on Repression in Cuba
supports Cuban peoples' struggle for freedoms
16 December 2003.
Almost 44 years after Cuban dictator Fidel
Castro assumed power, the Cuban people still
dream of free elections, freedom of expression,
and economic and political rights, according
to a December 15 State Department fact sheet.
The U.S. salutes the Cuban people's struggle
for simple freedoms and human rights and
pledges support for democratic transition
in Cuba, the fact sheet said.
Following is the text of the fact sheet
"The Dream Deferred: Fear and Freedom
in Fidel's Cuba:"
(begin fact sheet)
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor and the Bureau of Public
December 15, 2003
The Dream Deferred: Fear and Freedom in
"We look forward to a world founded
on four essential human freedoms. The first
is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere
in the world. The second is freedom of every
person to worship God in his own way--everywhere
in the world. The third is freedom from
want--everywhere in the world. The fourth
is freedom from fear--anywhere in the world."
-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, January
During the 1940s, democracy--and the economy--flourished
in Cuba. In 1940, Cuba had adopted a constitution
considered one of the most democratic and
progressive in the region. Presidential
elections almost universally regarded as
free and fair took place in 1940, 1944 and
1948. By the 1950s, Cuban health care was
the envy of the region, with infant mortality
rates on a par with the United States and
Canada, and superior to such countries as
France and Belgium. Cuba's rate of 128 physicians
and dentists per 100,000 people in 1957
placed the nation at the same health care
level as the Netherlands and ahead of the
United Kingdom and Finland. The 1950 UN
Statistical Yearbook rated Cuba third among
Latin American countries in per capita daily
Literacy rates were among the highest in
Latin America, surpassed only by Chile and
Argentina. Cubans had a free public education
system from kindergarten to university.
Cubans had an 8-hour workday, peasant farmers
received land rights under an advanced land
reform program, and university access was
widely available. Women formed a significant
percentage of the Cuban judiciary, the diplomatic
service, and municipal officers. The 1940
Constitution had extended social security,
provided equal pay for equal work, protected
individual and social rights, and outlawed
the "latifundia" plantation system
of land ownership. According to UN statistics,
in 1958 Cuba ranked fifth in the region
in per capita GDP, outpaced only by regional
powerhouses such as Venezuela, Argentina,
Uruguay, and Chile.
This promising advance toward the Cuban
dream of freedom and material well-being
was suddenly halted in 1952 when former
President Fulgencio Batista found himself
running third in the polls for the presidential
elections scheduled for that year and decided
to take the matter out of the hands of the
voters. The Batista coup met with widespread
opposition within Cuba, including that of
political parties, unions, businessmen and
students. Those opposed to Batista's dictatorship-which
grew more brutal and repressive as the 1950s
progressed-called for a return to the 1940
Constitution, to assurances of civil liberties
and free elections. Indeed, this also was
the platform of the July 26 Movement, headed
by Fidel Castro and a small band of guerrillas
who became a symbol of the widespread rejection
of Batista's regime.
When Batista suddenly fled Cuba on New
Year's Day 1959, a triumphant Cuban population
eagerly awaited the restoration of civil
liberties and free elections. The Cuban
economy had weathered the political repression
surprisingly well, remaining the envy of
Latin America. Fidel Castro, capturing the
sentiment of the moment, promised the eager
population an early return to democratic
elections and the restoration of civil liberties,
forswearing any personal ambition to hold
What the Cuban people instead got in Fidel
Castro was a regime that conducted the summary
trials and executions of thousands; suppressed
political opposition; closed independent
media outlets; ended independent economic
activity; and made itself an economic dependency
and military agent of the Soviet Union.
Today, Cuba, shorn of Soviet subsidies,
is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
The country ranks last among the countries
examined in the 1950 UN report-its citizens
have less access to critical cereals, tubers,
and meats than they had in the 1940s. And
almost 44 years after Fidel Castro assumed
power, the Cuban people still dream of free
elections, freedom of expression, and the
economic and political rights they once
fought so hard to attain.
