Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002: Cuba (Cont.)

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

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d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be problems, and they remained the Government's most effective tactics for harassing opponents. 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 7 days of arrest. However, the Constitution states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied to anyone who actively opposes the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism. The authorities routinely invoked this sweeping authority to deny due process to those detained on purported state security grounds.

The authorities routinely engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates, subjecting them to interrogations, threats, and degrading treatment and unsanitary conditions for hours or days at a time. Police frequently lacked warrants when carrying out arrests or issued warrants themselves at the time of arrest. Authorities sometime employed false charges of common crimes to arrest political opponents. Detainees often were not informed of the charges against them. The CCHRNC reported a significant increase in the number of detentions in February and March. In May Amnesty International recognized the increase of arrests and harassment of dissidents, including organizers for the opposition Varela Project (see Section 3), and expressed concern about the increased use of violence by security forces. The authorities continued to detain human rights activists and independent journalists for short periods, often to prevent them from attending or participating in events related to human rights issues (see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.). The authorities also placed such activists under house arrest for short periods for similar reasons.

On January 28, police arrested Martha Beatriz Roque, director of the Cuban Institute of Independent Economists, for refusing to allow government employees to fumigate her residence against mosquitoes. Roque refused because she had suffered allergic reactions as a result of previous fumigations. State security officials took Roque to a Ministry of Health office, where she was strip searched, held for 4 hours, and released. Government officials broke into Roque's house and fumigated it while she was in detention.

On February 24, state security officials arrested independent journalist Carlos Alberto Dominguez for participating in an event commemorating the four pilots killed in February 1996 by military aircraft. He was released the same day but was arrested again on February 28 and remained jailed on charges of "contempt for authority and public disorder" (see Section 2.a.). At year's end, his relatives reported that Dominguez was in poor health and receiving inadequate treatment for hypertension and severe migraine headaches.

In late February, police arrested at least 300 persons near the Mexican Embassy after 21 asylum seekers used a bus to break through the gates of the embassy. Many of those arrested were reportedly bystanders not involved in the embassy intrusion. RRBs summoned by the Government to the Mexican Embassy beat some bystanders. Most bystanders were interrogated and released, but on March 6, Fidel Castro indicated that 130 of them would be tried on charges related to the embassy break-in. According to relatives, approximately 60 remained jailed at year's end; none had been tried.

On March 13, police arrested seven human rights activists in Nueva Gerona, Isle of Youth, as they conducted a public demonstration calling for democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners (see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

On March 18, state security officials arrested four leaders of the Brotherhood of Blind Cubans to prevent a demonstration against police mistreatment of handicapped street vendors and calling for the release of blind dissident Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva (see Sections 1.c., 2.b., and 5). Police released the four after citing them with "official warnings."

On April 17, police arrested Barbaro Vela Coego and Armando Dominguez Gonzalez, president and vice president, respectively, of the January 6 Civic Movement, to prevent their attendance at a fast in honor of political prisoners. They were held for 2 hours and released (see Section 2.b.).

On April 22, police arrested Milka Pena Martinez of the Cuban Pro Human Rights Party for protesting a police search of her home (see Section 1.f.). Police also arrested Luis Ferrer Garcia of the Christian Liberation Movement, who was present at the time, and Ramon Collazo Almaguer, who led a group of dissidents to Pena Martinez' home to protest her arrest. Pena Martinez was fined and all three were released.

On May 19, police arrested Nereida Cala Escalona and Evelio Manteira Barban as they departed a meeting in Santiago de Cuba organized by the Christian Liberation Movement. They were interrogated, threatened with imprisonment, and released on May 20.

On June 1, police arrested nine activists as they departed a human rights course at the illegal NGO Culture and Democracy Institute in Santiago de Cuba. They were interrogated and released on June 2.

On June 7, police arrested three members of the 30th of November Party in Santiago de Cuba. They were interrogated and released on June 10.

On June 14, state security officials beat and arrested independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira while he was covering a march by human rights activists in the Isle of Youth (see Section 2.a.). He was briefly detained, fined $48 (1,200 pesos), and then released.

On July 24, police arrested human rights activist Adolfo Lazaro Bosq at a vigil for political prisoners on charges of "resistance and contempt for the revolutionary process." On August 2, a municipal court sentenced him to 1 year and 9 months' imprisonment (see Section 1.e.).

