Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002: Cuba

U.S. Department of State. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. March 31, 2003

(1 of 6)

Cuba is a totalitarian state controlled by Fidel Castro, who is Chief of State with the titles of President, Head of Government, First Secretary of the Communist Party, and commander in chief of the armed forces. Castro exercises control over all aspects of life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy headed by the Council of State, and the state security apparatus. The Communist Party is the only legal political entity, and Castro personally chooses the membership of the Politburo, the select group that heads the party. There are no contested elections for the 601-member National Assembly of People's Power (ANPP), which meets twice a year for a few days to rubber stamp decisions and policies previously decided by the governing Council of State. The Communist Party controls all government positions, including judicial offices. The judiciary is completely subordinate to the Government and to the Communist Party.

The Ministry of Interior is the principal entity of state security and totalitarian control. Officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which are led by Fidel Castro's brother General Raul Castro, were assigned to the majority of key positions in the Ministry of Interior in the past several years. In addition to the routine law enforcement functions of regulating migration and controlling the Border Guard and the regular police forces, the Interior Ministry's Department of State Security investigated and actively suppressed political opposition and dissent. It maintained a pervasive system of surveillance through undercover agents, informers, rapid response brigades (RRBs), and neighborhood-based Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). The Government traditionally has used the CDRs to mobilize citizens against dissenters, impose ideological conformity, and root out "counterrevolutionary" behavior. RRBs consisted of workers from a particular brigade (construction workers, a factory, etc.) that were organized by the Communist Party to react forcefully to any situation of social unrest. The Government on occasion used RRBs instead of the police or military during such situations. Members of the security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.

The economy was centrally planned, with some elements of state-managed capitalism in sectors such as tourism and mining. The country's population was approximately 11 million. The economy depended heavily on primary products such as sugar and minerals, but also on its recently developed tourism industry. The economy performed poorly during the year, mainly due to inefficient policies. The 2001-02 sugar harvest was poor, remittances from abroad decreased, and tourist arrivals declined 5 percent below 2001 levels. In November 2001, Hurricane Michelle severely affected agricultural production, which did not begin to recover until midyear. Government officials announced that the economy had grown by 1.1 percent during the year. Government policy was officially aimed at preventing economic disparity, but persons with access to dollars enjoyed a significantly higher standard of living than those with access only to pesos. During the year, the Government issued a moratorium on new licenses for small private businesses in the service sector, many of which have been fined on unclear grounds or taxed out of existence. A system of "tourist apartheid" continued, whereby citizens were denied access to hotels, beaches, and resorts reserved for foreign tourists.

The Government's human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens did not have the right to change their government peacefully. Although the Constitution allows legislative proposals backed by at least 10,000 citizens to be submitted directly to the ANPP, the Government rejected a petition known as the Varela Project, with over 11,000 signatures calling for a national referendum on political and economic reforms. The Government mobilized the population to sign a counter-petition reinforcing the socialist basis of the State; the ANPP unanimously approved this amendment. Communist Party-affiliated mass organizations tightly controlled elections to provincial and national legislative bodies, resulting in the selection of single, government-approved candidates. Prisoners died in jail due to lack of medical care. Members of the security forces and prison officials continued to beat and abuse detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists. The Government failed to prosecute or sanction adequately members of the security forces and prison guards who committed abuses. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening. The authorities routinely continued to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain, imprison, and defame human rights advocates and members of independent professional associations, including journalists, economists, doctors, and lawyers, often with the goal of coercing them into leaving the country. The Government used internal and external exile against such persons. The Government denied political dissidents and human rights advocates due process and subjected them to unfair trials. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government denied citizens the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. It limited the distribution of foreign publications and news, restricted access to the Internet, and maintained strict censorship of news and information to the public. The Government restricted some religious activities but permitted others. The Government limited the entry of religious workers to the country. The Government maintained tight restrictions on freedom of movement, including foreign travel and did not allow some citizens to leave the country. The Government was sharply and publicly antagonistic to all criticism of its human rights practices and discouraged foreign contacts with human rights activists. Violence against women, especially domestic violence, and child prostitution were problems. Racial discrimination was a problem. The Government severely restricted worker rights, including the right to form independent unions. The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children; however, it required children to do farm work without compensation.


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

a. Arbitrary and Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of politically motivated killings.

On August 16, Juan Sanchez Picoto died in a psychiatric hospital in San Luis de Jagua, allegedly by suicide. According to family members, Sanchez Picoto had tried to emigrate nine times since 1998, and after the last attempt the authorities forcibly removed him from his home and placed him in a psychiatric unit for alcoholics at a Guantanamo psychiatric hospital. He was held in a ward for violent and mentally ill offenders, despite a doctor's diagnosis that he did not meet criteria for involuntary commitment. He was allegedly given shock therapy and assaulted by another detainee, resulting in a head injury. On August 15, he was transferred from the Guantanamo hospital to the San Luis de Jagua unit and died the next day; family members were not allowed to see the body.