Castro's War on Freedom
Freedom of Expression and of Speech
"Ideas have a price, which you will
now have to pay."
--Cuban Government interrogators, to one
of the 78 men and women arrested in a 2003
crackdown on human rights activists and
Ideological conformity in Cuba is imposed
at the cost of an elaborate and pervasive
system of undercover agents, informers,
and neighborhood "committees"
who detect and suppress dissent. Police
and state security officials regularly harass,
threaten, and otherwise abuse human rights
advocates in public and private as a means
of intimidation and control. Freedom of
expression and the press are protected only
insofar as they conform to the aims of socialist
society. Independent voices can and have
been arrested on charges as vague as "dangerousness,"
defined in the Cuban Penal Code as a "special
proclivity of a person to commit crimes,
demonstrated by his conduct in manifest
contradiction of socialist norms."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
characterized this as a subjective criterion
used to justify violations of individual
freedoms and due process for individuals
whose sole crime was to hold a view different
from the official view.
The government tightly controls distribution
of information within Cuba, including access
to the Internet, and reinforcement of revolutionary
ideology and discipline is emphasized over
any freedom of expression. All print and
electronic media are considered state property
under the control of the Communist Party,
and independent journalists and librarians
are subjected to arbitrary and periodic
detentions, harassment, and seizure of equipment
and books. Cuban citizens have no access
to foreign magazines or newspapers, since
many such mainstream publications are outlawed
as enemy propaganda, as is the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Under the 1999
Law to Protect National Independence and
the Economy, anyone possessing or disseminating
"subversive" literature faces
possible prison terms as long as 20 years.
...The government has detained, summarily
judged, and sentenced more than 70 human
rights activists and independent journalists.
These sentences range from 6 to 28 years
in prison. The vast majority of those sentenced
are promoters and organizers of the Varela
Project, a citizens' initiative supported
by the constitution, which collected more
than 11,000 signatures from Cuban citizens.
A year ago, we presented these signatures
to the National Assembly of Popular Power,
asking for a referendum. In this way Cubans
could decide to make changes to the laws
to guarantee fundamental human rights.
The majority of the peaceful opposition
representing multiple organizations and
ideologies-Liberal, Socialist, and Christian
Democrat-support this initiative.... The
day before the war in Iraq started, the
Cuban regime initiated a terrible campaign
of repression creating total uncertainty
on the island. Peaceful activists were accused
of conspiring against the independence and
territorial integrity of the nation. However,
none were found to possess arms, subversive
plans, or secret information. All their
actions were public and consisted of writing
their ideas, defending human rights, and
promoting the Varela Project.These are the
prisoners of the Cuban Spring. Their lives
and ours are in danger....
They are trying to impose a false dilemma:
continue the current political system without
rights or face intervention from the United
States.... We do not want or accept either
of these alternatives. We do not want intervention
and we reject all violence. We want peaceful
change toward democracy now.
We Cubans also have rights to our rights.
I appeal to you in the name of spiritual
unity of free men, that has as its north
star the right to life, liberty, justice
and self-determination of the people. I
appeal in the name of those who support
the peaceful struggle....
--Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas, Winner of
the 2002 Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom
of Thought. Excerpt from "A Calling
from Cuba," Havana, May 1, 2003
"We know the risks we are taking.
The risk is even in our homes. The government
knows what we do and it watches. They know
our lives better than we do." --Omar
Rodriguez Saludes, Photographer. Sentenced
to 27 years in prison for photographing
"places that, because of the state
they were in, gave a distorted image of
Cuban reality, and he sent them to be published
in the foreign, mainly counterrevolutionary,
press." Sentence 8/2003, Tribunal Provincial
Popular, Havana, April 5, 2003.
A Partial List of Charges Brought Against
Buying toys for disadvantaged children
with money from a Miami group; accepting
the Hellman/Hammett Award from the non-governmental
organization Human Rights Watch. Victor
Arroyo, 52, journalist, 26 years in prison.
