Tag Archives: Human Rights

YOUR MIND IS IN PRISON: CUBA’S WEB OF CONTROL OVER FREE EXPRESSION AND ITS CHILLING EXPRESSION ON EVERYDAY LIFE

Original Document: Amnesty International

Amnesty International, November 27, 2017

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION

2. THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG  

[From Amnesty International’s archives: Cuba’s 50-year campaign against freedom of expression and peaceful assembly]

2.1 THE RIGHTS TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ASSOCIATION

2.2 “EVERYTHING IS ILLEGAL”

2.3 HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS AND THE APPLICATION OF THE CRIMINAL LAW

3. SILENCE–A CONDITION OF EMPLOYMENT

3.1 HARASSMENT AND WRONGFUL DISMISSALS IN THE STATE SECTOR

3.2 A VICIOUS CYCLE: HARASSMENT IN THE SELF-EMPLOYED SECTOR

3.3 IMPRISONED AND DISCRIMINATED FOR TRYING TO LEAVE THEIR OWN COUNTRY

3.4 LIMITS ON INDEPENDENT TRADE UNION

3.5 THE APPARENT LACK OF EFFECTIVE RECOURSE FOR DISCRIMINATORY DISMISSAL

3.6 DISCRIMINATION IN ACCESS TO AND AT WORK

3.7 FEAR OF RETURNING TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY

4. BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE ICEBERG

4.1 SELF-CENSORSHIP

4.2 THE CHILLING EFFECT

5. RECOMMENDATIONS

TO THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT

TO THE US CONGRESS

INTRODUCTION

The past few years have been a bitter-sweet period for those hoping for the Cuban authorities to relax their iron grip on people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.

High-profile visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Pope Francis in 2015, as well as by the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children and the UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity in 2017, appeared to herald greater political openness and to offer some hope that Cuba might begin to open itself up to increased international scrutiny by independent human rights monitors. A tourism boom, the expansion of Wi-Fi-internet hotspots, even a first ttime performance by the rock band the Rolling Stones (foreign rock music was deemed subversive in Cuba for decades) were other small signs that Cuba might be releasing its tight control on freedom of expression. The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USA starting in December 2014, followed by then President Obama’s state visit to Cuba in 2016 also seemed to promise the beginning of an end to the economic embargo which for decades has perpetuated the Cold War rhetoric of “us” and “them” and undermined ordinary Cubans’ enjoyment of economic and social rights.

This optimism makes the jarring reality all the more marked. Hours before President Obama landed in Cuba, dozens of activists and independent journalists were detained. In a joint press conference with the US President, President Raúl Castro continued to flatly deny that there were any “political prisoners” in Cuba.

In contrast, in the past three years, Amnesty International has named 11 prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and there are likely many more. Further, a national human rights organization, not recognized by the Cuban authorities, reported an average of 762 politically motivated and arbitrary detentions a month between 2014 and 2016.

Human rights lawyers from the organization Cubalex were harassed and intimidated, despite having been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to protect their lives, personal integrity and activities as human right defenders. In May 2017, at least 12 of its members were granted asylum in the USA after the Cuban authorities threatened to bring criminal charges against them related to a tax investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Cuba 10th on its 2015 list of the world’s most censored countries and classified its laws on free speech and press freedom as the most restrictive in the Americas. Amnesty International media remains heavily censored and limited. While an increasing range of autonomous digital media projects has emerged, alternative online news sources operate within a legal limbo that exposes journalists and media workers to the risk of harassment and arbitrary detention. Moreover, their web pages are often blocked by the authorities in Cuba. In early 2017, the expulsion of a journalism student reportedly pushed out of university for being a member of the group Somos, considered a dissident organization by the authorities, received widespread international and independent national media coverage. According to press reports, one of Cuba’s most famous singers, Silvio Rodríguez, called the expulsion an “injustice” and “clumsy and obtuse.”

In June 2017, President Trump’s administration took an almost complete U-turn on US political rhetoric towards Cuba reducing the likelihood that the US Congress will pass legislation to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. Despite the easing of some restrictions by the former Obama administration, which has allowed for increased travel and remittances between the two countries, and annual votes by a majority of UN member states to lift it, the embargo remains in place. Amnesty International has consistently recommended that the US embargo be lifted, based on its negative impact on the economic and social rights of the Cuban population. Meanwhile, a recent poll by the University of Chicago found that many Cubans “feel stuck in the current economic climate.”

