U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Cuba

    Cuba is a totalitarian state controlled by President Fidel Castro, who is Chief of State, Head of Government, First Secretary of the Communist Party, and commander in chief of the armed forces. President Castro exercises control over all aspects of Cuban life through a broad network of directorates ultimately answerable to him through the Communist Party, as well as through the bureaucracy and the state security apparatus. The Party is the only legal political entity, and President Castro personally chooses the membership of the select group which heads the Party. The Party controls all government positions, including judicial offices. Though not a formal requirement, party membership is a de facto prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement. The Ministry of Interior is the principal organ of state security and totalitarian control. The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), directed by President Castro's brother Raul, exercise de facto control over the Ministry. In addition to regulating migration and controlling the Border Guard and the police forces, the Interior Ministry investigates nonconformity and actively suppresses organized opposition and dissent. It maintains a pervasive system of vigilance through undercover agents, informers, the Rapid Reaction Brigades (BRR's), and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR's). The Government has traditionally used the CDR's as a means to mobilize citizens against dissenters, impose ideological conformity, and root out "counterrevolutionary" behavior. However, given the severe economic decay, CDR's are not as strong as they once were. Other mass organizations also inject government and Communist party control into every citizen's daily activities at home, work, and school. The Government continued to control the means of production and remained virtually the sole employer, despite some foreign investment and legalization of some types of self-employment. The economy remained in a depression, a result of the severe inefficiencies of the economic system as much as the collapse of Cuba's relationship with the former Soviet bloc and the end of $4 to $5 billion in annual Soviet aid. Gross domestic product declined to one-half of the 1989 level, and total foreign trade remained at around one-fourth of the 1989 level. The Government continued its austerity measures known euphemistically as the "special period in peacetime" and permitted citizens to hold foreign currency. For the first time in years, the Government permitted a limited resumption of agricultural markets. The system of "tourist apartheid" continued, in which foreign visitors received preference over citizens for food, consumer products, and government services, as well as access to hotels and resorts from which Cuban tourists were barred. The authorities were responsible for the extrajudicial killings of citizens fleeing the country. The Government sharply restricts basic political and civil rights, including the right of citizens to change their government; the freedoms of speech, press, association, assembly, and movement; as well as the right to privacy and various workers' rights. The authorities neutralize dissent through a variety of tactics designed to keep opponents marginalized, divided, and discredited, or to encourage them to leave Cuba. Following a large antigovernment protest on August 5, the authorities detained several hundred people for several days without charges, including about 30 human rights leaders. While the Government normally restricts emigration severely, it suspended its policy regarding unauthorized departures in August and allowed about 30,000 Cubans to depart in privately owned boats and homemade rafts. It reinstated the prohibition on unauthorized departures following the conclusion of the U.S.-Cuba migration agreement on September 9, but it agreed to use "mainly persuasive methods" to prevent unsafe departures and did not reimpose criminal penalties for such departures. To a lesser extent than in the past, the Government continued to employ "acts of repudiation," which are attacks by mobs organized by the Government but portrayed as spontaneous public rebukes, against dissident activity. The Government also metes out exceptionally harsh prison sentences to democracy and human rights advocates whom it considers a threat to its control. In March the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) once again passed a resolution endorsing the report of the UNHRC's Special Rapporteur, which strongly criticized Cuba's gross violations of human rights in great detail. As it did with his predecessor, the Government continued to refuse the Special Rapporteur permission to visit Cuba. However, in November the Government permitted a noninvestigatory visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who sought to begin a dialog with the authorities. The authorities were responsible for the extrajudicial killings of citizens fleeing the country. The Government sharply restricts basic political and civil rights, including the right of citizens to change their government; the freedoms of speech, press, association, assembly, and movement; as well as the right to privacy and various workers' rights. The authorities neutralize dissent through a variety of tactics designed to keep opponents marginalized, divided, and discredited, or to encourage them to leave Cuba. Following a large antigovernment protest on August 5, the authorities detained several hundred people for several days without charges, including about 30 human rights leaders. While the Government normally restricts emigration severely, it suspended its policy regarding unauthorized departures in August and allowed about 30,000 Cubans to depart in privately owned boats and homemade rafts. It reinstated the prohibition on unauthorized departures following the conclusion of the U.S.-Cuba migration agreement on September 9, but it agreed to use "mainly persuasive methods" to prevent unsafe departures and did not reimpose criminal penalties for such departures. To a lesser extent than in the past, the Government continued to employ "acts of repudiation," which are attacks by mobs organized by the Government but portrayed as spontaneous public rebukes, against dissident activity. The Government also metes out exceptionally harsh prison sentences to democracy and human rights advocates whom it considers a threat to its control. In March the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) once again passed a resolution endorsing the report of the UNHRC's Special Rapporteur, which strongly criticized Cuba's gross violations of human rights in great detail. As it did with his predecessor, the Government continued to refuse the Special Rapporteur permission to visit Cuba. However, in November the Government permitted a noninvestigatory visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who sought to begin a dialog with the authorities.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The authorities were responsible for the extrajudicial killing of dozens of people. In two separate incidents, government vessels rammed and sank boats used by citizens to flee the country. In April the Border Guard sank the Olympia, killing three people. In July government vessels sank the Trece de Marzo, killing some 40 people (see Section 2.d.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