Maintaining ties to the international non-governmental
organization Doctors Without Borders; visiting
prisoners and their families. Marcelo Cano
Rodriguez, 38, medical doctor, 18 years
Forming the "illegal" and independent
Teachers College of Cuba and criticizing
the Cuban education system. Juan Roberto
de Miranda Hernandez, 57, 20 years in prison.
Speaking on a radio program about the Cuban
economy. Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 62, journalist,
20 years in prison.
Being paid for articles on Cuba and the
Cuban system. Ricardo Severino Gonzalez
Alfonso, 53, journalist and correspondent
for Reporters Without Borders, 20 years
Associating with Amnesty International
and other international human rights organizations.
Marcelo Manuel Lopez Banobre, 39, tugboat
captain, 15 years in prison.
Associating with the International University
of Florida; having a typewriter, fax, and
books in his home. Hector Fernando Maseda
Gutierrez, 60, engineer and physicist, 20
years in prison.
Having "subversive" labor-related
books and magazines in his home. Nelson
Molinet Espino, 38, independent trade unionist,
25 years in prison.
Having "aggressive and corrosive"
leaflets and literature in his home, putting
pro-democracy posters on the street, not
paying dues to the official union, having
an issue of the Miami newspaper El Nuevo
Herald at his workplace. Felix Navarro Rodriguez,
49, journalist and educator, 25 years in
"...he directs an opposition group
of so-called 'human rights,' carrying out
activities and meetings, using our national
flag and showing posters asking for freedom
for political prisoners and prisoners of
conscience, in a frank challenge to the
judicial, political, and social system."
--Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, 51, farmer and activist,
sentenced to 21 years in prison. Sentence
1/2003, Tribunal Provincial Popular, Pinar
del Rio, April 5, 2003
"Informing others objectively and
professionally and writing my opinions about
the society in which I live cannot be a
very serious crime.... No one, no law will
make me believe that I have become a gangster
or a delinquent just because I report the
arrest of a dissident, or list the prices
of staple foods in Cuba...."
--Raul Rivero Castaneda, Miami Herald, February
25, 1999. Sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Mandatory exit permits restrict the travel
of citizens; denial of such permits is used
to punish human rights and political activists,
and even ordinary citizens seeking lawful
emigration. The government stifles possible
emigration or asylum claims from medical
mission "volunteers" sent abroad
by holding their families hostage in Cuba.
"Amnesty International is particularly
concerned at what appears to be a deliberate
policy...on the part of the authorities
to force dissidents into exile abroad, without
the right of return, by threatening them
with imprisonment if they do not do so....
Amnesty International is calling on the
Cuban authorities to...guarantee to all
Cuban citizens their rights to freedom of
expression, association, and assembly; to
cease to imprison, confine, or force into
exile those who attempt to peacefully exercise
such rights...." --Excerpts, "Dissidents
Imprisoned or Forced into Exile," Amnesty
International, July 1, 1996
Journalist Jose Eduardo Barella: "Why
are you still free?"
Paya: "I could be arrested at any time.
The correct question should be, why were
dozens of people arrested and convicted,
without bombs or subversive plans having
been found on them? Their crime was to have
demanded their rights and expressed their
Barella: "Why have you not gone into
Paya: "Here in Cuba we do not ask
why you left, but why you wanted to stay.
The choice to stay is in fact a danger and
a suffering for my family. But this is where
God placed me, and my commitment is to stay
in my country and with my people."
--Excerpts, telephone interview with Oswaldo
Paya, published May 21, 2003, Sao Paulo
Freedom of Every Person To Worship God
in His Own Way
Despite a constitutional separation of church
and state and the right of citizens in Cuba
to profess and practice any religious belief,
the Cuban regime actively controls and monitors
the country's religious institutions. Churches
and other religious groups must formally
register and obtain official recognition.