In July state security officials arrested independent journalist Yoel Blanco Garcia and took him to a local firehouse where he was interrogated. The state security officials warned Blanco Garcia not to visit the home of Martha Beatriz Roque, director of the Cuban Institute of Independent Economists.

On July 29, state security officials arrested Rogelio Menendez Diaz, president of the Cuban Municipalities for Human Rights. He was held for 35 days in Villa Marista prison, where guards transferred him between chilled and heated cells. During interrogations, Menendez Diaz was accused of organizing clandestine cells on behalf of exile groups along with activists Angel Pablo Polanco and Marcel Valenzuela Salt, who had also been detained. Menendez Diaz was charged with "contempt against the Commander in Chief" and warned to cease opposition activities. He was released on September 2 but rearrested on December 10, apparently to prevent his participation in events commemorating International Human Rights Day. At year's end, he had not been tried and remained jailed.

On July 30, state security officials arrested independent journalist Angel Pablo Polanco and held him for 4 days in an unregistered house of detention. Polanco was 60 years old and moved with the aid of a walker. During a search of his home, state security agents removed a fax machine and a telephone which Polanco had purchased from a state company, $1,200 in cash, a tape recorder, books on Cuban history, and files related to his work as a journalist. The officials did not provide a receipt for the money or the items (see Section 2.a.). Polanco was charged with inciting others to commit "contempt of authority" and "insulting the symbols of the State," apparently in connection with plans by opposition groups to mark the August 5 anniversary of 1994 riots in Havana. He was accused of organizing clandestine cells along with activists Manuel Menendez Diaz and Marcel Valenzuela Salt, who had been arrested on July 29. Polanco was granted conditional release on August 3. At year's end, Polanco had not been tried.

On September 11, police arrested Luis Milan of the Christian Liberation Movement for writing a letter to municipal officials in Santiago de Cuba calling for improved prison conditions.

On December 6, police arrested Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a political prisoner who had been released on October 31 after serving 3 years for disrespect, creating a public disturbance, and encouraging others to violate the law. The authorities arrested Biscet and 16 others to prevent them from holding a seminar on nonviolent civil disobedience. The authorities later released 12 of the detainees, but charged Biscet, his associate Raul Arencibia Fajardo, and 2 others with public disorder, which carries a sentence of up to 1 year.

The Government often held persons without charges for months and then released them, which avoided the spectacle of a trial. Of the 36 political prisoners arrested during the year, 6 were released without charges, including several who had been informally advised of charges but were never processed.

State security police used detentions and warnings to prevent organizations around the island from performing any actions in remembrance of the four pilots killed in February 1996 by military aircraft. As in previous years, on July 13, police prevented activists from commemorating the 1994 sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat (see Sections 1.d and 2.b.).

The authorities sometimes detained journalists in order to question them about contacts with foreigners or to prevent them from covering sensitive issues or criticizing the Government (see Section 2.a.).

Time in detention before trial counted toward time served if convicted. Bail was available and usually was low and more equivalent to a fine.

The Penal Code 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." If the police decide that a person exhibits signs of dangerousness, they may bring the offender before a court or subject him to therapy or political reeducation. Government authorities regularly threatened prosecution under this provision. Both the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and the IACHR criticized this tactic for its subjectivity, the summary nature of the judicial proceedings employed, the lack of legal safeguards, and the political considerations behind its application. According to the IACHR, the so-called special inclination to commit crimes referred to in the Penal Code amounted to a subjective criterion used by the Government to justify violations of individual freedoms and due process for persons whose sole crime was to hold a view different from the official view.

The Government also used exile as a tool for controlling and eliminating internal opposition. In May Amnesty International noted that the Government detained human rights activists repeatedly for short periods and threatened them with imprisonment unless they gave up their activities or left the country. The Government used these incremental, aggressive tactics to compel independent librarian Ramon Humberto Colas and Maritza Lugo Fernandez, vice president of the Democratic November 30 Party, to leave the country in December 2001 and January, respectively.