The police and state security officials systematically harassed, beat, and otherwise abused human rights activists and political dissidents in public and private as a means of intimidation and control. In January state security operatives severely beat Rene del Pozo of the opposition Socialist Democratic Current on his way to a meeting with another dissident. Four men beat Francisco Chaviano of the Council for Civil Rights in his home in March. The men threatened to kill Chaviano and then stole his motorcycle, which was spotted early the next morning at a nearby Ministry of Interior parking lot. While Lazaro Garcia, a leader of the Marti Association--Golden Age of Cuba, was collecting written allegations of human rights abuses from human rights advocates in May, two men attacked and beat him. They told him that he had already been warned against continuing his human rights activities. The authorities continued to use acts of repudiation to intimidate human rights advocates and as a pretext for their arrest, although to a much lesser extent than previous years. Government security forces staged acts of repudiation by massing crowds of people outside homes of activists to harass and ridicule them, yell insults, and vandalize property. At times, police forced the targeted activist through the crowd, which physically beat or abused the person. During such acts, police often arrested advocates "for their own protection," then charged them with counterrevolutionary activity and sentenced them to prison terms. Carlos Urquiza Noa, president of the Cuban Workers Union, was the object of an act of repudiation on June 4. The following day, a state security official threatened to revoke his house arrest and send him to Camaguey prison if he continued his union activities. The Constitution prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners. However, police and prison officials often used beatings, neglect, isolation, and other abuse against detainees and prisoners convicted of political crimes (including human rights advocates) or those who persisted in expressing their views. State security officials often subjected dissidents to systematic psychological intimidation, including sleep deprivation, in an attempt to coerce them to sign incriminating documents or to force them to collaborate. The UNHRC special rapporteur has found prison conditions, which are characterized by habitual beatings of prisoners, severe overcrowding, and the lack of food and medical care, to violate Cuban law. Prison officials severely beat Carlos Carrodegua Zamora, imprisoned for "enemy propaganda," at Kilo 8 prison when he asked for a mattress for his prison cell. He was unconscious for 2 days. Jorge Luis Domingues Rivas, imprisoned for "dangerousness," declared himself a prisoner of conscience and refused to wear his prison uniform. State security officials handcuffed him and beat him repeatedly, before placing him in a small, windowless punishment cell. At the Voisin prison in Guines, eight prisoners died between April and June as a result of poor prison conditions, including lack of food and medical attention and an outbreak of leptospirosis (rat fever). The authorities denied medical care to political prisoner Guillermo Mejias, held at Boniato prison in Santiago de Cuba, despite his personal appeal to the prison director in April. His medical condition causes severe pulmonary problems involving convulsions. The Government claims that prisoners have guaranteed rights, such as family visitation, adequate nutrition, pay for work, the right to request parole, and the right to petition the prison director. However, according to Cuban human rights advocates, the authorities frequently withdrew these hypothetical rights, especially from political prisoners. There has never been any indication that the authorities investigated reports of abuse or took disciplinary action against the agents responsible for abuses against political prisoners. Jailers often place dissidents in cells with common, and sometimes violent, criminals. The Government sentenced Sebastian Arcos, vice president of the Committee for Human Rights in Cuba (CCPDH), to 4 1/2 years' imprisonment for enemy propaganda in 1992. Other prisoners severely beat the 62-year-old Arcos in his cell late at night in February, after weeks of threats and harassment. The authorities took no action against Arcos' attackers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The authorities routinely use arbitrary arrest and detention. The Law of Penal Procedures requires police to file formal charges and either release a detainee or bring the case before a prosecutor within 96 hours of arrest. It also requires the authorities to provide suspects with access to a lawyer within 10 days of arrest, but they routinely deny these guarantees to those detained on state security grounds. The Constitution states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied anyone actively opposing the "decision of the Cuban people to build socialism." The authorities invoke this sweeping authority to justify lengthy detentions of human rights advocates on the grounds they constitute counterrevolutionary elements. The UNHRC Special Rapporteur found that the legal system lacks laws and institutions providing due process. The Penal Code also includes the concept of dangerousness, defined as the "special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by his conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms." Government authorities continue to intimidate critics and opponents by threatening prosecution under this article. If the police decide a person exhibits signs of dangerousness, they may bring the offender before a court or subject him to "therapy" or "political reeducation" (see Section 1.c.). Following the large antigovernment protest on August 5, the authorities detained several hundred people for several days without charges, including about 30 human rights leaders, most of whom had not participated in the protests. Several reported that the authorities beat them while they were in prison. Gloria Bravo, a member of the Association of Mothers for Dignity, had scars on her neck, chest, and arms from deep gouges made by long fingernails and welts on her back from a whipping. The Government also uses exile as a tool for controlling and reducing internal opposition. During the rafters' exodus in August and September, many human rights advocates reported that representatives of state security visited them and threatened them with detention if they remained in Cuba. In some cases, the agents offered them "assistance" in finding a raft