In practice "new," denominations
or faiths are refused registration and subjected
to harassment, official interference, and
repression. Construction of houses of worship
is generally prohibited, and "illegal"
worship in private homes is punished by
The Ministry of Interior engages in active
efforts to control and monitor the country's
religious institutions through surveillance,
infiltration and harassment of religious
professionals and practitioners. Government
officials continued to prohibit church-affiliated
education and the sale of computers, fax
machines, and photocopiers to unregistered
churches. Officials limit media access for
religious leaders and deny prisoners access
to reading materials including Bibles.
"Many of our brothers turn to the
church in Cuba asking for a word of encouragement,
because there is a vague but generalized
fear regarding the future among the Cuban
people. The time has come to pass from an
avenging state that demands sacrifices and
settles scores to a merciful one that is
willing to first extend a compassionate
hand instead of imposing controls and punishing
infractions." --Cardinal Jaime Ortega
Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, Pastoral
Letter of February 25, 2003
"October 24, 2002 - Provincial authorities
in Sancti Spiritus confiscated the home
of a Cuban house church pastor, claiming
it had been purchased illegally. Despite
a large, clamorous crowd of church members
and neighbors protesting the confiscation,
police forced the pastor, his wife and two
children out of the home and all of their
possessions were hauled away.
"March 5, 2002 - Baptist Christian
Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva was arrested
in Ciego de Avila for protesting the treatment
of a journalist who was hospitalized after
being attacked by police. A blind human
rights leader, Gonzalez also directed an
independent Christian library, which was
raided by police March 10." --International
Christian Concern (ICC).
Freedom From Want
"There is an ethical problem regarding
the distribution of wealth [in Cuba]....
Although school and health care are free,
wages in general do not cover the cost of
living.... Professionals and workers who
do not receive economic assistance from
relatives abroad are forced to engage in
some other type of legal or illegal activity
besides their jobs. What effort, but also
what a great worry, how many fears and inquietude
of conscience....The faithful ask: Is it
a sin to act thus when our expenses surpass
the possibilities of our family economy?"
--Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, February
25, 2003 Pastoral Letter on the 150th Anniversary
of the Death of Father Felix Varela
The absence of economic freedom has been
as destructive to prosperity as the absence
of political freedom to human dignity. Amid
the luxury of segregated tourist resorts
and markets where only those with dollars
can shop, Cuban families can find it difficult
to even feed themselves. On an average salary
equivalent to less than $10 a month and
with little on sale for pesos, the average
Cuban must scramble to survive, stealing
from his or her workplace or even resorting
to prostitution. The underemployment of
a creative and educated population, coupled
with almost total control of the "legal"
economy by the centralized state bureaucracy,
fuels a massive "illegal" economy.
Buying and selling meat and produce, fish,
milk, herbs, and baked goods outside official
markets is generally illegal, as are unofficial
repairs and professional services.
Even those Cubans fortunate enough to work
in the tourist industry or for a foreign
company are allowed to keep only 5 to 10
percent of their earnings. The rest is appropriated
by the government, in clear contravention
of international standards. Those who displease
the authorities - perhaps through voicing
dissent, or through attempts at immigration,
or by publishing accurate economic statistics
- face the loss of their jobs and even access
to food and basic services. Those who dare
to organize independent unions outside the
government's control suffer retaliation.
The workers' paradise is a paradise lost.
Cubans expected more than just the overthrow
of a bloodthirsty and corrupt tyrant. They
expected political democracy, freedom of
expression, freedom to gather, a mixed economy,
a parallel strengthening of private enterprise
and the state, better education and health
care. They got some of these things. But
they also got a repressive government that
ignored basic human rights.... It shouldn't
have been this way. Castro seemed...poised
to deliver the free land his people desired.
He had the support of the world's artistic
and intellectual communities.
... the persecution of dissidents might
have been tolerated as an outgrowth of the
revolutionary rhetoric if only Castro had
delivered on the economy. But his economic
revolution was disastrous. Cuba's enormous
strengths-its vast and intelligent human
capital, its unexploited natural resources
and fertile lands-were sacrificed to stupid
and exotic dogmas.... In the name of a crazed
egalitarianism, the nation's cities were
denied products from the countryside. Without
incentives, farmers stopped producing....
