The aim of this report, "Cuba a Year After the Pope", is to give a sketch of the
situation in Cuba after Pope John Paul II's visit in January 1998. Pax Christi Netherlands' previous
report on Cuba (Cuba; Report of the Pax Christi Netherlands Delegation 18-31 January 1998) at the
time of the Pope's visit to Cuba, served as a starting point. Four themes are central to this
report: the position of the Church, humanitarian aid, foreign investment and the rise of independent
organizations. The information in this report was gathered by external sources, as Pax Christi
employees are now not able to enter the country without difficulty.
The words of the Pope "let the world open up to Cuba and Cuba open up to the world"
have at least not fallen on deaf ears in "the world". A lot of countries have reopened
communications with Cuba. Examples are many. Diplomatic ties in the Caribbean region have been
strengthened. There is a constant coming and going of presidents and prime ministers. Castro is
asked to play an intermediary role in the Colombian peace process. The Conference of Latin-American
Bishops (CELAM) held its meeting in Cuba in February. Later on in 1999 Cuba will host the
Ibero-American summit, an annual meeting of Latin-American countries, Spain and Portugal. Even
Spanish king Juan Carlos will possibly pay a visit to Cuba this year. For the year 2000 a meeting is
scheduled of the group of 77. For the first time in years and after intensive lobbying, Cuba was not
condemned in 1998 by the United Nations Human Rights commission in Geneva and the mandate for the
special UN-reporter for Cuba (Carl Groth) was not extended. It looks like the papal visit brought an
end to the isolation that the Cuban government had gotten into a number of years ago.
So far it is Fidel Castro who has gained the most from the papal visit. With his visit the Pope
legitimized the dictator's rule. As for the Church: Castro's minimal concessions have made the
Church steer a safe course, for fear of losing these 'achievements'. In this way the regime
successfully prevents the Church from speaking out more forcefully in matters of democracy and human
rights and from fostering ties with the independent opposition.
When the Pope visited Mexico in January 1999 a rumor spread through Havana that he might make a
stop in Cuba. That this did not happen in the end was taken by many to be the Pope's answer to
Castro's failure to keep his promises of a widening of the Church's social competencies and to the
fact that improvements in the field of human rights and democracy did not occur.
Relations with the US: New Openings
The United States too have made some openings. Shortly after the papal visit US Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright traveled to Rome for an exchange of ideas with the Pope on the matter of
Cuba. Not much later, on March 28th, President Clinton gave permission to reinstate charter flights
between the United States and Cuba and he also raised the amount of money that Cuban exiles may
transfer to their relatives in Cuba to 1,200 dollars a year. After the shooting-down of two
Americans airplanes by Cuba at the beginning of 1996, Washington had lowered the number of flights
and the maximum transfer amount. The easing-up of the American policy was in direct relation to
the papal visit, the US stated.
Furthermore, March 1998 saw a start to the formation of a bipartisan committee, i.e. of both
Republicans and Democrats, aimed at redefining policy vis-à-vis Cuba. The work of this
committee could have led to serious adjustments of American policy toward Cuba that has remained
essentially unchanged since the embargo was put into effect in 1962. The committee was sacrificed
early this year in favor of further relaxation towards Cuba. On January 5th of this year Clinton
announced that the number of charter flights to Cuba is allowed to grow once more and that donations
of money to Cubans are no longer restricted to be made by Cuban relatives, as had so far been the
case. Besides that, he gave permission to sell food to Cuban NGOs and restaurants and it will be
possible to send and receive mail directly to and from Cuba. The US continue to admit 20,000 Cubans
each year through what the Cubans refer to as the 'lottery system'.