Few expect the economy will improve anytime soon and 46% described it as poor or very poor. Cuba’s fragile economy has inevitably been impacted by the ongoing economic and human rights crisis in Venezuela – a provider of significant economic aid to Cuba in recent years. Exceptionally low salaries – the average monthly salary is approximately USD27 a month – are insufficient to cover basic needs. Ordinary Cubans continue to struggle, despite the government’s food ration system, taking additional jobs in the informal sector and receiving remittances from family members living overseas.16 In July 2017, the Secretary General of the Central Union of Cuban Workers (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC), the country’s only officially recognized trade union, stated in an interview that average salaries are unable to meet workers’ basic needs and create “apathy in work, lack of interest and significant labour migration”, an issue that he said is being evaluated by decision-making bodies.

While many Cubans interviewed for this briefing told Amnesty International that they felt Cuba has made important human rights advances in the provision of free health care and access to education and valued the fact that there is little organized crime in the country, many also described the day-to-day struggle of having to make difficult choices between feeding and clothing their families. People interviewed by Amnesty International said that food rations – which have been progressively reduced – are insufficient to last the month. And while education is free, many Cubans find it difficult to buy the things their children need to attend school, such as uniforms, backpacks and other basic supplies. For example, an administrator in a state food factory told Amnesty International she earned USD20 a month at a time when shoes for her child could easily cost USD30. Many people interviewed said they had to break the law to make ends meet. The same administrator also described how one of her job responsibilities was to ensure that workers did not steal bread or other essentials they need to survive.

Former President Fidel Castro’s death in November 2016, and President Raúl Castro’s announcement that he would step down in 2018 continue to fill opinion columns with speculation about Cuba’s future. But while in political quarters and international news rooms Cuba remains a hot topic, tens of thousands of Cubans continue to leave the country. Their individual reasons may vary, but common threads are disillusion with Cuba’s changing international diplomacy, a lack of confidence that salaries will improve18 and scepticism at the idea that a post-Castro administration will do anything to untangle the tight web of control on freedom of expression. Amnesty International’s interviews with Cuban migrants highlight this widespread and profound lack of belief in the prospect of structural change. This briefing examines limitations on freedom of expression that persist in Cuba despite the context of purported political openness, a tourism boom and a changing economic context. It is based on research carried out between December 2016 and September 2017, although Amnesty International´s lack of access to Cuba has posed a significant limitation on providing an analysis of human rights issues in the country. The interviews the organization conducted with Cubans for this briefing have made it possible to identify the impact on a wide range of people of 50 years of serious restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The failure of the authorities to respect and ensure these rights has had an impact far beyond the ranks of those directly targeted for their activism or views and seeped into the everyday experiences and hopes of people from all walks of life.

This briefing focuses on those wider influences and on the human rights advances that those affected would want to see. As Cuba prepares for elections in 2018, the diverse Cuban voices at the centre of this research highlight the need for authorities to promote reforms that ensure the respect and protection of human rights, including a review of criminal laws and practices which are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards and that unduly limit freedom of expression. They also underscore the need for the authorities to adhere to international labour standards which Cuba has undertaken to uphold by ratifying International Labour Conventions. The briefing ends with a set of recommendations calling on the authorities to end unjust restrictions not only on those unfairly deprived of their physical freedom, but also on those who feel their minds are imprisoned and their lives stunted because they are deprived of their right to freedom of expression.

CONTINUE READING

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Reporters Without Borders: CUBA, CONTINUING ORDEAL FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA

May 3, 2017.

Original Report here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking

A self-styled socialist republic with a single party, Cuba continues to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator year after year. Fidel Castro’s death in 2016 effectively changed nothing. The Castro family, which has ruled since 1959, maintains an almost total media monopoly and tolerates no independent reporting.

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, threats, smear campaigns, confiscation of equipment, and closure of websites are the most common forms of harassment. These practices are ubiquitous and are buttressed by an arsenal of restrictive laws. Unless forced to flee the island to protect themselves or to keep working, the few independent bloggers and journalists must cope with drastic restrictions on Internet access.