On the wings of dogma, small businesses
...Cuba's economic woes extend beyond U.S.
sanctions: the country had come to rely
heavily on multimillion dollar subsidies
from the Soviet Union... it has had to turn
back toward the economic engines of the
Batista years: tourism and prostitution.
--Carlos Fuentes, Author, "Cuba's Paradise
Lost," Los Angeles Times, April 20,
Freedom From Fear
The men and women of Cuba who dare to seek
a better future and peaceful democratic
change--in a nation they still love and
will not abandon--pay a high cost for their
courage. Human rights and political activists
are harassed by police or face staged "acts
of repudiation" by neighborhood brigades.
Those who are imprisoned face further indignities.
As reported by Human Rights Watch in "Cuba's
Repressive Machinery," many Cuban political
prisoners spend months in isolation cells.
Cuban police or prison guards often heighten
the punitive nature of solitary confinement
by blocking light or ventilation from a
cell, removing beds or mattresses, seizing
the clothing and belongings of prisoners,
or further restricting already meager rations
of food and water.
Due to the lack of sanitation and medical
services in prison, many inmates have either
developed serious health problems or experienced
worsening of preexisting ailments. While
serving his sentence, economist Oscar Espinosa
Chepe lay on the verge of death after denial
of medical treatment for liver cirrhosis
and hypertension. Only after intense international
pressure did Cuban authorities transfer
him to a prison hospital.
Several inmates, including Victor Rolando
Arroyo and Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez,
continue to protest human rights injustices
from within prison walls, despite retaliatory
transfers to tiny punishment cells.
"State Security is isolating me. I
am prohibited from sending letters or communicating
with some members of my family.... I am
aware that giving publicity to this document
will create serious problems for my wife,
my family and myself. But no one, no man
can change my opinion about liberty, human
rights and other beautiful things God gave
us when He created us.... I was a healthy
man. Today I am a sick person, growing worse
with time.... The world must know of the
numerous cells with cement beds resembling
tombs where men are placed for two or three
months until they become mentally insane.
I have heard two or three of them, crying
at night, asking for help and psychotropic
medication. The only answer given by prison
authorities - 'Why did you look for trouble?'
"--Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, Letter
from Prison, Holguin, Cuba, May 27, 2003.
On April 11, 2003, after a 3-year hiatus
in executions, the government - citing "serious
provocations" and an alleged migration
crisis - summarily tried, convicted, and
shot three young Cubans involved in an unsuccessful
and bloodless hijacking. The three, all
Afro-Cuban, were arrested, tried, and shot
in the course of a week.
"The men were given a summary trial,
and their appeals ... were dealt with in
a cursory and wholly inadequate manner.
They were shot and killed less than a week
after their trial began." --Amnesty
International, "Cuba-Executions Mark
An Unjustifiable Erosion in Human Rights,"
April 14, 2003
"The recent executions and summary
condemnations of Cuban dissidents have shocked
even some of the most enthusiastic supporters
of Fidel Castro's regime." --Professor
Demetrio Magnoli, University of Sao Paulo,
April 30, 2003
"The blindness, confusion, arrogance
and-senility?-surfaced in the Cuban leader,
and Fidel Castro committed the most serious
mistake of his life: he ordered the execution
of three citizens over the mere fact of
trying to flee the island to Miami.... At
the end of the road, Fidel Castro is destroying
his legacy, trampling his own history, in
what seems to be the decline of Cuba's patriarch."
--Hoy of Quito, Op-Ed "The Decline
of Cuba's Patriarch," April 17, 2003
The World Speaks Out
"The peoples of the United Nations
have...reaffirmed their faith in fundamental
human rights, in the dignity and worth of
the human person...." --Preamble, Universal
Declaration of Human Rights
"Democracy is a condition for the
full and effective enjoyment of human rights
and fundamental freedoms." --Article
7, Inter-American Democratic Charter
Since 1945, the United Nations and regional
organizations have worked to create a world
where fundamental freedoms and human dignity
were respected. The Organization of American
States (OAS) upheld those principles in
the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter,
setting out the hemisphere's shared values
and the mechanisms to strengthen and defend
values such as respect for human rights
and fundamental freedoms, rule of law, and
the democratic order. For over 40 years,
however, Cuba has moved against that current,
manipulating international fora to justify
its open defiance of international law and
rejection of even the mildest and most constructive
criticism. But the world is silent no longer.
