Dissidents in Cuba
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June 2009
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Ambassador James Cason

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- Bucharest, Romania. May 28, 2009.- Cuba
continues to be one of the worst violators of human rights in the world,
and certainly the worst in Latin America. It systematically violates
almost all of the articles of the Universal declaration of Human Rights,
to which it is a signatory. Rather than improving in recent years,
human rights in Cuba have deteriorated.

The gerontocracy that rules the island no longer can claim the loyalty
of its people, and the young in particular want democratic change. A
recent International Republican Institute poll in Cuba of 587 Cubans
revealed that were elections held today with Raul Castro and someone
from the opposition, the dissident would garner 61% of the vote. The
Cuban nomenclature realizes it is unpopular and unable to inspire hope
in the future.

For that reason, it is fearful of change and tries to convince the
population that change will bring more, not less, misery. The crackdown
on opposition activists stems from fear that an improvement in economic
or political rights will unleash a popular torrent it cannot control.
The elite are circling the wagons in hopes of maintaining their
privileged positions on the backs of its long suffering citizens.

Over 200 political prisoners languish in squalid cells, where they are
denied basic rights like the right to adequate medical care, basic food
and exercise, and regular visits from their families. It has been
decades (1988) since outside human rights groups like the Red Cross have
been allowed access to political prisoners. The regime often places
political prisoners in jails far removed from their homes to increase
the suffering of their families. Prison guards harass prisoners and
encourage common criminals to beat them in return for rewards.

Cells are overcrowded and prisoners often spend long periods in solitary
confinement to break their spirit. Many have to sleep on the bare
floor. Disease is often rampant in these jails. Some prisoners resort
to self-mutilation to get medical attention or better conditions. As
many as 5000 persons who have committed no crime, but are considered
likely to have a tendency to do so, have been jailed for dangerousness,
a charge that carries up to 4 years in jail.

Many prisoners are black and young, and their crime consists in
non-conforming dress or behavior, or unemployment. By jailing social
deviants, the regime hopes to squelch rising signs of discontent that is
expressed through Hip Hop music lyrics and refusal to participate in
so-called revolutionary support activities. Over 1500 persons were
arrested and held for several hours in 2008 as warnings to conform or
face long jail sentences.

Civil society, which was destroyed by the regime in the 1960s, is
quietly growing across Cuba. Street protests, underground newspapers,
refusal to vote, are all signs Cubans are discontent with their lives
and future. To dampen this, the regime has been increasing its control
of the media, the internet and civil society and opposition leaders.
State Security organizes acts of repudiation in front of opposition
homes where crowds throw stones and insult occupants. Death threats are

Children and relatives of dissidents generally are harassed, often lose
their jobs and are denied access to the university, internet and cell
phone. Opposition leaders are induced to leave the island, but their
families are not always allowed to go with them.

Cuba does not grant jury trials and political opponents especially are
denied adequate defense. Often defense attorneys are given the
prosecution dossier minutes before the trial begins and cannot call
defense witnesses. Due process does not exist. Most trials are over in
less than a day and are closed to outsiders. 55 of the 75 dissidents,
"adopted" by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience, and who
sentenced in 2003, remain in prison.

Authorities continue to violate their citizens' rights to privacy by
bugging their homes, opening their mail, listening to their phone and
internet conversations, and censoring their news. They continue to jam
outside radio broadcasts and prohibit ordinary citizens' access to
satellite news and entertainment, foreign literature and news. Homes of
opponents are entered surreptitiously. Although the regime
theoretically allows Cubans to have cell phones, in practice the
registration fees and per-minute costs to use them are prohibitive for

The regime especially fears the internet. In 2007, the Minister of
Communications referred to the internet as " a tool for global
extermination" and "a wild colt" that needed to be tamed. After
allowing Cubans with access to dollars access to Internet Cafes, just
last month the government again blocked ordinary Cubans from using the
internet. It is illegal to encrypt internet transmissions or to have a
satellite receiver. As a result of tight controls and exorbitant costs,
Cuba has one of the lowest internet usage rates in the world at XX%.

Even when Cubans could use internet cafes, the regime censors employed
key stroke loggers, key word blockers and other methods to monitor
internet usage. It remains a crime to visit sites the regime dislikes
and to access the internet without authorization. Software at Internet
Cafes blocks access to the Center for a Free Cuba and many other
independent web sites.

In March 2008 the government allowed Cubans for the first time to have
computers, but without access to the internet, they can be used only for
word processing or other such tasks. Nevertheless, Cubans are ingenious
and thousands have found a way to gain access to the logons that allow
them to blog and communicate among themselves. This is of great concern
to the authorities, who have threatened the most prominent bloggers like
Yoani Sanchez.