December 2, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO’S HERITAGE: FLAGRANT MEDIA FREEDOM VIOLATIONS

Castro has been hailed as one of the leading figures of the 20th century and father of the Cuban people in many of the thousands of messages that followed the announcement of his death. But behind the revolutionary’s romantic image lay one of the world’s worst press freedom predators. The persecution of dissidents was one of the distinguishing features of his 49 years in power, and constitutes the harshest aspect of his heritage.

The current situation in Cuba speaks to this. Cuba continues to be one of the worst countries in Latin America for media freedom and ranks 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl, who replaced him in 2007, is now also on RSF’s press freedom predator list.

Cuba’s constitution permits only state-controlled media outlets. Independent news agencies and bloggers who try to dispute the state’s monopoly of news and information are subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest and draconian censorship.

As a result, independent news agencies have often had no choice but to go into exile and post their news reports online from abroad. This is far from ideal because Internet access within Cuba is still very problematic (only 5% of households have internet access).

Finally, with two journalists currently jailed, Cuba continues to be one of the few western hemisphere countries where reporters can still be found behind bars. Venezuela and Panama are the other two.

But the situation was much worse under Fidel Castro himself. The father of the Cuban revolution imposed a climate of censorship and used often violent methods to prevent the circulation of any news and information at variance with that provided by the state media.

The persecution peaked in 2003. In March of that year, the authorities arrested more than 75 dissidents including 27 journalists, who were given summary trials and sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison for talking about democracy in Cuba.

They included RSF’s then correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, who ended up spending seven years in prison. There were several waves of arrests during this period, dubbed the “Black Spring.” Unauthorized journalists were targeted and accused of collaborating with the United States if their reporting referred to Cuba’s dissidents, human rights violations or the everyday lives of Cubans.

The persecution continued during the ensuing years and in 2007, when Fidel Castro was about to hand over to his brother, Cuba was the world’s second biggest prison for journalists, with a total of 25 held. Prison conditions were appalling and torture was often reported by the families of Cuba’s detained journalists and dissidents.

Many different methods were deployed against Cuba’s independent news providers including arbitrary arrests, beatings and phone tapping. But permanent censorship was one of the constants of the Castro years, both before and after the Black Spring.

Ever since its creation in 1985, RSF has constantly denounced these abuses, using awareness campaigns, protests and international mobilization. Several of our contributors and correspondents have been threatened or imprisoned. They include Roberto Guerra Pérez, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 on a charge of disturbing public order and was released in 2007.

Guerra bravely continued his fight for media freedom, launching an independent news agency called Hablemos Press in 2009. But the Cuban police harassed him and his reporters and repeatedly prevented them from working. After receiving anonymous death threats, he had no choice but to go into exile in October 2016 in order to ensure his and his family’s safety.

The battle waged by RSF and many other local and international NGOs must go on so that exile is one day no longer inevitable. But for the time being, the day-to-day existence of Cuba’s journalists is still marked by fear and self-censorship.

Cuba’s journalists currrently fear that the father of the revolution’s death will be accompanied by a new crackdown. This must not be allowed to happen. Instead, it must open the way to a new era of pluralism and freedom of opinion.

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CIENCIAS SOCIALES, DESPOLITIZACIÓN Y EL ELEFANTE AZUL

Yvon Grenier, Profesor del Departamento de Ciencias Políticas, St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canadá.

CONVIVENCIA,  Abril, 2017

Original Article: http://www.convivenciacuba.es/index.php/sociedad-civil-mainmenu-53/1459-ciencias-sociales-despolitizacion-y-el-elefante-azul

Cuando una sociedad se corrompe, lo primero que se gangrena es el lenguaje. La crítica de la sociedad, en consecuencia, comienza con la gramática y con el restablecimiento de los significados”.                                                                          Octavio Paz, Postdata (1970).

Desde el triunfo de la revolución, el gobierno cubano se ha esforzado para despolitizar la sociedad, “achicando” el lenguaje utilizado para hablar de política en el país. En la conocidísima novela “1984” de Orwell, desde hace poco desbloqueada en la isla, la “neolengua” se explica como un proyecto a largo plazo de reducción del lenguaje y de disminución del alcance del pensamiento. El triunfo de la revolución cubana (un triunfo de la voluntad política) condujo al fin en la isla de la disciplina académica que analiza el uso del poder en la sociedad: la ciencia política. Como el término “política” se hizo equivalente, tanto en la teoría como en la práctica, con la revolución, el socialismo y el marxismo-leninismo, la ciencia política desapareció durante la primer década del régimen, (como la sociología de 1980 a 1991), para ser reemplazada por un “diamat / hismat” tanto como ideología oficial que como un paradigma obligatorio en las universidades.

