however, Vitral magazine, a publication of the diocese of Pinar del Rio, continued to publish during the year, as did others. Catholic church officials were allowed to broadcast programming on September 8 to mark the celebration of the country's patron saint.

The government subjected independent journalists to travel bans, detentions, harassment of family and friends, equipment seizures, imprisonment, and threats of imprisonment. State Security agents posed as independent journalists in order to gather information on activists, spread misinformation, and spread mistrust within independent journalist circles. During the year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the government's "constant harassment of independent journalists." It said 24 journalists were in prison merely for exercising their right to free expression. The CPJ complained that the government continued to harass some journalists even after freeing them from prison. Citing the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, the CPJ noted that the Havana Municipal Court had forbidden him from leaving the capital or taking part in any public meetings.

Occasional physical attacks on independent journalists, mainly by plain-clothes assailants, occurred during the year. In April an unidentified man punched independent journalist Jose Manual Caraballo on a street in Ciego de Avila, smashed his camera, and warned that he would be destroyed, just like his camera. The same month in Havana, State Security officials detained, interrogated, and threatened independent journalist Luis Cino.

On May 14 and 15, President Castro threatened to expel accredited international journalists based in Havana for coverage that displeased the regime. Some reporters admitted to engaging in self censorship to keep their Havana bureaus open. Reporters privately accused the government of listening in on their calls and monitoring their activities.

The government frequently banned foreign reporters from entering the country to cover politically sensitive developments. At least four European journalists who had complied with the country's visa requirements had their permission to enter the country revoked. A Swiss journalist was denied permission to report on the country because he had referred to the government as "the regime." In the days following the July 31 proclamation that granted power to Raul Castro, the government barred entry to at least 11 foreign journalists and ordered a number of others to leave within 24 hours.

On August 5, the government released Albert Santiago Dubouchet, director of the independent Havana Press agency, from prison after he completed a one-year sentence for resisting arrest and disrespecting authorities. Dubouchet continued to maintain his innocence. He had been arrested in July 2005, after confirming for a foreign media organization a report that a home-made bomb had exploded at a government office in Artemisa, Havana Province.

On November 15, police detained independent journalist Luis Garcia Vega for four hours after he visited a diplomatic mission's Internet center. Authorities warned him that if he continued to write articles critical of the government, he could be held indefinitely, without charge.

On December 4, State Security officials searched the home of independent journalist Ahmed Rodriguez Albacia, confiscated his computer, books, and papers, and drove him to a detention center, where he was imprisoned. Authorities told his mother that he would be held between one week and one year. The detention followed a November 24 opposition youth forum in which Rodriguez played a key role. Rodriguez was released on December 12. On December 19, three police officers detained journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira and took him to a police station, where they fined him $250 (6,000 pesos) and informed him that if he did not halt his "illegal activities" – an apparent reference to his journalism – the government would charge him with disobedience, under Article 147 of the penal code.

Citizens who spoke with independent journalists risked government retaliation. On August 10, authorities reportedly threatened Lazaro Alvarez, a baker in Batabano, Havana Province, with the loss of his job for speaking with an independent journalist about his brother, Francisco, a farmer jailed for attempting to leave the country illegally.

The government operated four national television stations, six national radio stations, one international radio station, one national magazine, and three national newspapers. Additionally, it operated many local radio stations, television stations, magazines, and newspapers. All were official organs of the CP. Content was nearly uniform across all of these media; none enjoyed editorial independence. With the exception of a few Catholic publications, the regime vigorously prosecuted anyone attempting to distribute written, filmed, or photographed material.

Citizens did not have the right to receive or possess publications from abroad, although newsstands at some hotels for foreigners and certain hard currency stores sold limited numbers of foreign newspapers and magazines. The government continued to jam the transmissions of Radio Marti and Television Marti.

Law 88, Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba, prohibits a broad range of activities, including distribution of printed material from foreign sources, that purportedly undermine state security. Many of the country's political prisoners were convicted of violating this statute.

The government tightly controlled the distribution of information; it frequently barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign diplomats. The government prohibited diplomatic missions from printing or distributing publications, including newspapers and newspaper clippings, unless such publications exclusively addressed conditions in a mission's home country and prior government approval was received.

Internet Freedom

The government controlled nearly all Internet access. Authorities reviewed and censored e-mail and forbade any attachments. Authorities also blocked access to Web sites they considered objectionable. Citizens could access the Internet only through government approved institutions, except at Internet facilities provided by a few diplomatic offices. The only citizens granted direct Internet access were some government officials and certain government approved doctors, professors, and journalists. Foreigners, but not citizens, were allowed to buy Internet access cards from the national telecommunications provider.

From January 31 to August 31, independent journalist Guillermo Farinas waged a hunger strike at a Santa Clara hospital in an effort to obtain uncensored Internet access for all citizens.

On February 17, university officials held a meeting at the University of Information Sciences (UCI) to castigate six students caught running chat rooms and using school servers to sell Internet access to others. UCI suspended the six students for between four and five years.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and continued to emphasize the importance of reinforcing revolutionary ideology and discipline. Academics were prohibited from meeting with some diplomats without prior government approval. Academics whom the government allowed to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively impact their relatives back home.