or boat. Through these means, the authorities succeeded in forcing at least 10 human rights leaders to leave the country during the exodus. State security officials reportedly offered one imprisoned leader, Mercedes Parada Antunez, immediate release from prison and a place on a boat for herself and her two children if she agreed to accept exile. She refused. The Government also repeatedly offered exile as the condition for release to several prominent political prisoners, including Sebastian Arcos, Francisco Chaviano, Rodolfo Gonzalez, and Yndamiro Restano (see Section l.e.), but none of them would accept such terms. In December the authorities released Luis Alberto Pita Santos, leader of the Association for the Defense of Political Rights, and Pablo Reyes Martinez, on condition of their exile to Spain. Santos had been serving a 5-year sentence for illegal association, clandestine printing, and disrespect since 1990; Reyes had been serving an 8-year sentence for enemy propaganda since 1992. Between mid-October and late November, the Cuban Government detained approximately 55 human rights advocates, including some of the most prominent dissident leaders, for periods ranging from several hours to several days. Several were detained twice during this period, including Corriente Civica Cubana leader Felix Bonne, who was detained for 4 days in October and 3 days in November. The authorities warned these dissidents against contacts with diplomatic missions, specifically the U.S. Interests Section, and the international press during the November visit of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Jose Ayala Lasso. State agents visited other activists at their homes and delivered similar warnings. The agents variously threatened the dissidents with formal arrest, imprisonment, and retaliation against their children if they continued to denounce human rights abuses in international forums. Some activists reported that agents even threatened them with "disappearance" and death. Those detained were held in small, overcrowded cells without light or ventilation or a sufficient number of beds, forcing many to sleep on the concrete floors.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Cuban law and trial practices do not meet international standards for fair public trials. Almost all cases are tried in less than 1 day. Although the Constitution provides for independent courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly (ANPP) and the Council of State, which is headed by Fidel Castro. The rubberstamp ANPP and its lower level counterparts elect all judges. The subordination of the courts to the Communist Party further compromises the judiciary's independence. Human Rights Watch/Americas has reported that "trials staged in courts that lack independence ended in convictions and prison sentences that rank among the stiffest for thought crimes in the last 10 years." There is no known case in which a court has ruled against the Government on any political or security matter. Civil courts exist at municipal, provincial, and supreme court levels. Panels composed of a mix of professionally certified and lay judges preside over them. There are no jury trials. Military tribunals assume jurisdiction for certain counterrevolutionary cases. Most trials are public; however, trials are closed when state security is allegedly involved. Prosecutors may introduce testimony from a CDR member as to the revolutionary background of a defendant, which may contribute to either a longer or shorter sentence. The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases such as those involving maximum prison terms or the death penalty. The law requires that an appeal be filed within 5 days of the verdict. Criteria for presenting evidence, especially in cases of human rights advocates, are arbitrary and discriminatory. Often the sole evidence provided, particularly in political cases, is the defendant's confession, usually obtained under duress and without the legal advice or knowledge of a defense lawyer. The authorities regularly deny defendants access to their lawyers until the day of the trial. Several dissidents who have served prison terms say they were tried and sentenced without counsel and were not allowed to speak on their own behalf. On September 10, a military court tried 11 alleged participants in the August 5 antigovernment protest. The seven defense attorneys reportedly sought to have the cases dismissed for lack of evidence that the defendants even participated in the demonstration. Nevertheless, the court found eight of the defendants guilty and sentenced them to from 6 months to 1 year in prison. The law provides an accused the right to an attorney, but the ideological control the Government exerts over members of the state-controlled lawyers' collectives, especially when they defend persons accused of state security crimes, thoroughly compromises their ability to represent clients. Observers have reported reluctance among attorneys to defend those charged in political cases out of fear of jeopardizing their own careers. In March the State prosecuted Rodolfo Gonzalez Gonzalez, a prominent human rights advocate arrested during a government crackdown in December 1992, on charges of enemy propaganda. The prosecution charged that Gonzalez lied about the treatment of political prisoners and the existence of civil disturbances in statements to the international press. The court admitted in evidence unsworn videotaped testimony and testimony by persons who admitted they did not witness the events in question. Despite strong evidence in Gonzalez's favor and weak evidence against him, the court found Gonzalez guilty and sentenced him to the 7 years' imprisonment requested by the prosecution, one of the most severe sentences meted out to a human rights advocate in several years. After his imprisonment, the authorities twice offered him release if he would agree to accept exile; Gonzalez refused both offers, explaining that the State had unfairly charged him and that it could not condition his release on obligatory exile. According to human rights advocates, there were at least 2,000 people imprisoned for various political crimes and probably far more who were imprisoned for dangerousness. The Penal Code contains several articles prohibiting counterrevolutionary activity. The authorities often imprisoned advocates for enemy propaganda, illicit association, contempt for authority (usually for criticizing Fidel Castro), clandestine printing, or the broad charge of rebellion. They often bring the charge of rebellion against advocates of peaceful democratic change.