Clinton also gave permission to members of the popular baseball team Baltimore Orioles to
organize a set of friendly matches with the Cuban national team. The manager of the team traveled to
Havana as recently as January 1999 to see what the possibilities were. According to spokespersons
the initiative stranded after disagreement about the spending of the proceeds that the matches would
bring in. The US want to send them to Cuban NGOs and Cuba wants them to go to the victims of
hurricane Mitch in Central America. Cuba has reacted negatively to the US proposal, as Cuba-watchers
in Miami say was to be expected. "Whoever proposed that the money should go to NGOs, either
does not know what is going on in Cuba, or he must think Castro's gone mad," said well-known
Cuba researcher in Miami, Juan Clark.
The American Interest Section in Havana keeps up ties with independent groups in Cuba. Spokesman
Tim Brown emphasizes that the US support these groups, but do not help them organize. The idea of
overthrowing the Cuban regime was abandoned a long time ago. Stability is in the interest of the US,
as is a peaceful transition to a civil society. Cuba should offer legal status to independent
Castro's answer to the world: further anti-dissent legislation
Dissidents in Cuba view the growth of international attention for the regime as a reinforcement
of Castro's position and by the same token a reason for greater care. Experience has shown that the
more Castro is isolated, the more criticism can be passed on his conduct of affairs within his own
borders. Heads of state patting him on the back in front of the camera, however, clear his way to
the higher circles and this in turn allows him more room to build up pressure within national
This is what seems to have happened in February 1999, with the presentation of the 'Law to
Protect the National Independence and Economy of Cuba'. The law bans a broad range of civil
activities, such as 'the supply, search or gathering of information' and bans 'the collaboration
[...] with radio and television stations, newspapers, magazines and other mass media with the aim to
contribute and facilitate the implementation of the Helms/Burton law.' Possessing, reproducing or
distributing 'subversive material' intended to support 'the economic war against Cuba' can lead to
imprisonment for 3 up to 15 years.
The formulations of the law are imprecise, ambiguous and leave much room to be arbitrarily
applied. As such, the laws constitute a serious setback for the internal opposition, which already
suffers severely from repression. Any phonecall or effort to gather information can be considered
'subversive'. It is broadly expected that the law will be applied to activities of political
opponents in general and specifically to the independent journalist movement that in the last years
increasingly contributed to a free flow of information between Cuba and the outside world. However,
the fear also exists that the laws will be generally applied to any form of alternative and
independent thinking in Cuban society. The law violates the right to freedom of press, assembly,
opinion and expression. It brings the Iron Curtain back to Cuba.
The new steps of the Cuban government show its contempt for the numerous requests by the
international community to give a clear sign of its commitment to internationally recognized human
rights law and to reform the Cuban criminal code accordingly. Reactions should be expected from the
international community, including the (member states of the) EU, the UN, the Vatican, the Latin
American countries co-signers of the declaration of Viña del Mar, etc.
The well-known Cuban dissident and leader of the 'Christian Liberation Movement' (MCL), Oswaldo
Payá, declared at the occasion of the adoption of the law:
'They created a law against the truth, to guarantee the privilege of some and to guarantee
absolute power and immobilism, to continue having the boot on the face of the people. [...] We will
continue to defend the poor, we will continue denouncing the violations of human rights and the
violations against popular sovereignty, we will continue announcing the new and great message of
The European Union still maintains its so-called 'common position' (of December 1996) vis-à-vis
Cuba. Essential to this is the interdependence of improvement of trade relations with the EU and
progress in the field of human rights and democracy in Cuba. The extent to which the 'common
position' is put into practice is, however, open to a wide range of interpretations and every
country has pursued its own policy from the start. In actual practice no country appears to follow
the 'common position'. Spain in particular has always put its bilateral contacts with Cuba
first. The Spanish embassy, in its turn, maintains that it still finds the common position a useful
In Brussels too, adhesion to the 'common policy' appears to be on the wane. In 1998 Cuba joined
the ACP-countries as an observing member, which gives it a prospect to full membership. This would
yield substantial economic advantages in accordance with the Lomé treaty. Also the Lomé
treaty itself, by the way, states that membership shall depend on respect for human rights,
democracy and good governance.