Independent academic Roberto de Miranda, head of the Cuban Independent Educators' College, estimated that at least 300 educators were struggling financially during the year, having lost their jobs on political grounds because they were deemed "untrustworthy." Some had been dismissed from the education system for having tried to flee the country illegally. State Security intervened in academic matters. Hunger striking dissident Guillermo Farinas alleged in May that State Security agents had visited Havana's Superior Institute of Health Sciences, which Farinas attended, and altered his academic file, lowering his grade-point average from 4.51 (on a five-point scale) to 4.0.

State Security blocked or interrupted occasional conferences organized by the Cuban Independent Educators' College, including one on May 20 in Havana.

Government controlled public libraries denied access to books or information unless the requester produced a government letter of permission.

The government frequently harassed and sometimes detained independent librarians. On April 10, police detained Aini Martin Valero three days after she opened an independent library in Havana. Martin, who belongs to the Trade Union of Independent Cuban Workers, regained her freedom after several hours.

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."

Freedom of Assembly

The law punishes any unauthorized assembly of more than three persons, including those for private religious services in private homes, by up to three months in prison and a fine. The authorities selectively enforced this prohibition and often used it as a pretext to harass and imprison human rights advocates.

The authorities never have approved a public meeting by a human rights group and often detained activists to prevent them from attending meetings, demonstrations, or ceremonies. Unapproved meetings and demonstrations took place, which the government frequently disrupted, infiltrated, or attempted to prevent. Authorities sometimes used or incited violence against peaceful demonstrators.

Freedom of Association

The law specifically prohibits unrecognized groups, and the government denied citizens freedom of association. Authorities have never approved the existence of a human rights group; however, a number of professional associations operated as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) without legal recognition, including the Association of Independent Teachers, the Association of Independent Lawyers, the Association of Independent Architects and Engineers, and several independent journalist organizations. The constitution proscribes any political organization other than the CP (see section 3).

Recognized churches (see section 2.c.), the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas, the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal or professional organizations were the only associations permitted to function outside the formal structure, but not the influence, of the state, the CP, and their mass organizations. The authorities continued to ignore applications from new groups for legal recognition, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

The government punished other citizens for associating with dissidents. On May 13, police in Havana fined Carlos Prieto Fresco and threatened him with arrest for "meeting with counterrevolutionary elements." Hours earlier, Prieto and others in the neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo had protested the arrest of their neighbor, dissident Odelin Alfonso.

The government confiscated funds sent from overseas to banned human rights organizations, NGOs, and independent labor unions. In May officers from State Security's economic crimes bureau reportedly raided the home of Maybel Padilla Perez, head of the illegal Unitary Council of Cuban Workers. The government reportedly seized a sizeable donation from a European NGO. On some occasions, government officials stole money from prodemocracy activists during searches. On September 28, State Security officials visited the home of Jose Luis Pitaluga and took $325 (7,800 pesos).

c. Freedom of Religion

Although the constitution recognizes the right of citizens to practice any religious belief within the framework of respect for the law, the government continued to restrict freedom of religion. The government requires churches and other religious groups to enroll with the provincial registry of associations within the Ministry of the Interior to obtain official recognition. In practice the government appeared to halt registration of new denominations, although no groups were known to have applied for registration during the year.

The government continued to allow foreign priests and religious workers into the country to replace foreign priests and nuns who had died or whose residence permits had expired. In June 2005 the government eased its restrictive policies and granted work permits to at least eight foreign priests and 14 foreign nuns who entered the country as nonreplacements. The applications of 104 priests and nuns remained pending. For the first time in many years the government allowed into the country three new Catholic congregations, or orders, including Franciscan nuns from Colombia.

The Ministry of Interior sought to control and monitor religious institutions, particularly through surveillance, infiltration, and harassment of religious professionals and practitioners. State Security officials visited priests and pastors prior to significant religious events to warn that dissidents were trying to "use the church."

Although it did not favor any one particular religion or church, the government appeared to be most tolerant of those churches that maintained close relations to the state through the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC), which existed to ensure that members did not oppose government policies.

On December 4, authorities placed a Protestant pastor, Carlos Lamelas, on trial in Havana on charges of "human trafficking." However, a new prosecutor absolved him, declaring that there was no evidence for the charges. Observers believed Lamelas was targeted for his outspoken calls for increased religious liberty; Lamelas was imprisoned without charge for four months earlier in the year. He was the former president of the Church of God denomination, a member of the CCC.

There continued to be reports of discrimination in schools; Jehovah's Witness children were denied participation in school field trips because of their religion.

Officials of various groups reported cases of persons engaged in religious practices experiencing harassment because of ignorance or personal prejudice by a local official. In February at Havana's Combinado del Este prison, prison authorities broke up a prayer group of more than 15 inmates, without explanation.

The government, with rare exceptions, prohibited the construction of new churches, forcing many growing congregations to seek permits to meet in private homes. Most registered religious groups were able to hold services in private homes. House churches have grown in number in recent years; Christian Solidarity Worldwide estimated that there were at least 10,000 house churches nationwide. Many religious leaders attributed this growth to the government's refusal to authorize the construction of new churches.

However, in 2005 the government implemented a directive that restricted the operation of house churches. Directive 43 and Resolution 46 require house-church operators to register their house churches with the government, thus "legalizing" their existence. The vast majority of house churches were unregistered and thus technically illegal.