During the year, there were reports that prisoners died in jail due to lack of medical care (see Section 1.c.).

There was no new information about the results of any investigation into the deaths of Leovigildo Oliva and Leonardo Horta Camacho, and no government action was likely; police reportedly shot and killed both men in 2000.

The Government still has not indemnified the survivors and the relatives of the 41 victims for the damages caused in the Border Guard's July 1994 sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat, despite a 1996 recommendation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to do so.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners; however, members of the security forces sometimes beat and otherwise abused human rights advocates, detainees, and prisoners. The Government took no steps to curb these abuses. There continued to be numerous reports of disproportionate police harassment of black youths (see Section 5).

On March 4, state security agents, police, and civilian members of an RRB beat blind activist Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva, independent journalist Carlos Brizuela Yera, and eight other activists, who were at a public hospital in Ciego de Avila protesting the earlier beating of independent journalist Jesus Alvarez Castillo. Police forcibly removed the protesters from the hospital and arrested them. On August 21, a municipal court charged them with "contempt for authority, public disorder, disobedience, and resistance." Prosecutors requested a 6-year sentence for Gonzalez Leyva. Gonzalez Leyva protested his imprisonment through a liquids-only fast, and at year's end weighed less than 100 pounds.

On September 17, plainclothes police beat 59-year-old Rafael Madlum Payas of the Christian Liberation Movement as he approached a police station to inquire about the cases of seven activists being held at the station.

The Government continued to subject persons who disagreed with it to what it called acts of repudiation. At government instigation, members of state-controlled mass organizations, fellow workers, or neighbors of intended victims were obliged to stage public protests against those who dissented from the Government's policies, shouting obscenities and often causing damage to the homes and property of those targeted; physical attacks on the victims sometimes occurred. Police and state security agents often were present but took no action to prevent or end the attacks. Those who refused to participate in these actions faced disciplinary action, including loss of employment.

On July 1, the first secretary of the Communist Party in Cruces, Cienfuegos province, directed 150 persons to engage in an act of repudiation against Gladys Aquit Manrique of the Cuban Pro Human Rights Party. The persons shouted epithets at Aquit Manrique and kicked her door.

There were also smaller-scale acts of repudiation, known as "reuniones relampagos," or rapid repudiations. These acts were conducted by a small number of persons, usually not from the target's neighborhood, and lasted up to 30 minutes. These individuals shouted epithets and threw stones or other objects at the victim's house.

On April 21, members of an RRB beat Grisel Almaguer Rodriguez of the Political Prisoners Association as she departed the home of human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz.

On September 21, persons directed by state security officials threw stones and mud at the home of Jose Daniel Ferrer of the Christian Liberation Movement and beat Victor Rodriguez Vazquez and Yordanis Almenares Crespo, who were visiting Ferrer at the time of the attack.

On September 24, police in Santiago province directed persons to beat six members of the Christian Liberation Movement during an act of rapid repudiation.

Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening, and conditions in detention facilities also were harsh. The Government claimed that prisoners had rights such as family visitation, adequate nutrition, pay for work, the right to request parole, and the right to petition the prison director; however, police and prison officials often denied these rights in practice, and beat, neglected, isolated, and denied medical treatment to detainees and prisoners, including those convicted of political crimes or those who persisted in expressing their views. The Penal Code prohibits the use of corporal punishment on prisoners and the use of any means to humiliate prisoners or to lessen their dignity; however, the code fails to establish penalties for committing such acts, and they continued to occur in practice. Detainees and prisoners, both common and political, often were subjected to repeated, vigorous interrogations designed to coerce them into signing incriminating statements, to force collaboration with authorities, or to intimidate victims. Some endured physical and sexual abuse, typically by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in punitive isolation cells. Pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners. In Havana there were two detention centers; once sentenced, persons were transferred to a prison.

Prisoners sometimes were held in "punishment cells," which usually were located in the basement of a prison, were semi-dark all the time, had no water available in the cell, and had a hole for a toilet. No reading materials were allowed, and family visits were reduced to 10 minutes from 1 or 2 hours. There was no access to lawyers while in the punishment cell.

On May 10, political prisoner Carlos Luis Diaz Fernandez informed friends that he had been held in solitary confinement since January 2000 in a cell with no electric light and infested by rats and mosquitoes.

In August six guards at Guamajal prison, Villa Clara province, beat common prisoner Pedro Rafael Perez Fuentes until he was unconscious. Perez Fuentes told his mother that the guards had beaten him because he had asked them why he had been denied exercise privileges. The prison warden verbally abused Perez Fuentes' mother when she informed him of her plans to report the assault.

On August 6, prison officials, including the chief of political reeducation, beat political prisoner Yosvani Aguilar Camejo. Aguilar Camejo is the national coordinator for the Fraternal Brothers for Dignity Movement. He was arrested at the time of the Mexican Embassy break-in by asylum seekers in late February (see Section 1.d.).