Although trade interests appear to take precedence in the policies of individual European
countries, Europe nevertheless does exert pressure on Cuba in the matter of the extension of
liberties for dissidents. A number of diplomats, from countries that have good relations with Cuba
even, have their doors open to the opposition. Dissidents all over speak highly of the Spanish
embassy, which is the most accessible of embassies by virtue of culture and language. The Spanish
embassy has contacts with representatives of some thirty independent organizations and dissidents.
Last year's visit from Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Abel Matutes, has led to a number of
prisoner releases. Names that were mentioned on more than one occasion as serious discussion
partners at the embassies are those of poet and journalist Paul Rivero (CubaPress) and leader of the
Christian Movement for Liberation (MCL) Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.
Furthermore, on every official visit special attention is demanded to the release of the four
dissidents of the 'Grupo de Trabajo de la Disidencia Interna'. These are René Gómez
Manzano, chairman of Corriente Agromontista; Vladimiro Roca Antuñez, secretary-general for
the Cuban Social Democratic Party PSDC; Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, head of the Independent Cuban
Institute of Economics; and Felix Antonio Bonne Carcassés, chairman of the Cuban Civilian
Movement. They were arrested in July 1997 for drawing up the pamphlet "La patria es de todos"
("The homeland belongs to all"), which criticized the policy plans for the Fifth Congress
of the Communist Party, which took place later that year. What turned out to have been another
important factor in their arrest was the fact that the group advocated observance of the Arcos
principles, i.e. a code of conduct for foreign investors based on international law.
Uncertainty has arisen as to the exact date of Spanish King Juan Carlos's visit, originally
scheduled for February or March. This may be in direct connection to the condition of the release of
these four dissidents. Diplomats at the Spanish embassy say it is unlikely that the Spanish king
will visit Cuba while the Four are in prison.
There is much praise on the part of dissidents for the Czech embassy. Insiders claim it is at
the direct request of Vaclav Havel that this embassy keeps in close touch with the dissidents. The
Dutch embassy in Havana has confirmed that dissidents are always welcome there and adds that
dissidents visiting them dare to speak openly about the national situation. By the way, dissidents
generally do not mention the Dutch embassy as one that they find particularly helpful.
In 1998 there has been no significant fall or rise in the number of dissidents arrested or
harassed by 'gangs of thugs'. As in previous years, Pax Christi received frequently information from
independent activists in Cuba, about harassment, short term detentions, imprisonment, social
marginalization and physical violence (beatings) of opponents of the regime.
The Spanish embassy has the impression that the situation has slightly improved. More political
prisoners have been released than have been imprisoned; it has become easier for dissidents to visit
the embassies and these visits are therefore now more frequent; more often dissidents are allowed to
hold gatherings; and independent journalists have more leeway, say the Spanish. This opening is
believed to be owing to improved ties with the countries in the European Union, which nonetheless
continue to exert pressure toward compliance with human rights.
However, these words were spoken out by a Spanish diplomat, before the wave of repression
against independent journalists - in January at least six of them were arrested - and the
presentation of the new anti-dissent law in February.
The criminal code, even in its 'pre-February 1999' form, was used as a means to silence
political dissent by charging opponents of the regime with for example 'contempt for authority',
'dangerousness', 'enemy propaganda'. The right to a fair trial is not guaranteed in Cuba, where the
judiciary is directly controlled by the Communist Party. Sometimes, political opponents remain
detained for prolonged periods (months or even years) without any charge or trial.
A list exists, drawn up by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation
(CCDHRN, its director is Elizardo Sanchez), of approximately 300 political prisoners, 200 less than
before the papal visit. Over the last year approximately 240 prisoners were released, according to
the Spanish embassy. What is often overlooked though is that this is only a partial list. The
authorities do not disclose any data on the number of those imprisoned for political offenses, such
as 'rebellion', 'disrespect', or 'enemy propaganda'. Human rights organizations will therefore have
to depend on other sources to report a political imprisonment to them. Sanchez estimates that in
actual fact there are anywhere from two to five thousand political prisoners. There is an
additional problem in the form of people that are imprisoned under the pretext of for instance
economic offenses, while the real reasons are political. We can only guess at the numbers. Until the
penal law is reformed and the judiciary becomes independent, this situation will continue to exist.