A leading Baptist church official estimated no more than 20 of the 1,500 Baptist house churches in the western region had been legalized by the time the directive was issued in April 2005. To register one's house church, an operator must meet a number of requirements: the house church must host no more than three meetings per week, it must not be located within 1.2 miles of another house church, and it may be open only between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. on workdays, and between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. on other days.

Church officials from a number of denominations said that the government had made the 2005 regulations against house churches widely known but had not undertaken sweeping action to implement the new rules. Some Pentecostal church officials considered themselves singled out by the directive, and a Baptist church leader also judged it a threat. At least one Baptist church leader criticized the requirement that a house church not be located within 1.2 miles of another house church, arguing that the directive would be difficult to obey in a congested city.

Education was secular, and no religious educational institutions were allowed; however, the Catholic Church, Protestant churches, and Jewish synagogues were permitted to offer religious education classes to their members.

Religious literature and materials must be imported through a registered religious group and may be distributed only to officially recognized religious groups.

The CCC continued to broadcast a monthly 15-minute radio program on condition that it not include material of a political nature.

Religious groups were required to submit a request to local CP officials before being allowed to hold processions or events outside of religious buildings. The Catholic Church decided to stop requesting permits for processions in areas where they historically have not been permitted.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal violence, harassment, or discrimination against members of religious groups. There were between 1,000 and 1,500 members of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The law qualifies these rights, and the government severely restricted foreign travel and emigration. The government tightly restricted foreign and domestic travel by dissidents and limited internal migration to Havana. Dissident blacklists were maintained at bus stations, railway terminals, and airports, and those appearing on the list were unable to purchase tickets.

Although the law allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, residence is heavily restricted, thus impeding the right to move. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities consider requests for change of residence largely on the basis of housing space. During the wait for permission, which routinely lasts six months or more, the applicant cannot obtain food rations or a local identification card. Anyone from another province living in Havana illegally may be fined and sent home. While the regulation was in effect nationwide, it was applied most frequently in Havana.

Residency law was enforced selectively against dissidents. On August 7, a court in Havana informed independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira that he was living in the capital illegally and could be fined $125 (3,000 pesos).

Between February 14 and 19, Communist militants blocked the Havana home of dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, barring entry by saying that Roque was no longer entitled to receive visitors. The militants physically threatened visitors, deployed at least one attack dog, booby-trapped the street so visitors to Roque would have their tires punctured, and stationed State Security officials at both ends of Roque's block.

The government routinely detained activists or thwarted their travel plans. State Security officials across the island took steps to prevent Ladies in White from traveling to Havana to take part in a march that marked the third anniversary of the Black Spring crackdown in which 75 peaceful activists were jailed. Members of the group were blocked in Ciego de Avila, Puerto Padre, Sancti Spiritus and other cities (see section 1.c.).

On November 24, authorities in the eastern provinces blocked at least 11 youth activists from attending an opposition youth forum in Havana. In most cases, police or political police confiscated their identification cards, forcing the activists to return home.

On April 26, dissident Elsa Morejon of the Lawton Human Rights Foundation was heading to an opposition event when she hailed a taxi. Two State Security officials forced their way into the cab and instructed the driver to head to Morejon's house, where she was dropped off.

Throughout the year, authorities in the Villa Clara city of Manicaragua denied dissidents access to bus stations, restaurants, recreational facilities, and sports fields and prevented them from receiving visitors at home.

Citizens who visited certain foreign diplomatic missions faced retaliation ranging from detention and physical assault to loss of employment. On May 22, food service worker Juan Alberto de la Nuez lost his job in Aguada Municipality, Cienfuegos Province, three days after visiting a foreign diplomatic mission in Havana. The company's director made clear that he viewed any such visit as an attempt to conspire against the government.

The government imposed restrictions on both emigration and temporary foreign travel, mainly by requiring an exit permit. Although the government allowed the majority of persons who qualified for immigrant or refugee status in other countries to depart, at least 1,000 citizens who received foreign travel documents, or their dependents, were denied exit permits during the year. Most were doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. Others denied exit permits included young men of military age, dissidents, and citizens with certain political or religious beliefs.

An unpublished government policy denies exit permits to medical professionals until they have performed three to five years of service in their profession after requesting permission to travel abroad. As of September 28, no fewer than 91 doctors, 73 nurses, and dozens of other medical professionals were in this category. Adrian Elias Rodriguez Noa, a doctor in Santiago, said on October 5 that he, his wife, and their two children had been waiting five and a half years for the government to authorize his exit.

The government banned some medical and other professionals who were denied exit permits from working in their occupational fields or subjected them to arbitrary punishment. Others were allowed to continue to work but were transferred for political reasons to inferior clinics, often in areas far from their homes.

The government also systematically denied exit permits to some men of military age, usually those ages 18 to 27 facing obligatory military service. However, in most cases involving migration under the 1994 U.S. Cuba Migration Accords, the applicants eventually received exemption and were granted exit permits.

The government denied exit permits for several years to relatives of individuals who migrated illegally (for example, merchant seamen and sports figures who defected while out of the country). The government frequently withheld exit visas to control dissidents. Dissident doctor Hilda Molina continued to wait for exit permission, as she had for more than 11 years. In addition, Molina's elderly mother was not allowed to apply for exit permission; her application in May for a passport was not acted upon by year's end.

