Febrero 1999

Cuba: a Year After the Pope. Return of the Iron Curtain?



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.

General Impressions

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 organizations.

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 borders.

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 liberation".

European Union

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 policy.

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.

Political Repression

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 negative sense.

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 families.

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 rather hypocritical.

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 obtain.

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.



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