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

Although the Constitution provides for the inviolability of one's home and correspondence, official surveillance of private and family affairs by government-controlled mass organizations, such as the CDR's, remains one of the most pervasive and repressive features of Cuban life. The State has assumed the right to interfere in the lives of citizens, even those who do not actively oppose the Government and its practices. The Communist Party controls the mass organizations which permeate society, although to a lesser extent than in the past because of the collapsing economy. Their ostensible purpose is to "improve" the citizenry, but in fact their goal is to discover and discourage nonconformity. The authorities utilize a wide range of social controls. The educational system teaches that the State's interests have precedence over all other commitments. In September Minister of Higher Education Fernando Vecino Alegret affirmed that commitment to the revolution, including a willingness to defend the revolution in the streets, was a condition for admission to the university. The Ministry of Education requires teachers to evaluate students' ideological character and note it in records the students carry throughout their schooling, which affect their future educational and career prospects. The Interior Ministry employs an intricate system of informants and block committees (the CDR's) to monitor and control public opinion. Guardians of social conformity, CDR's are neighborhood security committees tasked with closely monitoring the daily lives of residents. CDR's often report on suspicious activity, including conspicuous consumption, unauthorized meetings-- including those with foreigners--and defiant attitudes toward the Government and the revolution. State security often reads international correspondence and monitors overseas telephone calls and conversations with foreigners. Citizens do not have the right to receive publications from abroad. Security agents subject dissidents, foreign diplomats, and journalists to surveillance. In March the Government lodged a formal complaint against two U.S. diplomats for distributing enemy propaganda; the diplomats had given a few copies of a Miami newspaper to fellow passengers on a train to Santa Clara. The authorities regularly search people and their homes without probable cause to intimidate and harass them. In August police searched the home of Pastor Herrera, a leader of the human rights group "Alternative Criteria," and confiscated written human rights allegations, membership information, copies of a Miami newspaper, and Herrera's appointment pass to visit the U.S. Interests Section. The authorities regularly detained human rights advocates after they visited the U.S. Interests Section, confiscated their written reports of human rights abuses, and seized copies of U.S. newspapers and other informational materials. Police stopped two women, Isabel del Pino and Maria Valdes Rosado of the dissident religious group "Christ the King" on March 9, took them to a nearby police station, and subjected them to a strip search. Police carefully searched their belongings and confiscated reports of human rights violations they had written. Two state security officials then threatened them with arrest if they did not stop their activities. In November the authorities detained several activists following their meetings with a visiting Spanish official.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government does not allow criticism of the revolution or its leaders. Laws against antigovernment propaganda, graffiti, and insults against officials carry penalties of from 3 months to 1 year in prison. If President Castro or members of the National Assembly or Council of State are the object of criticism, the sentence is extended to 3 years. Local CDR's inhibit freedom of speech by monitoring and reporting dissent or criticism. Police arrested Lazaro Rivero de Quesada for wearing a T-shirt with the words "Abajo Fidel" ("Down with Fidel"), took him to a nearby police station, severely beat him, and then held him incommunicado for 8 days. A court subsequently convicted him of contempt and sentenced him to 6 months in prison. Even implicit criticism is subject to punishment. When Angel Luis Rodriguez Barrios asked police why they had not yet found the person responsible for robbing and killing his father the previous month, the police beat him and broke his jaw. The Government rigidly monitored other forms of expression and often arrested people for the crimes of enemy propaganda and clandestine printing. Police arrested eight men and three women in April for distributing antigovernment flyers at a Havana baseball stadium, and charged them with writing slogans against communism on walls. The courts sentenced three of the accused, Ivan and Ileana Curra and Jorge Alfonso, to 3 years at a labor camp and the others to from 1 to 3 years' house arrest. The Constitution states that electronic and print media are state property and "cannot become, in any case, private property." The Communist Party controls all media as a means to indoctrinate the public. All media can only operate under party guidelines and must faithfully reflect government views. No other public forums exist. The Government continued to jam U.S.