The government denied exit permission to human rights activists who held valid foreign travel documents and hoped to claim awards or other honors overseas. In May the government denied Oswaldo Paya permission to travel abroad to receive an honorary degree. On October 16, the NGO Human Rights First awarded its annual human rights prize to the Ladies in White (and another co-winner), but the government denied them exit permission, and they were unable to attend the ceremony.

The government used both internal and external exile to control internal opposition. The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a period of one to 10 years. Under this provision, authorities may exile any person whose presence in a given location is considered "socially dangerous." On February 21, the Old Havana Municipal Court informed independent journalist Jorge Olivera Castillo, a conditional parolee, that he was no longer allowed to leave the city of Havana without explicit government permission. The government also informed Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Margarito Broche, and Roberto de Miranda, all of whom had been imprisoned with Olivera in the aftermath of the March 2003 crackdown on dissidents, that they were prohibited from travel outside their cities of residence without specific approval.

The government routinely warned emigrating dissidents or their family members that if they were to speak out against the government overseas, their relatives on the island would suffer retaliation. Such retaliation typically included the threatened loss of jobs or loss of permission to leave the island.

Those seeking to emigrate legally also faced reprisals, harassment, and intimidation by the government, including expulsion from school, involuntary job transfers, threatened arrest, and dismissal from employment. In August refugee applicants reported a general increase in harassment, citations, and detentions. Some reported being placed in house arrest for six to 12 months. On August 31, a Santa Clara based dissident reported that one week before he was scheduled to leave the country with government permission as a refugee, the government informed him that it had revoked his exit permit and that although his family was free to leave, he would have to wait another year or two. The dissident had already turned over possession of his house, belongings, and ration card and would be homeless.

Migrants must pay processing fees of approximately $180 (4,500 pesos) for exit permission, $66 (1,650 pesos) for a passport, and $30 (750 pesos) for an airport tax, which amount to approximately 23 months' salary for the average citizen. Migrants to the United States faced an additional charge of approximately $720 (18,000 pesos, or five years' salary) for adults and $480 (12,000 pesos) for children. These fees represented a significant hardship, particularly for migrants who had been fired from their jobs for being "politically unreliable" and had no income. At year's end some migrants were unable to leave the country because of inability to pay exit fees. Authorities routinely dispossessed migrants and their families of their homes and most of their belongings before permitting them to leave the country.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of $12 to $40 (300 to 1,000 pesos) for unauthorized departures by boat or raft. The government also sometimes applied a law on trafficking in persons to would-be migrants escaping the country. The CCDHRN estimated that at year's end, between 300 and 500 citizens were serving sentences or awaiting trial on this charge, which ordinarily carries a term of 15 to 20 years' imprisonment. Under the terms of the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. However, in practice some would-be migrants experienced harassment and discrimination. On March 18, maritime border authorities intercepted a makeshift vessel in which several dissidents, including Iovany Aguilar Camejo and Luis Angel Medina, were attempting to flee the country. They were fined $208 (5,000 pesos), approximately 22 months' wages for the average worker.

Protection of Refugees

Although the country is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, the constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their ideals or actions involving a number of specified political grounds. Although the government has no formal mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals, in practice it provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution, including to some fugitives from justice, whom it defines as refugees for political reasons.

The government had an established system to provide assistance to refugees. During the year, 22 persons applied for refugee status; 19 were approved. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 83 refugees in the country. The government cooperated with the UNHCR and provided temporary protection to a small number of persons.

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

On July 31, the president's chief of staff announced that President Castro had been incapacitated by surgery, leaving Raul Castro in charge of the country. The government's succession announcement allowed no participation for citizens in the decision making process. Instead, existing undemocratic institutions, such as the Armed Forces, Communist Party, and ANPP, were called upon to rubber stamp the succession.

Elections and Political Participation

While the constitution provides for direct election of provincial, municipal, and ANPP members, citizens do not have the right to change their government, and the government retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change. The constitution defines socialism as its "irrevocable" basis and proscribes any political organization other than the CP. Candidates for provincial and national office must be approved in advance by mass organizations controlled by the government. In practice a small group of leaders, under the direction of the president, selected the members of the highest policy making bodies of the CP, the Politburo, and the Central Committee.

Although not a formal requirement, in practice CP membership was a prerequisite for high level official positions and professional advancement. The government continued to reject the petition for a national referendum on political and economic reforms known as the Varela Project, which contained more than 40,000 signatures. On May 10, exactly four years after he personally delivered the Varela Project petition to the National Assembly, Oswaldo Paya of the MCL unveiled his proposal for a modified, democratic constitution. In a document titled "Program for All Cubans," Paya, with input from at least 12,000 participants, called for a legal framework that would embrace multiple political parties, private enterprise, and "social justice."

Varela Project organizers continued to collect signatures in support of their proposal; however, activists reported increased harassment by State Security agents. Authorities arrested and detained Varela activists, confiscated signatures, fined and threatened activists and signers, and forced signers to rescind signatures. State Security agents impersonated canvassing volunteers and increasingly infiltrated the ranks of activists. On February 6, police in the Pinar del Rio community of San Cristobal threatened to charge Varela Project signature collector Humberto Vigoe Chirino with dangerousness.

The government not only refused dissidents political participation but linked them to crimes that there was no evidence they had committed. On July 11, authorities at a bus terminal in Santiago allegedly found an abandoned packet containing an explosive device rigged to a watch. Hours later, CP and UJC officials held a mass meeting at a city plaza and reportedly said they would not permit dissidents to carry out terrorist acts. Dissidents said the move was aimed at discrediting the peaceful opposition.