"The EU, deeply concerned about the
continuing flagrant violation of human rights
and of fundamental freedoms of members of
the Cuban opposition and of independent
journalists, being deprived of their freedom
for having expressed freely their opinion,
calls once again on the Cuban authorities
to release immediately all political prisoners."
--Statement from the Greek Presidency of
the EU, June 6, 2003
"France deplores the Cuban Supreme
Court's confirmation of the sentences of
dozens of dissidents, which is the culmination
of a procedure in which the rights of the
defense failed to be respected from the
very onset." --French Foreign Ministry
Spokesman Herve Ladsous, June 24, 2003
"[Cuba's actions] concern us deeply
from the point of view of our human rights
position, and they will clearly have an
effect on any decisions that our country
makes." --Mexican Foreign Minister
Derbez, Reforma, April 3, 2003
"...We cannot allow our deep connection
with everything that comes from Cuba to
cloud our vision and prevent us from seeing
the true situation." --Spanish Foreign
Minister Ana Palacios, EFE, Madrid, July
1, 2003, "Spanish Minister Condemns
'Very Serious' Rights Violations in Cuba"
"We must say that we hoped for change,
we hoped that El Maximo would have had the
courage to open Cuba to democracy...and
we were wrong. The closed fist of Fidel,
full of the flies of rhetorical populism
whose buzzing filled the gulags with cadavers,
continues to strike defenseless people."
--Fides News Service, the Vatican, April
"Cuba won no heroic battle by shooting
these men, but lost my trust, destroyed
my hopes, cheated me of illusions...from
now on, Cuba can follow its own course,
and leave me out." --Jose Saramago,
1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, Excerpt
from "Ate Aqui Chegue," May 1,
"During the past month, Castro's regime
has orchestrated the biggest wave of repression
Cuba has seen in the past 10 years.... All
of this repression is taking place while
the country is in the grasp of one of the
most severe economic crises...thousands
of people are living in misery. It is only
natural that they ask for changes and improvements.
But once more, Castro uses force to repress
them." --Fernando Madrinha, Associate
Editor, Le Devoir, Ottawa, April 18, 2003
"For over 40 years, the situation
in Cuba has been one of a systematic violation
of basic human rights... Castro's regime
deserves to be clearly condemned, as has
been done repeatedly in the past with less
extreme cases. The [UN High Commission on
Human Rights] resolution passed... would
make sense if the accused government had
any intention of cooperation with the UN...
But Cuba did not allow an observer last
year and will not allow one this year either,
which renders the resolution ineffective."
--Miguel Guerrero, Journalist and Former
Press Minister. El Mercurio, Santiago de
Chile Editorial "Not Enough in Geneva",
April 24, 2003
"The Czech Republic should exploit
all possibilities to express its disapproval
of human rights violations in Cuba, and
together with the U.S. Congress and European
Union countries, support the use of appropriate
measures to influence the Cuban Government."
--Czech President Vaclav Klaus, April 22,
Denied or Deferred?
"What happens to a dream deferred?"
--Poet Langston Hughes
The dream of a free and prosperous Cuba--the
island paradise of Cuban national hero Jose
Marti's hopes--is far from dead. The voices
of freedom cannot be drowned out by the
threats of a frightened regime. The machinery
of repression has tried to quiet those voices,
but in vain. Years of deception cannot hide
the truth, either from the people or the
The United States salutes the people of
Cuba in their continuing struggle for simple
freedoms and human rights. This nation pledges
support for a peaceful transition to the
democratic dream and a new age in which
every Cuban has true freedom and can at
last enjoy the dream-deferred but not denied.
(end fact sheet)
(Distributed by the Bureau
of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)