-operated Radio Marti and TV Marti, although it usually did not jam other foreign radio broadcasts. Radio Marti broadcasts frequently overcame the jamming attempts. The Government's control often extends to the foreign press as well. Although the Government issued visas to large numbers of foreign journalists in April for a 2-day dialog with selected members of the exile community, 1 week later it prevented four members of a PBS news crew from doing an on-camera interview with noted dissident Elizardo Sanchez. While en route to Sanchez's house, three men claiming to be police stopped the news crew's car. They forced the crew members out of their car and took the car and the television cameras, valued at more than $50,000. Cuban authorities claimed the incident was probably an act of banditry and by year's end had taken no apparent action. The Government allowed Havana-based foreign journalists present for the August 5 antigovernment protests to file stories but not to transmit video footage due to unexplained "technical difficulties" in the Government's satellite up-link capability. The journalists had to fly the video footage out by non-Cuban couriers; the Government subsequently shut these journalists out of official press events. The Government circumscribes artistic, literary, and academic freedoms. The authorities fired Marta Vidaurreta Lima from her position as professor at the Institute for Industrial Design after she wrote a letter in January to the University Student Federation criticizing the Government and its policies. Her dismissal notice stated that Vidaurreta Lima "had exceeded the limits of the possible tolerance of ideas and points of view" and that in so doing, she had "lost the essential requisites to teach at this center." Similarly, the authorities expelled Carmen Gomez Fajo, a high school geography teacher, from her job in May because of "her lack of identification with the political principles that sustain our teaching." Gomez had expressed her disagreement with the government position that the U.S. economic embargo was the cause of all of Cuba's problems. In late October, the University of Havana prevented five professors from returning to their jobs for having submitted a letter in late September to the Rector of the University in which they criticized the Government and appealed for greater political and academic freedom. The University did not formally dismiss them since, as the Rector wrote to one of them, a formal letter of expulsion would only be used to "do damage" with "false accusations about human rights."

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the Constitution grants limited rights of assembly and association, these rights are subject to the requirement that they may not be "exercised against .... the existence and objectives of the Socialist State." The law punishes any unauthorized assembly, including for private religious services, of more than three persons, even in a private home, by up to 3 months in prison and a fine. The authorities selectively enforce this prohibition and often use it as a legal pretext to harass and imprison human rights advocates. The authorities have never approved a public meeting of a human rights group. In January and again in March, state security forces prevented a meeting of the dissident Socialist Democratic Current (CSDC), which was to be held at the home of CSDC president Vladimiro Roca, by forcibly barring access to Roca's home by group members. The Penal Code specifically outlaws "illegal or unrecognized groups." The Ministry of Justice, in consultation with the Interior Ministry, decides whether to recognize organizations. Apart from recognized churches and one or two carefully monitored groups such as the Masonic Order, small human rights groups represent the only associations outside the control of the State, the Party, and the mass organizations. The authorities continued to ignore numerous applications for legal recognition by various human rights groups, which then permits the Government to jail members of these groups for illicit association or target them for reprisals. The authorities discharged Rubiseyda Rojas Gonzalez, director of a trade school in San Antonio de los Banos, in March because of her association with the CSDC. Her dismissal papers noted that "eminently counterrevolutionary" materials were taken from her, including copies of a Miami newspaper and a critical biography of President Castro.