There were two women in the 22-member Politburo and 17 in the 126-member Central Committee. Women held five seats in the 29-member Council of State and 219 seats in the 608-seat National Assembly.

Persons of African descent held six seats in the 24-member Politburo. Following the selection of the new ANPP in 2003, the government reported its composition as 67 percent white, 22 percent black, and 11 percent mixed race.

Government Corruption and Transparency

Independent and official press reported incidents of government corruption. During the year, the most prominent case involved Juan Carlos Robinson Agramonte, a Politburo member who was removed from his position on April 28 for "improper conduct and attitude." On June 16, a Havana court convicted him of influence peddling and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. Separately, the head of the Customs service told state media that during the first six months of the year, it had fired 18 persons and prosecuted nine of them for "inappropriate conduct." State media also reported that during this time frame, 66 persons were reprimanded or otherwise punished for offering bribes to Customs officials, mainly to avoid baggage checks or to be allowed to bring certain items into the country. The Customs officials were also either fired or prosecuted.

During the first few months of the year, the government relied on young adults, pressed into service as "social workers," to fight graft at gas stations and other sites. In March the government started deploying "all-around" inspectors, many of them older revolutionaries, to fight corruption and other economic crimes at agricultural markets, stores, tourist centers, and elsewhere.

According to the CCDHRN, prison guard corruption was common throughout the country, but the government sometimes applied bribery charges selectively to dissidents instead. In June authorities at Manto Negro women's prison in Havana threatened to prosecute dissident Maria de los Angeles Borrego Mir for attempted bribery, a charge that could carry a four- to eight year sentence. Borrego, serving four years for dangerousness, allegedly asked a guard to buy her a pack of cigarettes.

The CCDHRN stated in October that it had received many reports of prostitutes providing sexual favors to police, to avoid arrest. Corrupt police sometimes detained women on false charges of prostitution, either to extract bribes or obtain sexual favors. On January 22, Havana resident Elia Vidal Perez was walking down the street with a female friend when two police officers approached, asked to see their identification cards, and took them to a police station. That night, an Interior Ministry official allegedly informed Vidal that she would be free to leave if she had sex with him.

Government officials occasionally engaged in shakedowns involving citizens legally residing overseas who were returning home to the country to meet with relatives. Customs officials illegally confiscated the belongings of some such visitors or requested unauthorized fees to pass through the customs process.

The law provides for public access to government information, but in practice requests for information routinely were rejected, often on the grounds that access was not a right. Many convicts and their defense attorneys never received a copy of the sentence certification to which they were legally entitled.

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

In violation of its own statutes, the government did not recognize any domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Several human rights organizations continued to function outside the law, including the CCDHRN, the MCL, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, and the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to violence, intense intimidation, and harassment, including threats of death and disappearance.

State security officials often infiltrated human rights organizations and subjected them to constant surveillance. Public identification of state security officials posing as activists was a crime punishable by eight to 15 years' imprisonment. State Security also tried, where possible, to turn human rights activists into informants, often through blackmail. On August 25, a State Security officer in Havana invited independent labor activist Aurelio Bachiller Alvarez to work with State Security, hinting that the officer could use his influence with the courts to get Bachiller's 17-year-old son released from prison.

The government took various steps to restrict the operation of domestic NGOs that criticized the government's human rights policies. The government convicted some members of human rights NGOs and sentenced them to lengthy sentences.

The government also staged many acts of repudiation (see section 1.c.), in which it mobilized Communist militants and others to hold a public rally aimed at intimidating and ostracizing a member of a human rights NGO. Most such events were held in front of the activist's home.

On some occasions, the government seized the property of NGO members. In May the government informed Felix Bonne Carcasses of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society that it was taking legal possession of his Havana home's backyard, which in May 2005 was the site of the country's largest dissident gathering in years. Authorities turned the yard into a park, where militants staged frequent political rallies, many targeting Bonne. On May 31, police and State Security officers in the Holguin city of Moa raided the Pedro Luis Boitel No. 3 independent library and confiscated books and other written materials, a portable shortwave radio, and 11 compact disks. The authorities also arrested the librarian, Felipe Disnayd Ramos Leiva, but released him after a relatively brief incarceration.

The government also prosecuted, or threatened to prosecute, members of human rights groups for dangerousness. On March 8, State Security officials in the Holguin city of Banes issued official warnings to at least four human rights activists, including Guillermo Llanos Ricardo, threatening to incarcerate them for dangerousness.

The government also took steps to prevent the movement of activists; on many occasions, State Security, police, and mobs prevented Ladies in White members from traveling to Havana to take part in marches (see section 2.d.).

The government rejected international human rights monitoring, did not recognize the mandate of the UNCHR, and refused to acknowledge requests by the Personal Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the country. On September 26, the personal representative, Christine Chanet, told the UNCHR that the country had not cooperated with her on the investigation of its human rights situation. She said the country had failed to improve its human rights record and criticized the government's censorship and its detention of dissidents.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, or social status; however, racial discrimination occurred frequently.

Women

The law prohibits threats and inflicting injuries, including those associated with domestic violence. Human rights advocates reported that violence against women was a problem, and police often did not act on cases of domestic violence. Violent crime rarely was reported in the press, and the government did not release data on the extent of domestic violence. However, on August 4, the press reported that domestic violence rates were increasing.