Dissidents such as Oswaldo Payá confirm there is some evidence of "a certain degree
of tolerance" towards the opposition, but "they are still tough on us and try to malign us
with all sorts of false arguments," says Payá. Several dozens of arrests were made last
year of independent journalists, dissidents from Church circles, and human rights activists.
American diplomats with the Interest Section in Havana confirm that there is no evidence of
disappearances or assassinations of political opponents in Cuba. However, prisoners are put under
great psychological pressure and at times they are beaten up. Prison conditions are generally bad;
inmates are undernourished, and have no blankets, sanitary facilities or legal representation. There
are frequent reports of political prisoners being denied medical attention in case of illness.
An example is political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez 'Antúnez', (33
years old, and imprisoned for 15 years since 1990 in 'Nieves Morejón' accused of 'Enemy
propaganda' and 'sabotage'). In the beginning of 1999 he was brutally beaten to unconsciousness by
prison officers. According to his sister Berta Antúnez one of these officer at the prison
stated that they are authorized to beat prisoners. Actually, Antúnez is in a very poor state
of health, as he is denied medical treatment for his injuries and for his illnesses (a kidney
insufficiency, angina pectoris and hypoglycemia). Until the moment of writing, Berta has not been
allowed to give her brother the necessary medicines.
There has been no change in the situation of the four imprisoned dissidents of the Grupo de
Trabajo de la Disidencia Interna. They have been in custody from July 1997 and despite the fact that
the charge was formulated at the end of 1998, no date has been set yet for their trial. Visits are
allowed, even lengthy talks with relatives without the attendance of guards were reported, but
visits are seriously hampered by the fact that the dissidents have been imprisoned a long way from
Havana. One independent journalist was only able to afford the trip by selling the account of her
visit to a journalist with the news agency Reuters.
The conclusion is that political repression in 1998 did not significantly diminish or
increase. The new anti-dissent legislation, however, will probably change this situation in a
Social and Economic Repression
Last year saw a strong rise in social and economic repression. The heat is on day-to-day freedom
of movement. The number of policemen in the streets has grown. In the tourist areas, special
brigades patrol day and night. In the vicinity of the large hotels people are constantly getting
arrested and interrogated, especially if they have contacted foreigners. Penalties in such cases as
theft or illegal taxi operation have been raised considerably. Pinching goods from work may lead to
five years' imprisonment, burglary to twenty. Strong measures have been taken against the wide
spread of prostitution, which so much discredited Cuba abroad. According to official figures, in
Havana alone over 6,700 women were run in last year up to November.
The departure wing of José Martí, Havana's international airport, is crowded. In
an hour the Iberia flight to Madrid will take off, packed with European vacationers. Tania, a
mulatta of about 18, has a rather glum expression. Her boy-friend just boarded the plane. "He's
from Switzerland," she says "but he told me he would return as soon as possible to marry
me." Tania has only known her boy-friend for two weeks, but in those two weeks a close tie was
forged, she says. They hung around together day and night; he took her out to dinner, bought her
clothes, and sometimes gave her some money for her family. They had a wonderful time, but now he is
gone. Tania is determined, however, to leave Cuba as soon as possible and live with her newfound
lover in Switzerland. And what if he does not return? "Then I will find another boy-friend,"
Tania says as she hurries to the exit, where her brother is waiting for her.
To stem out any doubts early this year Fidel Castro declared war on prostitution. Anyone working
as a prostitute risks three years' imprisonment or forced labor. The consequences are very much in
evidence. Where just a year ago the streets were swarming with luring girls, they are now swarming
with officers on patrol. Judging from the number of European men that are still strolling in the
streets with their mulattas, there remains plenty of opportunity for prostitution. But now that
streetwalking is no longer a matter of course, in time there is bound to be a decline in sex
tourism, which had gotten rather out of hand in Cuba over the past few years.