c. Freedom of Religion

In recent years, the Government has eased somewhat the harsher aspects of its repression of religious freedom. In 1991 it allowed religious adherents to join the Communist Party. In July 1992, it amended the Constitution to prohibit religious discrimination and removed references to "scientific materialism," i.e., atheism, as the basis for the Cuban State. While the Protestant Ecumenical Council praised such actions, the Catholic Church replied with concern over the gap between the Government's rhetoric and actions. In late 1993, the Government harshly criticized the Catholic bishops' pastoral letter calling for national reconciliation and dialog. Despite legal changes, religious persecution continues. The State prohibits members of the armed forces from allowing anyone in their household to observe religious practices. It exempts elderly relatives only if their religious beliefs do not influence other family members and are not "damaging to the revolution."The Government continued to use the Penal Code to persecute Jehovah's Witnesses and, to a lesser extent, Seventh-Day Adventists. The CDR's monitor and often harass Jehovah's Witnesses and Adventists because the Government considers them to be "active religious enemies of the revolution" for their refusal to accept obligatory military service or participate in state organizations. The CDR's also maintain surveillance over spiritualists (santeros) who give "consultations."The Government also harasses other churches. State security agents arrested Eliecer Veguilla, executive member of the Western Convention of Baptists, and Miguel Angel Leon, a Baptist minister in Cienfuegos province, in late January for counterrevolutionary activities and enemy propaganda, respectively. Officials told Veguilla's family that he was under investigation because he had associated with Western diplomats. They released Veguilla after 2 months; but continued to hold Leon. The Government requires churches and other religious groups to register with the provincial registry of associations of the City of Havana and to obtain official recognition. The Government prohibits construction of new churches, forcing many congregations to violate the law and meet in people's homes. Official recognition of all religious holidays ended in 1961. At that time, the Government prohibited nearly all religious processions outside church grounds and denied churches access to mass media. Despite obstacles raised by the Government, church attendance has grown in recent years.

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

The Government does not impose legal restrictions on domestic travel, except for persons found to be HIV-positive, whom it initially restricts to sanitoriums for treatment and therapy before conditionally releasing them to the community. The Government allows the majority of persons who qualify for immigrant visas or refugee status to leave the country. However, the authorities delay or deny exit permits in certain cases, usually without explanation. Many of the denials involve professionals who have tried to emigrate and whom the Government subsequently banned from working in their occupational field. The Government refuses permission to others because it considers their cases sensitive for political or state security reasons. The Government also routinely denies exit permits to young men approaching the age for military service, even when it has authorized the rest of the family to leave. Author Norberto Fuentes, denied an exit permit to attend a conference on Ernest Hemingway sponsored by the PEN American Center, undertook a much-publicized 22-day hunger strike before the Government allowed him to leave in September. The Government allowed dissident poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela to travel to the United States in May to receive an award from an international organization, but it refused prominent human rights advocate Elizardo Sanchez an exit visa in March to attend a conference in Spain because he criticized the Government's human rights record during a previous trip abroad. Until August, unauthorized departures by boat or raft were punishable by fines and prison terms of from 6 months to 3 years. On April 29, the Border Guard rammed and sank the "Olympia," a private vessel which had fled Cuba and was about 25 nautical miles north of the coast of Camaguey. Three of the 21 people on board drowned, including two 6-year-old children. The Border Guard detained 10 adult male passengers for 4 months, using blackmail and threats in an unsuccessful effort to obtain declarations that the sinking had been accidental. At year's end, the 10 men still faced fines and possible prison terms. The Government awarded medals and bicycles to the members of the Border Guard responsible for the sinking. In a second such incident, on July 13, government vessels fired high-pressure water hoses at the tugboat Trece de Marzo in an attempt to prevent those aboard from fleeing Cuba. They then rammed and sank the boat. An official government statement admitted that there was a "collision" when the pursuing vessels maneuvered to intercept the Trece de Marzo, causing it to sink. The Border Guard rescued 31 people, but approximately 40 others, including children, drowned. The Government ignored the Archbishop of Havana's call for a full investigation. The Government temporarily suspended its policy regarding unauthorized departures in August and allowed about 30,000 Cubans to depart in privately owned boats and home-made rafts. The Government resumed its prohibition following the conclusion on September 9 of the U.S.-Cuba migration agreement, in which it agreed to use "mainly persuasive methods" to prevent unsafe departures. Criminal penalties for such departures were not reimposed. There have been no reports that the Government used inhumane methods or physical force to stop the unsafe exodus by boat and raft. Under the terms of the accord, the Government agreed to accept voluntary returnees through normal diplomatic and consular channels. By year's end, 422 Cubans had returned voluntarily, but the Government had not agreed to a reliable mechanism that ensured swift return of all those who wished to return to Cuba. In August the Government eased restrictions on visits by, and repatriation of, Cuban emigrants. Cubans who establish residency abroad, and who are in possession of government- issued "permits to reside abroad," may travel to Cuba without visas. Cuban emigrants now are able to return to live in Cuba, provided they did not engage in what the Government considers to be antigovernment activities while abroad. The Government further reduced the age of people eligible to travel abroad from 20 to 18 and extended the period for temporary stay abroad from 6 to 11 months.