To raise awareness about the problem, the government carried out a campaign on television and in the press during the year, reminding the public that domestic violence is illegal. However, judges remained extremely reluctant to issue a restraining order in the event of a domestic dispute. On November 27, the CCDHRN said that domestic violence occurred within a culture of impunity in which it is considered "normal" for a man to beat his wife, and that pervasive male chauvinism impacted negatively on domestic violence victims. Many women did not report acts of domestic violence because they feared doing so could trigger another attack.

The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and a victim has the right to report the matter to the police. Police rarely forwarded cases to a court if the victim did not suffer visible physical injuries.

Although the government did not release statistics during the year on arrests, prosecutions or convictions for rape, the law stipulates penalties ranging from four to 10 years' imprisonment. If two or more rapists are involved, or if the rapist had been convicted previously of the same offense, sentences could reach 15 years. If the victim is under 12, or if the act results in injuries or grave illness, capital punishment is possible. The government enforced the law.

Prostitution is legal for persons over age 17, but pandering and economic activities facilitating prostitution, including room rentals, are illegal. Large numbers of foreign tourists visited the country specifically to patronize prostitutes, and sex tourism was a problem. Some street police officers were suspected of providing protection to individuals engaged in prostitution, who were numerous and visible in Havana and other major cities.

The law provides penalties for sexual harassment, with potential sentences of three months' to five years' imprisonment. The government did not release any statistics during the year on arrests, prosecutions, or convictions for offenses related to sexual harassment. The law was applied most frequently to male supervisors "abusing their power" over female subordinates, according to the CCDHRN.

Sexual harassment was one of many means the government used to inflict suffering on dissidents or their family members. A favorite tactic involved strip searching dissidents' wives. On January 5 at Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila, guards ordered the wife and daughter of Adolfo Fernandez Sainz to submit to a strip search. On May 18 at Kilo 5.5 prison in Pinar del Rio, guards ordered the wife of political prisoner Normando Hernandez to completely disrobe and perform deep knee bends before visiting her husband. On June 15 at the same prison, guards forced the elderly mother, wife, and 15-year-old daughter of political prisoner Horacio Pina to be strip-searched.

The law provides that women and men have equal rights and responsibilities regarding marriage, divorce, raising children, maintaining the home, and pursuing a career. The law grants working mothers preferential access to goods and services. The law provides for equal pay for equal work, and women generally received pay comparable to men for similar work.

Children

The law provides that all children have equal rights and that parents have a duty to ensure their protection. Public education was free through the university level, but advancement in the school system depended on participation in political activities. The law requires school attendance until the ninth grade, which was the highest level achieved by most children. The government reported that 98 percent of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school during the 2005-06 school year and that attendance by secondary-school-age children was 91 percent. All elementary and secondary school students received obligatory ideological indoctrination.

The government maintained a dossier on every child from kindergarten through high school, which included a record of the child's participation in political activities, such as mandatory marches. Full participation in political activities, such as membership in the Union of Pioneers of Cuba, a regimented youth organization used by the government for political indoctrination, was essential to advance in the school system.

Boys and girls had equal access to a national health care system that claimed to cover all citizens, although there were notable weaknesses in this system. The UN Children's Fund reported high vaccination rates for childhood diseases. Children up to age seven received additional food rations through the ration card system.

There was no societal pattern of child abuse.

Child prostitution was a problem, with young girls engaging in prostitution to help support themselves and their families (see section 5, Trafficking). While underage prostitution was widely apparent, there were no reliable statistics available regarding its extent. Children may marry with the consent of their parents at age 14, but the law provides for two to five years' imprisonment for anyone who "induces minors under 16 years of age to practice homosexuality or prostitution." Minors played a key role in the country's thriving sex trade, which was fueled by visits by thousands of foreign tourists. There was anecdotal evidence that state run hotel workers, travel company employees, taxi drivers, bar and restaurant workers, and law enforcement personnel were complicit in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Although the police sometimes enforced laws on underage prostitution, cabarets and discos catered to sex tourists. Sex tourism revenues provided an important, direct source of hard currency to the government. The government prosecuted some persons involved in child prostitution and forced some foreign suspects to leave the country. The government prosecuted some persons involved in child pornography and assisted other countries in international investigations of child sexual abuse.

Child endangerment received little coverage in state media. On April 17, state media announced that the government would prosecute seven women for endangering their children, aged one to 14, during a bungled attempt to leave the country illegally. Between April 3 and 5, the children had gone without food or water and trekked through a mosquito filled swamp in Pinar del Rio Province.

There were no reports of abuse involving institutionalized children during the year, and the government did not release information on any steps taken to prevent or punish such abuse.

Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons. However, there were reports that women were being trafficked from the country. Trafficking for underage prostitution and forced labor occurred within the country.

The nature and extent of trafficking in the country were difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and the lack of NGO reporting. However, there were reports that some women married Mexican nationals in order to migrate but were held against their will at Mexican brothels or strip clubs. In addition, some citizens who had successfully emigrated on "go-fast" vessels were forced to work as deckhands on subsequent smuggling trips, to pay off smuggling debts.