In other fields as well control has been intensified. Recently, government inspectors have
stepped up their supervision of restaurant owners. Those who own a private business are squeezed dry
with costly licenses and taxes that are absurdly high even by rich countries' standards. A good
150,000 are now left of the approximately 210,000 people that in 1997 were still working 'on their
own account'. What was started in 1995 as a means of stimulating private initiative, has been
stifled to death over the last years by prescribing such strict conditions for setting up even small
eating-places, barbershops or rooming-houses that no-one can manage anymore. Let alone what new
proposals might result in.
The strengthening of controls has led to greater fear, a well-tried method for keeping the
people quiet. At least just as worrisome is the fact that the restrictions bear on the few means
that Cubans have to keep their standard of living at a reasonable level. People can barely survive
on their 'peso income' alone without any additional dollar earnings. Theft of goods, the black
market, prostitution and illegal jobs satisfy the enormous need for dollars. Cutting off this source
of income creates a lot of social tension, drives many to crime and encourages corruption.
Street safety has greatly declined. Anyone can name a number of instances of armed robbery, a
phenomenon unknown to Cuba until recently, which used to set the country apart favorably from other
Latin-American countries. A growing number of people in Havana has decided to reinforce its windows
with bars. In the campaign against delinquency not only real criminals are dealt with, such as
rapists and killers, but also petty criminals looking for an extra few dollars to support their
Every Sunday night in a new feature called 'for the deterrence of the people', the state
television news gives attention to 'the crime of the week', usually a punishable act suspected to be
committed by a large share of the population, such as prostitution or robbery. Suspects of theft, of
a few kilos of meat for instance, are put in front of a camera and disgraced while mentioned by
name, before they have even caught a glimpse of any judge.
Georgina works in a small store of a new foreign chain. They sell French bread, croissants and
pastry for dollars. They also sell refrigerated cans of soda and beer. Cans are a dollar a piece.
This is very fortunate for Georgina, because her boy-friend Jorge works in a beverage warehouse and
he can purchase the same cans of beer for 60 cents. Every day Jorge comes around on his motorbike to
deliver a large pack of cans that Georgina then refrigerates and sells to the customers. On each can
she makes a profit of 40 cents, half for herself and half for her boss, who could also do with some
pocket money. Hundreds of cans are sold every day and this gives her income a considerable boost.
The Church too recently expressed its concern for the rising unsafety. Cardinal Jaime Ortega in
his journal 'Aquí la Iglesia' warned against a one-sided reaction to the violence in the form
of more repression.
An extreme example of the growing unsafety is the robbery with murder of two Italian tourists
that took place east of Havana in September 1998. This particular felony had not occurred before in
revolutionary Cuba. The perpetrators were sentenced to death last January. The rise of crime in its
turn allows the government a reason to step up police patrols in the streets. The deterrence is only
partially effective. After a burglary in Miramar the intruders left behind a large placard that said
"20 años no es nada," meaning twenty years' imprisonment is nothing.
In an address on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the National Revolutionary Police
Fidel Castro called the rise in crime a threat to the revolution and urged the judiciary not to
hesitate about using the death sentence from time to time. In the sixties and seventies the death
penalty was still regularly applied in Cuba, in the last two decades only sporadically. The Cuban
government has already made a start to the recruitment of more police officers and a commission has
been set up to determine the new penalties. These developments formed the prelude for the adoption,
in February 1999, of the earlier mentioned 'Law to Protect the National Independence and Economy of
Cuba'. This law not only clears the way to crack down on dissent, but also raised penalties for
crime and introduced the death penalty for drug trafficking. This last measure should be understood
in the context of the continuous international accusations of Cuba being a significant actor in the
Latin American drugs scene.