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

Citizens have no legal right to change their government or to advocate change. The Constitution proscribes any political organization other than the Communist Party. A small group of leaders select members of its highest governing bodies--the Politburo and the Central Committee. The authorities tightly control all elections. In the 1993 elections for the National Assembly, a candidacy commission composed of representatives of party-controlled mass organizations screened every candidate. The authorities allowed only one candidate per seat. These procedures ensured that only government supporters would be on the ballot. Voters had only two options, either vote "yes" or leave the ballot blank. The Government forbids the formation of political parties, campaigning, and making campaign promises. The Government has ignored calls for democratic reform and labeled activists who proposed them "worms" and traitors. It rejects any change judged incompatible with the revolution, as well as proposals by Cubans who seek nonviolent political change. The Government has systematically retaliated against those who have peacefully sought political change. Government leadership positions continue to be dominated by men. Although blacks and mulattoes make up over half the population, they hold only 2 seats in the 26-member Politburo. There are very few women or minorities in policymaking positions. There are three women on the Politburo; the country's first female provincial party secretary was not chosen until 1993.

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

The Government does not recognize any domestic or international human rights group, nor permit them to function legally. As noted above, the Government subjects domestic human rights advocates to intense intimidation and repression. In violation of its own statutes, the Government refuses to consider applications for legal recognition submitted by human rights groups. The main domestic human rights monitoring groups are the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, the National Council for Civil Rights, the Human Rights Party of Cuba, and the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. There are also various umbrella organizations that include a number of smaller human rights groups. The Government has steadfastly rejected international human rights monitoring. In 1991 Cuba's U.N. representative stated that Cuba would not recognize the UNHRC mandate on Cuba and would not cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, despite being a UNHRC member. The Government's position remains unchanged. It consistently refused requests by the Special Rapporteur to visit Cuba. However, the Government did allow a brief visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from November 15 to 19. He met with a range of government officials, including President Castro, as well as 18 human rights activists. He characterized his visit as the beginning of a dialog on human rights and distinguished it from the investigatory responsibilities of the Special Rapporteur. The High Commissioner reiterated his request that the Cuban Government permit the Special Rapporteur to visit Cuba in compliance with his U.N. mandate.

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

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


The Family Code states that women and men have equal rights and responsibilities regarding marriage, divorce, raising children, maintaining the home, and pursuing a career. The maternity law provides 18 weeks of maternity leave and grants working women preferential access to goods and services. About 40 percent of all women work. They are well represented in the professions, although few are in policy positions in the Government or Party. Information from various sources indicates that domestic violence and sexual assaults occur, but violent crime is rarely reported in the press. There is no publicly available data regarding the incidence of domestic violence. The law establishes strict penalties for rape, and the Government appears to enforce the law. Prostitution has increased greatly in the last few years; press reports indicate that tourists from various countries visit Cuba specifically to patronize inexpensive prostitutes.


The Constitution states that the Government will protect "family, maternity, and matrimony." It also states that children, legitimate or not, have the same rights under the law and notes the duties of parents to protect them. Education is free and is grounded in Marxist ideology. State organizations and schools are charged with the "integral formation of childhood and youth."