Trafficking victims came from all over the country, and most worked in the major cities and tourist resort areas. Anecdotal information indicated that victims generally came from poor families, but other sources reported the phenomenon at all levels of society, including families of senior CP and government officials. In some cases, families encouraged victims to enter into prostitution for the additional income that such activities could provide. In many cases, traffickers lured victims from rural areas with bus tickets and promises of well-paid jobs in urban areas.

The law criminalizes promoting or organizing the entrance of persons into, or the exit of persons from, the country for the purpose of prostitution; violators were subject to 20 to 30 years' imprisonment. The Penal Code provides penalties from 10 years to life in prison for trafficking for purposes other than prostitution. Civil penalties are referred to as "responsibilities" and, for an offense such as damaging a government-owned boat, can include indemnifications, pensions, or other reparations. The CCHRN stated that in cases of internal trafficking, rather than bring a trafficking charge against an individual, the government might charge him or her with "pimping."

The Ministries of Justice and Education, the PNR, and local governments were tasked with different facets of combating trafficking in persons and the problem of underage prostitution; no entity had complete autonomy dealing with these problems. The police were responsible for investigating and arresting traffickers, the Ministry of Justice with prosecuting and incarcerating traffickers, and the Ministry of Education with rehabilitating prostitutes, including underage prostitutes.

There were no reliable statistics on the number of traffickers prosecuted or convicted during the year. However, the CCDHRN stated that in the past three to four years, the government prosecuted or convicted between 40 and 60 people for "illegal traffic in persons." All those prosecuted or convicted had come to the country from the United States, Mexico, or other countries such as the Bahamas, apparently to traffic people out of Cuba. No information was available concerning government assistance with international investigations of trafficking or the extradition of traffickers.

There was anecdotal evidence that state-run hotel workers, law enforcement personnel, and others involved in the tourist industry were complicit in the commercial sexual exploitation of children involved in the sex trade targeting tourists. There were no known investigations or prosecution of public officials for complicity in trafficking during the year.

Although prostitution is not a crime per se, individuals who engaged in prostitution, including possible trafficking victims and children, often were treated as criminals, detained, and taken to rehabilitation centers that were not staffed with personnel who were trained or equipped to adequately care for trafficking victims.

No civil society groups in the country assisted trafficking victims in an official capacity, although a Havana-based NGO that focused on women's rights publicized the plight of poor prostitutes. The government did not coordinate on trafficking-related matters with international organizations or NGOs operating in the country.

Persons with Disabilities

There was no known law prohibiting official discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services. However, a Labor Ministry resolution gives persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and to equal pay for equal work. There was no official discrimination against persons with disabilities. There are no laws mandating accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, and in practice, buildings and transportation rarely were accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Special Education Division of the Ministry of Education was responsible for the education and training of children with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security was in charge of the Job Program for the Handicapped.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although there were many black police officers and army enlisted personnel, Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination. Afro-Cubans complained of frequent and disproportionate stops for identity checks. Non-whites, who comprised an estimated 50 percent or more of the population, constituted an estimated three quarters of the country's prison population.

An Afro-Cuban human rights activist, Andres Sabon Lituane, reported in April that his daughter studied gastronomy and found work at a Chinese restaurant. However, her employment was short-lived; the manager told her black people had no business working at a Chinese restaurant.

Race sometimes surfaced as an element in mob actions against human rights activists. On July 18 in Santa Clara, Communist militants chanted insults at Afro-Cuban Noelia Pedraza Jimenez.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Societal discrimination against homosexuals persisted, as police occasionally conducted sweeps in areas where homosexuals congregated, particularly along sections of Havana's waterfront. However, in mid-year television aired a soap opera with a homosexual subplot, which had the effect of partially destigmatizing homosexual behavior.

The government continued to restrict some persons found to be HIV-positive to sanatoriums for treatment and therapy before conditionally releasing them into the community. Even after their release, some persons with HIV/AIDS said the government monitored their movements with a chaperone to prevent the spread of the illness. In November the Cuban Commission for Human Rights of People with HIV/AIDS (CCDHPHS) said state medical professionals frequently failed to respect confidentiality, with the result that sufferers' condition was known widely throughout their neighborhoods. At hospitals, rooms holding HIV-positive patients were clearly marked as such, as were the patients' smocks. Some persons with HIV/AIDS suffered job discrimination, or were rejected by their families. The CCDHPHS stated that doctors often offered shoddy treatment or none at all to patients with HIV/AIDS and that the government offered "cocktail" medications only to sufferers whose condition was advanced. The group also complained that at many hospitals, HIV/AIDS sufferers were turned away in favor of foreign medical tourists.

The government operated four prisons exclusively for HIV/AIDS sufferers; some inmates were serving sentences for "propagating an epidemic." Activists said the prisons, while well-intentioned, failed to deliver on necessary services and became dysfunctional institutions.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law does not allow workers to form and join unions of their choice. Rather, the state established official unions and did not permit competing independent unions. Official labor unions had a mobilization function and did not act as trade unions, promote worker rights, or protect the right to strike. Such organizations were under the control of the state and the CP, which also managed the enterprises for which the laborers worked. Because all legal unions were government entities, antiunion discrimination by definition did not exist.

The only legal labor confederation was the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), whose leaders were chosen by the CP. The CTC's principal responsibility was to ensure that government production goals were met. Virtually all workers were required to belong to the CTC, and promotions were frequently limited to CP members who took part in mandatory marches, public humiliations of dissidents, and other state organized activities.