It is not a coincidence that the intensified political, social and economic repression is aimed
at one and the same time at crime and at those sectors of the economy that have relatively more
liberties. The scanty allowance of a few economic liberties and their subsequent reversal is a
recurring phenomenon in Cuba. Greater liberties are sometimes necessary in order to prevent social
unrest in times of economic hardship, like at the beginning of the nineties. Economic liberties are,
however, bound to result in lessened political control over the population: a cab driver making
dollars in the tourist industry is no longer dependent on the state and has no more need of the
Communist Party. This weakens the Party's power. It was probably for this reason that Fidel Castro
in his address to the National Police characterized criminals as a 'fifth column' of enemies
attacking the socialist revolution from within.
The conclusion is that socio-economic repression, including the anti-crime campaign, is
increasingly used as a tool of political control.
The Dollarization of the Economy
At first sight the economic situation appears to have improved over the last year. There are
more stores, there is more traffic and there are again some bars that sell beer for pesos. Calle
O'Reilly and Boulevard San Rafael in the old center of Havana have become regular shopping streets.
But in actual fact, Cuba is in a deep economic crisis. Economic growth stuck at 1.2 % in 1998
instead of the projected 3.5 % and the foreign debts now totaling 11 billion dollars have become
impossible to pay off. According to Minister of Economic Affairs, Mr. José Luis Rodriguez,
the small growth is due not only to the trade embargo, but also to the falling world market in sugar
and nickel, and of course to last year's sugar harvest, which with a good three million tons was the
lowest yield in fifty years. The budget for 1999 assumes a growth of 2.5 %.
The gap between rich and poor has widened. There is still a shortage of all kinds of goods.
Even sugar is rationed. Not just luxury items, but even basic commodities and services such as bread
and transportation are only available to those in the population that have dollars. One Cuban
(without dollars) put it this way: "Con dinero, señor, hasta caja de muertos" ("Money,
sir, will even buy you a coffin"). Dollars are obtainable through family abroad, illegal
services to tourists like operating a taxi, theft from work or the sale of goods at work, or through
tips for those who work in the tourist industry. A famous expression in Cuba goes: "What Cubans
need is faith". In Spanish "faith" is "fe". In Cuba this is also short for "Familia
en el Exterior" (FE), "family abroad".
The peso is now freely exchangeable for dollars at a black rate of 20 pesos to 1 dollar (the
official rate is 1 to 1). Where possession of dollars had until recently been punishable by years of
imprisonment, now in many places exchange offices have shot up, the so-called Cadecas (Casas de
Cambio). This has led to the peso taking back a fully-fledged place in Cuban economy. Dollars and
pesos can now be used interchangeably, taking into account of course the difference in value.
That doesn't alter the fact that Cuban society has been dollarized to a large extent. Anything
more expensive than a small amount of vegetables or a bus-ride is traded in dollars. In light of
these facts Castro's protest of early February against the 'dollarization' of Latin America sounds
The average Cuban makes 200 pesos a month (10 dollars at the current rate). Most consumer goods
are only obtainable at prices on or above a European level, which has led to an enormous need for
dollars. The current level of wages being as it is, many Cubans can see no other way but to steal
from stocks at their work and selling these on the black market. On the one hand this causes a
further deterioration of the distribution of goods, which was abominable to start with. On the other
hand it offers many people access to articles that they would otherwise never have been able to
Today four sectors can be distinguished on the Cuban market. The first one is the "bodega",
the traditional state outlet, recognizable by the brown-painted chipboard shelves filled with
colorless boxes and often empty cans. Here you can buy for pesos subsidized and very basic
foodstuffs such as rice, beans, eggs, and bread, which are noted down in the ration book, the "libreta".
It is the only kind of store where prices are in relation to Cuban incomes.
Next, there is the "mercado agropecuario", where farmers sell their own produce. They
were introduced a number of years ago to fight food shortage. In these stores you pay in pesos.
Prices are high but affordable.
