Covering events from January - December 2004

By the end of 2004 there were at least 70 prisoners of conscience, most of them held since the 2003 crackdown on the dissident movement. However, 18 prisoners of conscience were released and many were moved to prisons nearer their homes.

Dissidents and their relatives continued to be threatened and harassed. The US embargo and related measures continued to have a negative effect on the enjoyment of the full range of human rights in Cuba.

Prisoners of conscience

Seventy prisoners of conscience remained imprisoned at the end of the year, although the true number could be higher. All but two had been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 26 months to 28 years. The two had not been tried or sentenced.

Harsh prison conditions and health concerns

There were continuing concerns about the health of many prisoners of conscience. Some were reportedly denied access to appropriate medical attention and were held in harsh conditions, which reportedly contributed to their illnesses. However, by early December all but two of the remaining prisoners of conscience detained in the 2003 crackdown had undergone a medical examination.

  • Omar Pernet Hernández, a 59-year-old librarian sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment in March 2003, was reportedly suffering from liver, kidney and lung problems, causing him extreme pain, as well as severe weight loss, dehydration, high blood pressure and gastritis. Normando Hernández González, a journalist sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment in March 2003, was reportedly suffering from anal bleeding, a stomach ulcer and gastritis. The families of both men said that the lack of medical attention and harsh prison conditions contributed to their illnesses.

Most prisoners were held in prisons far from their homes, making family visits extremely difficult. However, in August approximately 35 prisoners were moved to prisons in or nearer to their home provinces.

  • Alfredo Manuel Pulido López, sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment in March 2003, was moved in August from Combinado del Este Prison in Havana to Kilo 7 Prison in his home province of Camagüey.

For the first time in 10 years, Cuba opened some sections of two prisons to the foreign press in response to criticisms concerning the treatment of prisoners.


There were several reports of ill-treatment of prisoners, including kicking and beating.

  • In November prisoner of conscience Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina was reportedly pushed to the floor and beaten and scratched by prison guards. Subsequently a process to charge him with disrespect, disobedience and resistance was reportedly begun.


Four prisoners of conscience arrested in February 2002 and held without trial were released: Leonardo Bruzón Avila, Carlos Alberto Domínguez González, Emilio Leyva Pérez and Lázaro Miguel Rodríguez Capote.

Fourteen prisoners of conscience arrested in the March 2003 crackdown were granted conditional release, which meant they could serve the rest of their sentences outside prison for health reasons. They were Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés, Margarito Broche Espinosa, Juan Roberto de Miranda Hernández, Carmelo Díaz Fernández, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Orlando Fundora Alvárez, Edel José García Díaz, Marcelo López Bañobre, Jorge Olivera Castillo, Raúl Rivero Castañeda, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Miguel Valdés Tamayo, Julio Valdés Guevara and Manuel Vázquez Portal.

The government reportedly said the releases were part of a policy to free inmates early for reasons of health, age and good behaviour, while welcoming efforts by Spain's new government to revise the European Union policy on Cuba and reopen contacts.

Death penalty

No new death sentences were passed. Between 40 and 50 prisoners reportedly remained on death row at the end of the year.

International community

United Nations

A UN human rights envoy, appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to probe alleged abuses in Cuba, reported that dozens of Cuban dissidents were being held in alarming conditions following their imprisonment in the 2003 crackdown.

In April the UN Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution deploring the verdicts against political opponents and journalists arrested in 2003. It called for Cuba to cooperate with the UN envoy and to "refrain from adopting measures which could jeopardise the fundamental rights, the freedom of expression and the rights to due process of its citizens".

In November, for the 13th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the USA to end its embargo on Cuba.


In June tough new sanctions by the US government on Cuba were introduced, restricting Cuban-Americans' cash remittances to relatives on the island and limiting family visits between the USA and Cuba to 14 days once every three years. On 8 November US dollars ceased circulation in Cuba and were replaced by Cuban convertible pesos, following a decree by the Cuban Central Bank.

The dissident movement

An illegal coalition of dissident groups – All United (Todos Unidos) – coordinated by former prisoner of conscience Vladimiro Roca Antúnez presented a plan called "Proposal to Resolve Cuban Society's Grave Problems", based on interviews with 30,000 Cubans.

In May, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación), launched a new national dialogue aiming to chart a course for political and economic transition.

Restrictions on travel outside Cuba continued to be applied to dissidents. In May, Blanca Reyes, the wife of prisoner of conscience and journalist Raúl Rivero Castañeda, was refused permission to go to Serbia-Montenegro to collect a UNESCO prize on behalf of her husband. Oswaldo Payá was not granted permission to travel to Belgium to attend a human rights ceremony in January or to attend a meeting in Spain that he was invited to by the Spanish government.

Dissidents continued to be threatened, harassed and detained.

  • Members of the Christian Liberation Movement involved in collecting signatures for the Varela Project – a petition for a referendum on political and economic reforms – were repeatedly harassed and detained. Among those targeted were Daniel Pereira García, Flora María Echevarría, Eric Isabel Arriera Reynoso, José Lorenzo Pérez Fidalgo and Alexis Triana Montesinos.

AI Visits

AI last visited Cuba in 1988 and has not been permitted into the country since then.

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