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Many blacks have benefited from the social changes of the revolution. Nevertheless, there have been numerous instances of police harassment of blacks, including black foreigners and diplomats who were mistaken for being Cuban. Many black dissidents also report that the authorities single them out for harassment.

People with Disabilities

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

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution gives priority to state or collective needs over individual choices regarding free association or provision of employment. The "demands of the economy and society" take precedence over individual workers' preferences. The law prohibits strikes; none are known to have occurred. Established labor organizations do not function as trade unions and do not promote or protect worker rights, including the right to strike. They are under the control of the State and the Party. The Party selects the leaders of the sole legal confederation, the Confederation of Cuban Workers. Its principal responsibility is to ensure that government production goals are met. Despite disclaimers in international forums, the Government explicitly prohibits independent unions. There has been no change since the 1992 International Labor Organization (ILO) finding that independent unions "do not appear to exist" and its ruling that Cuba violated ILO norms on freedom of association and the right to organize. Those who attempt to engage in union activities face government persecution. Government agents repeatedly harassed Lazaro Corp Yeras, president of the National Commission of Independent Trade Unions, during the year. On the night of May 1, for example, Corp was injured while riding his bicycle when the driver of a car forced him off the road. The driver then yelled profanities and insulted Corp for being a union activist.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining does not exist. The State Committee for Work and Social Security sets wages and salaries for the state sector. Since all trade unions are government entities, antiunion discrimination by definition does not exist. There are no independent unions. The Government in 1993 removed some of the restrictions on self-employment imposed in 1968 and allowed people to apply for licenses to work in over 125 different occupations, ranging from hairdresser to muleteer. However, university graduates, employees in sectors determined to be government priorities, or any state employee whose work is ruled necessary are excluded from qualifying. Also excluded are those who do not show proper labor discipline, a category which includes dissidents, among others. Furthermore, the State may revoke permission to work outside the state sector if it decides the worker's services are again needed. In May, in a putative effort to crack down on black marketeers, the Government approved Decree Law 149 on the "confiscation of goods and income obtained by means of improper enrichment," and it announced that it would revoke the licenses of many artisans for employing others, an illegal act under the law, or would arrest them for using materials of "dubious origin." The decree was to be applied retroactively. Cuban radio reported in October that the authorities had confiscated 8,485,706 pesos (equivalent to $85,000 at prevailing unofficial exchange rates) and a considerable number of vehicles, houses, livestock, and work implements under this decree. There are no known export processing zones in Cuba.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Neither the Constitution nor the Labor Code prohibit forced labor. The Government maintains correctional centers where people are sent for crimes such as dangerousness. They are forced to work on farms or building sites, usually with no pay and inadequate food. The authorities often imprison internees who do not cooperate. The Government employs special groups of workers, known as "microbrigades," on loan from other jobs, on special building projects. They have increased importance in the Government's efforts to complete tourist and other priority projects. Workers who refuse to volunteer for these jobs often risk discrimination or job loss. Microbrigade workers, however, reportedly receive priority consideration for apartments. The military channels some conscripts to the Youth Labor Army, where they serve their 2-year military service requirement working on farms which supply both the armed forces and the civilian population. The ILO's Committee of Experts criticized Cuba for violating ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labor, based on information provided by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. In response, the Cuban state labor committee in 1993 eliminated "merits and demerits" from workers' labor records.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum working age is 17 years. The Labor Code permits employment of 15- and 16-year-olds to obtain training or fill labor shortages. All students over age 11 are expected to devote 30 to 45 days of their summer vacation to farm work, laboring up to 8 hours per day. The Ministry of Agriculture uses "voluntary labor" by Student Work Brigades extensively in the farming sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varies by occupation and is set by the Bureau of Labor and Social Security. The minimum monthly wage for a maid, for example, is 165 pesos ($165 at the meaningless official exchange rate); for a bilingual office clerk 190 pesos; and for a gardener 215 pesos. The Government supplements the minimum wage with free medical care, education, and subsidized housing and food. Even with these subsidies, however, a worker must earn far more than the average monthly wage to support a family. The Government rations most basic necessities such as food, medicine, clothing, and cooking gas, which are in very short supply, if available at all. The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workdays in hazardous occupations such as mining. To save energy, the Government reduced workdays to 5 hours in many institutions. Workplace environmental and safety controls are usually inadequate, and the Government lacks effective enforcement mechanisms. Industrial accidents apparently are frequent, but the Government suppresses reports of these.

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