The third is the "diplotienda", originally intended for diplomats and tourists only,
but accessible to Cubans for some five years now. They sell all kinds of things, but only for
dollars and, since the goods are imported, at prices exceeding those in Europe.
"Identity card," the saleswoman snaps out. Monica looks for the green booklet, which
Cubans must have with them at all times, and puts it on the counter. The saleswoman takes down the
number on the card and the number on the 20-dollar bill she just paid with. In case it should turn
out to be counterfeit. Monica hardly even notices anymore, she is used to this kind of checking, not
only when she pays with dollar bills. When she goes into a supermarket she has to leave her bag and
identity card at the entrance and she'll only get them back after two officers, by means of the
sales slip, have checked if all the items in the plastic bag were paid for.
Finally, there is the black market, which deals in all kinds of goods, including gasoline, meat,
and clothes. Because these are stolen goods, prices (that are in dollars, though) are much lower
than in Europe and therefore they are also lower than in the diplotiendas. Cubans that have dollars
buy their goods on all four markets.
The State of Public Health
Those who have dollars can feed themselves quite reasonably with what is offered on the mercado
agropecuario (farmer markets) and the black market. But those with nothing more than a meager
peso income will have to make do with what the bodegas have to offer them. According to estimates
this is 44 % of the population. This group has a very hard time in Cuba. In the poor neighborhoods
of Havana and elsewhere undernourishment prevails among these groups.
According to foreign relief organizations hospital conditions are bad to very bad, or as one
Cuban said "infernal". There is a shortage of drugs, clean water, medical materials such
as needles and gloves, and bedclothes. The hygienic situation leaves much to be desired due to lack
of soap and detergents. Hospital personnel are generally well trained but the enormous hindrances to
doing a good job have a dampening effect on morale.
The availability of medicines in Cuba has worsened even more, at least for Cubans.
Pharmacies have only a very limited supply of the most basic types of medicine. Well-stocked are
those pharmacies that sell medication for dollars, but not all of them are accessible to Cubans.
At the dollar pharmacy on Calle 10 in Miramar not even a Cuban with dollars can buy medicine. At
the entrance Cubans stand around holding their money in wait of foreigners willing to buy for them
the pills they need. Exactly as was the case five years ago with shoes and clothing. Prices are
exorbitant. One Cuban made mention of a box of pills costing 20 dollars. This box came from the US
and had the original price tag of $1.50 still showing.
The Abortion Issue
In Cuba an estimated 40 % of all pregnancies end in abortion. Moreover, publications in the
United States make reference to forced abortions. Foreign diplomats and independent journalists do
not rule out the possibility of this happening, but neither do they suspect it happens on a large
scale or would be official policy. Rather, the case would be that women who economically cannot
afford to have another child are pressured to have an abortion by individual doctors, their
relatives, or neighbors.
Within Cuba itself the 'Fundación Lawton de Derechos Humanos' is active on the themes of
euthanasia and abortion. In their publications they report a growing use of the drug Rivanol, which
is used to induce abortion after the third month of pregnancy. The authorities are believed to
have stimulated the performance of abortions as a means of slowing down population growth on many
occasions. In one hospital, according to the Fundación, 1,780 abortions were performed in
1997. It often happens that a baby is brought into the world alive through the use of Rivanol and
then dies because it is denied necessary medical attention. The official reason given is often that
these babies are deformed, but according to the Fundación Lawton in 80% of cases the babies
concerned are healthy.
Only the authorities themselves can gather the correct data. But instead of investigating the
matter, they have reacted as usual by arresting the accusers. At the end of 1998 doctors Oscar Elias
Biscet Gonzalez and Rolando Muñez Yyobre, both with the Fundación Lawton, were
arrested. Doctor Biscet and his wife had been fired before that from the medical center they worked
at. The entire family was turned out from their house and sentenced to a fine. On top of that came
Dr Biscets's being sentenced to many years of imprisonment. The Catholic Church, although officially
opposed to abortion, has never come to the defense of Dr Biscet or the Lawton Foundation.