The Government pressured imprisoned human rights activists and political prisoners to apply for emigration and regularly conditioned their release on acceptance of exile. Human Rights Watch observed that the Government routinely invoked forced exile as a condition for prisoner releases and also pressured activists to leave the country to escape future prosecution. Amnesty International expressed particular concern about the Government's practice of threatening to charge, try, and imprison human rights advocates and independent journalists prior to arrest or sentencing if they did not leave the country. According to Amnesty International, this practice "effectively prevents those concerned from being able to act in public life in their own country."

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for independent courts; however, it explicitly subordinates the courts to the ANPP and the Council of State, which is headed by President Castro. The ANPP and its lower level counterparts choose all judges. The subordination of the courts to the Communist Party, which the Constitution designates as the superior directive force of society and the State, further compromises the judiciary's independence. The courts undermined the right to a fair trial by restricting the right to a defense and often failed to observe the few due process rights available to defendants.

Civilian courts existed at the municipal, provincial, and supreme court levels. Panels composed of a mix of professionally certified and lay judges presided over them. There was a right to appeal, access to counsel, and charges were known to the defendant. Defendants enjoyed a presumption of innocence, but the authorities often ignored this right in practice.

Military tribunals assumed jurisdiction for certain counterrevolutionary cases and were governed by a special law. The military tribunals processed civilians if a member of the military was involved with civilians in a crime. There was a right to appeal, access to counsel, and the charges were known to the defendant.

The law and trial practices did not meet international standards for fair public trials. Almost all cases were tried in less than 1 day; there were no jury trials. While most trials were public, trials were closed when there were alleged violations of state security. Prosecutors may introduce testimony from a CDR member about 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. Appeals in capital cases are automatic. The Council of State ultimately must affirm capital punishment.

Criteria for presenting evidence, especially in cases involving human rights advocates, were arbitrary and discriminatory. Often the sole evidence provided, particularly in political cases, was the defendant's confession, usually obtained under duress and without the legal advice or knowledge of a defense lawyer (see Section 1.c.). The authorities regularly denied defendants access to their lawyers until the day of the trial. Several dissidents who served prison terms reported that they were tried and sentenced without counsel and were not allowed to speak on their own behalf.

The law provides the accused with the right to an attorney, but the control that the Government exerted over the livelihood of members of the state-controlled lawyers' collectives compromised their ability to represent clients, especially when they defended persons accused of state security crimes. Attorneys reported reluctance to defend those charged in political cases due to fear of jeopardizing their own careers.

On January 30, the Havana Provincial Court sentenced activist Carlos Oquendo Rodriguez to 2 years' imprisonment for "contempt for authority" and "public disorder." The provincial court confirmed the sentence levied against Oquendo Rodriguez by a municipal court in 2001 and appealed by him to the provincial court. Prior to sentencing, police officials offered to suspend Oquendo Rodriguez' sentence if he recanted his political beliefs, but Oquendo Rodriguez refused.

On August 2, a municipal court sentenced human rights activist Adolfo Lazaro Bosq to 1 year and 9 months' imprisonment for "resistance and contempt against the revolutionary process." Bosq was arrested on July 24 at a candlelight vigil for political prisoners (see Section 1.d.).

Vladimiro Roca Antunez of the Internal Dissident Working Group was released on May 5, after serving most of his 5-year sentence for a 1997 conviction for acts against the security of the State in relation to the crime of sedition after the group peacefully expressed their disagreement with the Government. Three other members received conditional releases in 2000.

Human rights monitoring groups inside the country estimated the number of political prisoners to be between 230 and 300 persons. At year's end, the CCHRNC reported that 36 political prisoners had been arrested and that there were 248 political prisoners in the country; at the end of 2001, the CCHRNC had reported 240 political prisoners. The CCHRNC noted that since the Government refused to publish the number of prisoners in the country, its figures were based on information obtained from family members of prisoners. A spokesperson for the CCHRNC noted an end to a recent downward trend in the numbers of political prisoners, with an increase in detentions in February and March (see Section 1.d.). The authorities imprisoned persons on charges such as disseminating enemy propaganda, illicit association, contempt for the authorities (usually for criticizing President Castro), clandestine printing, or the broad charge of rebellion, which often was brought against advocates of peaceful democratic change. The Government did not permit access to political prisoners by human rights organizations. It continued to deny access to prisoners by the ICRC.


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