Prison guards and state security officials subjected human rights and prodemocracy activists to threats of physical violence, to systematic psychological intimidation, and to detention or imprisonment in cells with common and violent criminals, sexually aggressive inmates, or state security agents posing as prisoners.

On February 21, political prisoner Ariel Fleitas Gonzalez advised relatives that prison authorities had placed a dangerous common criminal in his cell in Canaleta prison to monitor his activities. That prisoner threatened Fleitas Gonzalez when the latter called upon officials to respect prisoners' rights.

On June 20, a guard at Las Ladrilleras prison in Holguin province instructed a common prisoner to beat political prisoner Daniel Mesa. Mesa reportedly suffered brain damage as a result of the attack.

In late October, imprisoned dissident Leonardo Bruzon Avila was hospitalized from the effects of a 43-day hunger strike. In February the authorities had arrested Bruzon on charges of civil disobedience. In December the authorities returned Bruzon to prison, where he resumed a liquids-only diet. Family members and colleagues believed he was returned to prison before he had fully recovered from the effects of his hunger strike.

In November Ana Aquililla, wife of Francisco Chaviano Gonzalez, reported that her husband remained confined with common prisoners, that for more than 1 year he was not allowed outside the prison for recreation, and that he could not receive family visits. Chaviano is the former president of the National Council for Civil Rights in Cuba and received a 15-year prison sentence in 1994 on charges of espionage and disrespect.

Political prisoners were required to comply with the rules for common criminals and often were punished severely if they refused. They often were placed in punishment cells and held in isolation.

The Government regularly failed to provide adequate nutrition and medical attention, and a number of prisoners died during the year due to lack of medical attention. In 1997 the IACHR described the nutritional and hygienic situation in the prisons, together with the deficiencies in medical care, as "alarming." Both the IACHR and the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Cuba, as well as other human rights monitoring organizations, have reported the widespread incidence in prisons of tuberculosis, scabies, hepatitis, parasitic infections, and malnutrition.

In early June, common prisoner Hector Labrada Ruedas died of internal bleeding after prison authorities refused his requests for medical attention.

Alberto Martinez Martinez contracted hepatitis and leptospirosis while being held for attempting to leave the country without government authorization. He was placed in intensive care following his release. Martinez Martinez is the son of Alberto Martinez Fernandez, president of the Political Prisoners and Ex-Political Prisoners Club.

On June 19, the illegal (see Section 2.b.) nongovernmental organization (NGO) National Office for the Receipt of Information on Human Rights Violations reported that political prisoner Nestor Garcia Valdes had contracted tuberculosis while being held in Guantanamo Provincial Prison with nine infected common prisoners, none of whom had received treatment for the disease.

The wife of political prisoner Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina reported that Rodriguez feared for his health because he had been held for an extended period in a cell with two prisoners suffering from tuberculosis. Rodriguez was especially concerned because his wife and young daughter visited him in his cell, exposing them to possible infection as well. Rodriguez' wife claimed that the prison doctor had refused to transfer Lobaina after learning that he was a political prisoner, saying that his fate was of no concern to her. Rodriguez is in the third year of a 6-year sentence for "contempt of authority" and "public disorder."

Political prisoner Osvaldo Dussu Medina reported that inmates in Boniato prison were forced to wash their clothes in water contaminated with feces and urine from a broken sewer pipe. Prison authorities had been aware of the contamination for 2 years but did nothing to remedy the situation.

Prison officials regularly denied prisoners other rights, such as the right to correspondence, and continued to confiscate medications and food brought by family members for political prisoners. Some prison directors routinely denied religious workers access to detainees and prisoners. Reading materials, including Bibles, were not allowed in punishment cells. Prison authorities refused to grant blind dissident Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva access to his Braille Bible.

In July prison officials in Ceramica Roja prison denied religious visits to political prisoner Enrique Garcia Morejon of the Christian Liberation Movement. Garcia Morejon twice requested visits by a Catholic priest while the priest was visiting other prisoners.

There were separate prison facilities for women and for minors. Conditions of these prisons, especially for women, did not take into account the special needs of women. Human rights activists believed that conditions were poor.

The Government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights monitoring groups. The Government has refused to allow prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 1989. In 2001 the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHRNC), an illegal NGO, appealed to the Government to create a national commission with representatives from the Cuban Red Cross, the Ministry of Public Health, and different churches, to inspect the prisons and recommend changes to the existing situation. The CCHRNC did not receive a response from the Government.


Back to Documents

[ HOME ]

La Tienda - Libros , filmes, posters, camisetas, gorras

Advance search

In Association with




...Prensa Independiente
...Prensa Internacional
...Prensa Gubernamental


...Cooperativas Agrícolas
...Movimiento Sindical



...Artes Plásticas
...Fotos de Cuba
...Anillas de Tabaco

...Quiénes Somos
...Informe 1998
...Correo Electrónico

CubaNet News, Inc.
145 Madeira Ave, Suite 207
Coral Gables, FL 33134
(305) 774-1887