Workers often lost their jobs because of their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union.

On March 14, MIOA member Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya lost his job at the Free Cuba sugar refinery in the Matanzas city of Pedro Betancourt. A government official subsequently told Sigler that he was fired because he had met at his home with people opposed to the ideological principles of the revolution. On May 31, CP officials in the Holguin town of Moa reportedly organized a meeting at the Nickel Union Services Enterprise to seek the expulsion of employee Omar Perez Torres, a prodemocracy activist. After independent journalists publicized his case, Perez was able to retain his job as a driver, and at year's end continued to work under "strict vigilance."

Several small independent labor organizations operated without legal recognition. These organizations also were subject to infiltration by government agents and were unable to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf.

The government harassed labor leaders. On August 10, State Security officials searched the Havana home of Aurelio Bachiller Alvarez, secretary general of the National Confederation of Independent Workers of Cuba. The officials, who did not produce a search warrant, accused Bachiller of planning to hold a dissident event. On May 24, approximately two dozen independent labor leaders met in Havana to launch a training program designed to teach workers about their rights according to international labor standards. Among the organizers of the event was Carmelo Diaz Fernandez; police detained Diaz briefly on September 15 and searched his home without a warrant on September 28.

The government continued to incarcerate independent labor activists, including Pedro Pablo Alvarez Pedroso, president of the Unitary Workers Council, serving a 25-year sentence.

Six of the seven independent labor leaders jailed in 2003 remained in prison, serving sentences of between 12 and 25 years.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although provided for in the law, collective bargaining did not exist in practice. The State Committee for Work and Social Security set wages and salaries for the state sector, which was virtually the only employer in the country. The law does not provide for strikes, and none were known to have occurred during the year.

There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the three export processing zones.

The law denies all workers, except those with special government permission, the right to contract directly with foreign companies investing in the country. Although a few firms negotiated exceptions, the government required foreign investors and diplomatic missions to contract workers through state employment agencies, which were paid well in foreign currency, but which in turn paid workers very low wages in pesos (see section 6.e.). Human Rights Watch stated that the required reliance on state controlled employment agencies left workers without any ability to directly negotiate wages, benefits, the basis of promotions, or the length of the workers' trial period at the job with the employer. Workers subcontracted by state employment agencies must meet certain political qualifications. The state employment agencies consulted with the CP, the CTC, and the UJC to ensure that the workers chosen "deserved" to work in a joint enterprise.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit forced or compulsory labor by adults. The government maintained correctional centers for persons convicted of such crimes as dangerousness (see section 1.c.). Prisoners held in such centers were forced to work on farms or at sites performing construction, agricultural, or metal work. The authorities also often imprisoned persons sent to work sites who refused to work.

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor by children, but there were reports that such practices occurred (see section 6.d.).

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor by children, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security was responsible for enforcement. Nonetheless, the government required children to work in various situations.

Students at rural boarding schools were expected to participate in several hours of manual labor per day. Secondary school students were expected to devote up to 15 days of their summer vacation completing a variety of tasks ranging from farm labor to urban cleanup projects and were paid a small wage for this labor. Students in postsecondary institutions (technical schools, university preparatory schools, and agricultural institutes) were expected to devote 30 to 45 days per year to primarily agricultural work. Refusal to do agricultural work could result in expulsion from school.

The legal minimum working age is 17, but the labor code permits the employment of 15- and 16-year-old children to obtain training or to fill labor shortages. The labor code does not permit teenagers to work more than seven hours per day or 40 hours per week or on holidays. Children ages 13 to 18 cannot work in specified hazardous occupations, such as mining, or at night.

The government took steps to identify child labor and rectify the problem.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage, which is enforced by the Labor Ministry, varies by occupation. On average, the minimum monthly wage was approximately $9 (225 pesos). The government supplemented the minimum wage with free education, subsidized medical care (daily pay is reduced by 40 percent after the third day of being admitted to a hospital), housing, and some subsidized food. Even with subsidies, the minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

The law requires foreign investors to contract workers through government employment agencies. Foreign companies pay the government as much as $600 to $800 per worker per month. However, because the government pays salaries in nonconvertible pesos, workers only receive approximately 3 percent of the money paid by their foreign employer.

The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workweeks in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The law provides workers with a weekly 24 hour rest period. These standards were effectively enforced. The law does not provide for premium pay for overtime or prohibit obligatory overtime. Workers were occasionally asked to work overtime at the nonpremium pay rate; refusal to do so could result in a notation in the employee's official work history that could imperil any subsequent request for vacation time.

In October a lawsuit was filed in a foreign court alleging that workers employed at a ship repair company were forced to work 112 hours a week and that numerous occupational safety and health violations took place at the company.

Laws providing for workplace environmental and safety controls were inadequate, and the government lacked effective enforcement mechanisms. Labor activist Carmelo Diaz Fernandez said in October that construction workers were at risk because they worked on scaffolding without safety lines. Others in danger, he said, were workers exposed to electrical lines and chemicals without protective gloves or masks. The government reported that in the first half of the year, 49 workers died in work-related accidents. By profession, the most common victims were soldiers, drivers, and stevedores. The law provides that a worker who considers his life in danger because of hazardous conditions has the right to refuse to work in a position or not to engage in specific activities until such risks are eliminated; the worker remains obligated to work temporarily in whatever other position may be assigned him at a salary provided for under the law.

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