Report: Cuba’s human rights record “poor”

Not that we needed a report to let us know this. But I digress. The U.S. State Department just released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. Here’s the State Department’s page about the report, and here’s the page on Cuba.

Surprise, surprise, the Cuba page is longer than heck. Below are a few excerpts and as always, my comments in bold-italics-parentheses.

The government’s human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. The government denied citizens the right to change their government (therein lies the problem). There were at least 283 political prisoners and detainees at year’s end. Thousands of citizens served sentences for “dangerousness,” in the absence of any criminal activity. The following human rights problems were reported: beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists, carried out with impunity; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care (so much for Castro’s wonderful medical system, huh?); frequent harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government-recruited mobs, police, and state security officials; frequent arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations; denial of fair trial, particularly to political prisoners; and interference with privacy, including pervasive monitoring of private communications. There were also severe limitations on freedom of speech and press; denial of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including selective denial of exit permits to thousands of citizens; and refusal to recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Domestic violence, underage prostitution, sex tourism, discrimination against persons of African descent (gee, where are Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte when you need them?), and severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to form independent unions, were also problems.

Although physical torture was rare, authorities beat, harassed, and made death threats against dissidents, both inside and outside of prison. Many were interrogated and pressured to sign incriminating statements or collaborate with authorities. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical and sexual abuse, sometimes by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in isolation or punishment cells. Political prisoners and detainees who refused to wear the prison uniform or take part in “reeducation” activities were targeted for mistreatment.

On January 19, freed political prisoner Mario Enrique Mayo reported that guards at Green Sea prison in Santiago Province had tortured political prisoner Agustin Cervantes. Mayo stated that Cervantes, serving four years for dangerousness, was taken to a punishment cell where guards attached his handcuffed hands to a hook and left him suspended for at least 24 hours.

On June 14, guards at Taco Taco prison in Pinar del Rio Province punched political prisoner Orlando Zapato Tamayo repeatedly in the head while forcibly cutting his hair and shaving him. Zapata reacted by yelling “Down with Fidel!” and then spent the next 72 hours in a punishment cell. On November 2, Zapata’s mother reported that a prosecutor had indicted her son for jailhouse disorder and disrespect and was seeking 15 additional years’ imprisonment.

The government knowingly forced some mentally healthy prisoners to share cells with mentally disturbed inmates. (but, but, but… I thought this kind of stuff only went on in Guantanamo?)

The government continued to subject persons who disagreed with it to “acts of repudiation.” The government targeted dissenters by directing militants from the CP, the Union of Communist Youth (UJC), Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), the Federation of Cuban Women, the Association of Veterans of the Cuban Revolution, and other groups and individuals to stage public protests against the dissidents, usually in front of their homes. Participants shouted insults and obscenities, sometimes damaged the victim’s home or property, and occasionally assaulted the victim or his relatives. Threats of beatings or killings were common. Although the government characterized acts of repudiation as spontaneous uprisings by patriotic neighbors, undercover police and State Security agents were often present and served in an organizational capacity. The government did not detain any participants in acts of repudiation, even those who physically attacked the victim; the government detained many victims following acts of repudiation. Non Communist militants who were called on but refused to take part faced potential disciplinary action. In addition to acts of repudiation, the government organized similar events called “acts of revolutionary reaffirmation,” “acts of warning,” and “acts of neutralization.” All were aimed at ostracizing and intimidating those who questioned the government’s policies.

On January 22 in the Matanzas city of Pedro Betancourt, hundreds of Communist militants surrounded a house used by the Alternative Option Independent Movement (MIOA), associated with the Sigler Amaya family. The crowd intimidated the occupants with shouted insults. Photographs showed CP and government officials leading the activity.

On March 17, a crowd of 500 Communist militants surrounded the Sancti Spiritus home of Isel Acosta Obregon, a member of the “Ladies in White” protest group and the wife of political prisoner Blas Giraldo Reyes. The participants pounded on the doors and screamed insults for four hours. The group prevented her from traveling to Havana to commemorate, with other members of the group, the third anniversary of the “Black Spring” arrests of 75 peaceful activists, including her husband (see section 2.d.).