The government denies freedom of speech, assembly, travel and the press.
What it does not like it labels enemy propaganda, punishable by up to
14 years in jail. Outside human rights reports are enemy propaganda, as
is news from abroad. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
cannot be freely distributed as it is considered subversive. All media
is controlled by the State. Criticism of revolutionary leaders is a
serious crime.

No one may print a book or distribute one not authorized by the
government. Independent journalism is prohibited. 23 independent
journalists are in jail for the sole crime of disseminating non-official
news. While independent libraries exist, they are often raided and
their books confiscated. They must hide books critical of the regime
and be discreet in what they make available to the neighbors. Although
Fidel claims that no books are banned in Cuba, that is a lie.
Subversive books are behind lock and key in public libraries and the
government intercepts and destroys books of all sorts that it feels will
undermine faith in the revolution.

It is illegal in Cuba, as it was in the Soviet Union, for more than
three people to congregate. Internal travel is restricted and
permission is required to live outside one's official place of
residence. Authorities want to block poor blacks from the east from
moving to Havana. Over 25,000 illegal residents of Havana were deported
in 2008 to their home towns. The government has never approved the

existence of a human rights group or allowed one to meet.

They do so at their peril. Religious educational institutions are
banned. No political parties are allowed nor may independent unions
organize or operate. Only the Catholic Church may occasionally hold a
procession or broadcast for short periods of time. Shortwave radios
that can capture signals from abroad, and satellite radio and TV are

Exit and entry into Cuba are closely controlled. One may not travel
freely abroad. A costly exit permit is required and medical personnel
are generally required to compensate the state for their education by
remaining 6 or more years behind as their families emigrate. Migrants
lose their homes and possessions to the state upon departure.

The government can exile a citizen to an area for up to ten years.
Often released political prisoners are required or pressured to leave
the country as a condition of release. It is illegal to attempt to
leave Cuba, without the required exit permit, clandestinely. Repeat
offenders are often jailed and most lose their employment after the
first attempt and face discrimination and harassment.

Everyone in Cuba has an official political dossier which outlines
his/her degree of political correctness. Those with bad marks are
denied access to the university and better jobs. Cuba has not had a
free election in 50 years. The authorities fear they could lose. This
obsession is buttressed by the results of the most recent compulsory
National Assembly so-called election in which 1.4 million voters or 17%
of the electorate abstained.

In practice, every candidate for the National Assembly must be a member
of or favored by the communist party to get on the ballot. The
Communist candidates routinely get 98% of the vote. To my knowledge,
there has never been a NO vote cast in the National Assembly much less a
real debate on matters of importance. Women and blacks especially are
vastly underrepresented in the ruling elite. Blacks and mulattos
constitute some 60% of the population, but whites command with 64% of
the Politburo. Racial discrimination and homophobia are rampant.
Blacks generally cannot get a job in the tourist industry.

Labor unions are banned, except for the official ones. There has never
been a strike in Cuba in the past 50 years. Independent labor unions
exist clandestinely, but five labor leaders are serving long prison
terms for their activity. The government routinely takes up to 95% of a
worker's pay if he/she is employed in a joint venture enterprise. The
government rents the worker to the foreign company, which gives the
worker a pittance in local currency while keeping for the state the
foreign currency salary.

Workers cannot work where and when they want. The government provides
the jobs and sets the work and pay conditions. Salary and performance
are supposedly now linked, but regulations implementing this do not yet
exist. The average salary remains at some $20 a month and most Cubans
rely on the ration book to survive the first few weeks of each month,
after which they must "resolver" or steal or otherwise engage in some
illicit activity to make ends meet.

There is no overtime pay and compulsory work is required to get ahead.
Pensions are less than $5 for most workers and the minimum wage is $9 a
month. Prisoners are usually forced to work for little or no pay,
especially those being "rehabilitated for dangerousness."

In summary, things are not getting better in Cuba under Raul Castro as
many optimists had hoped. The regime remains conservative, repressive
and fearful of its citizens.

It more closely resembles Iran and North Korea than China in terms of
human rights performance. It is highly unlikely that the regime will
allow greater personal freedoms as long as the Castro brothers remain

The 80 year-olds who remain entrenched in power correctly fear the
younger generation is not committed to their revolutionary ideals and so
must be contained and controlled. If they give a figurative "inch" they
expect the population will demand a "mile" and the system will unravel;
hence, tight controls will be kept in place. Foreign inducements and
blandishments will not budge them from their set ways, I believe. The
biological solution will open up possibilities for change.

Many Cubans are appalled at what has happened to Cuba. They want change,
but fear to speak out. In the meantime, the international community
must show solidarity with those brave souls who challenge the regime and
are preparing civil society for the future.

We must not abandon them or accept the status quo as somehow
foreordained and irreversible. The opposition and independent thinkers
need or solidarity, material support and encouragement. One day they
will be among the leaders of a new Cuba, and remember who their friends
were and who prolonged their agony.

SITUATION – Misceláneas de Cuba (20 June 2009)

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