On August 3, a government-organized mob of approximately 100 persons staged an act of repudiation in front of the Las Tunas home of Yamile de los Angeles Llanes, wife of political prisoner Jose Garcia Paneque. Llanes was at home with 11 youngsters at the time, when a member of the mob yelled, “Let’s set the house on fire and burn the worms!”

On August 19-20, a half-dozen Communist militants occupied the hallway of dissident Martha Beatriz Roque’s housing complex for six hours during the night. The men behaved as though they were drunk, hurled insults and obscenities at Roque, and hammered on her window with the butt of a pistol, inviting her to “step outside so we can kill you.”

On October 10 in Santa Clara, participants in an act of repudiation beat independent librarians Orestes Suarez Torres and his wife, Nancy Gonzalez Garcia, after they left a dissident gathering. Twelve assailants broke Suarez’s ribs and left both victims with black eyes, bruises, and cuts.

On December 10 in Havana, the government deployed at least 100 state security officials and no less than 200 Communist militants to confront and attack 12 peaceful prodemocracy activists holding a silent march to mark Human Rights Day. Militants shoved, punched, and kicked the activists, who were led by dissident Darsi Ferrer Ramirez. State Security agents detained all of the participants for a number of hours.

Citizens also often attacked dissidents in individual confrontations. For example, on January 29, a proregime militant assaulted dissident Felix Bonne on the street following Bonne’s visit to the Havana home of a fellow activist. The militant approached Bonne from behind and said, “This area is off-limits to counterrevolutionaries.” When Bonne turned and started to reply, the militant knocked him to the ground with punches to the head and stomach. (and if cars and vans were more common in Cuba, I’m sure these folks would’ve had their tires slashed)

Power and water cuts were frequent at prisons, and inmates often suffered from extreme heat. Prisoners sometimes were held in punishment cells that lacked light and fresh air, had little access to water, and only a hole for a toilet. Reading materials were either prohibited or heavily restricted. Prison officials regularly denied prisoners other rights, such as the right to correspondence.

Prison food was often inedible, and food from outside was essential to meet nutritional needs. In May an inmate at Camaguey’s Kilo 8 prison was reportedly killed in a fight in a dispute over a piece of chicken. Rice was often either putrefied or contained worms. Drinking water, when available, was often contaminated. Prisoners’ relatives are ostensibly allowed to bring them 40 pounds of food each visit, but in practice prison guards often prevented the relatives of political prisoners from bringing in provisions. (but, but, but… I thought this only happened at Guantanamo?)

The government subjected independent journalists to travel bans, detentions, harassment of family and friends, equipment seizures, imprisonment, and threats of imprisonment. State Security agents posed as independent journalists in order to gather information on activists, spread misinformation, and spread mistrust within independent journalist circles. During the year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the government’s “constant harassment of independent journalists.” It said 24 journalists were in prison merely for exercising their right to free expression. The CPJ complained that the government continued to harass some journalists even after freeing them from prison. Citing the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, the CPJ noted that the Havana Municipal Court had forbidden him from leaving the capital or taking part in any public meetings.

On May 14 and 15, President Castro threatened to expel accredited international journalists based in Havana for coverage that displeased the regime. Some reporters admitted to engaging in self censorship to keep their Havana bureaus open (shyeah, is this a surprise? CNN, anyone?). Reporters privately accused the government of listening in on their calls and monitoring their activities.

The government frequently banned foreign reporters from entering the country to cover politically sensitive developments. At least four European journalists who had complied with the country’s visa requirements had their permission to enter the country revoked. A Swiss journalist was denied permission to report on the country because he had referred to the government as “the regime.” In the days following the July 31 proclamation that granted power to Raul Castro, the government barred entry to at least 11 foreign journalists and ordered a number of others to leave within 24 hours.

There is just so much on the State Department’s Cuba page. And it’s just the stuff for 2006, never mind Castro’s terror going back to the late 1950’s. I urge you to follow this link and read more.

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