Los estudiosos cubanos parecen estar de acuerdo en que una “renovación” del discurso/paradigma comenzó a tener lugar durante la segunda mitad de los años ochenta, a raíz de la campaña oficial de “rectificación de errores”. Pero aún así, como sustituto a la ciencia política, lo que todavía encontramos en Cuba son las ciencias sociales y humanidades blandas que hablan de política, de diplomacia y de administración pública, pero nunca de poder y de quién lo tiene. Imagina esa situación: un montón de gente en una habitación con un elefante azul en el medio, y el reto es hablar de lo que está pasando en la habitación, sin hablar jamás del deslumbrante mamífero.

En un artículo reciente, el economista canadiense Arch Ritter destaca algunas de las implicaciones de esta situación. Para él, “una de las consecuencias de la ausencia de la disciplina de ciencia política en Cuba es que solo tenemos una vaga idea de cómo funciona realmente el gobierno cubano. ¿Quién en el Politbureau y el Comité Central del partido realmente toma decisiones? ¿Hasta qué punto y cómo las presiones de las organizaciones de masas afectan realmente a la toma de decisiones, o el flujo de influencia siempre es de arriba a abajo y no el inverso? ¿Qué papel desempeñan las grandes empresas conglomeradas que se encuentran en la economía del dólar internacionalizada y la economía del peso en el proceso de formulación de políticas? ¿La Asamblea Nacional es simplemente una concha vacía que, por unanimidad, aprueba cantidades prodigiosas de legislación en períodos de tiempo extremadamente cortos?” Enseguida pregunta retóricamente: “¿Por qué este análisis político está esencialmente prohibido en las universidades cubanas? Puedes adivinar la respuesta” -concluye Ritter. Bueno, sí, podemos: tiene que ver con los tabúes acerca del elefante azul. Pero la respuesta completa no es tan obvia. La ciencia política puede existir bajo un régimen no democrático. Y de nuevo, vale la pena explorar por qué un país desbordado de política, donde casi nada sucede sin la intervención del gobierno y la inapelable revolución, es a la vez extrañamente apolítico. Por apolítica quiero decir que a pesar de toda la inflación de los símbolos políticos y el llamado popularmente “teque”, no hay espacio para discusiones políticas genuinas, debates verdaderos y análisis del proceso político, y escasas fuentes confiables de información y datos sobre “quién obtiene qué, cuándo y cómo”, para utilizar la definición de la política del politólogo Robert Dahl. La política está en todas partes, pero como un tótem, no como un proceso deliberativo en el sentido de Aristóteles o Hannah Arendt.

En el ámbito de la expresión pública en Cuba, es generalmente posible: 1. Deplorar públicamente los errores cometidos en el pasado (especialmente durante el purgatorio llamado Quinquenio Gris) por malos funcionarios; 2. Lamentar la pobreza de crítica y debate en la isla como consecuencia de problemas internos tanto en el ámbito cultural y educativo como en los medios de comunicación; y 3. Examinar con algún aliento crítico los problemas sociales en Cuba, especialmente si ya han sido identificados públicamente como tales por la dirección política, pero sin discutir sus posibles causas políticas. Esos son los parámetros. En ciencias sociales, es aconsejable partir del marxismo-leninismo como fundamento metodológico e ideológico, o al menos no ponerlo en tela de juicio. Desde allí se pueden explorar teorías no-marxistas (el posmodernismo fue popular durante los años 90), pero con cuidado, sin cuestionar el paradigma único. También se acogen con beneplácito las blandas descripciones de las estructuras jurídicas y los debates técnicos sobre las políticas públicas en revistas de ciencias sociales como Temas. Por último, pero no por ello menos importante, los estudiosos de las ciencias sociales e intelectuales deben denunciar el dogmatismo y celebrar las críticas y el debate, como invariablemente lo hace el mismo liderazgo político, pero asegurándose de reafirmar los dogmas oficiales. En otras palabras, la tarea principal y el desafío para los académicos es doble: fingir el pensamiento crítico, y stay in the game (permanecer en el juego).

Previsiblemente, los “debates” en Cuba cuentan con oradores ultra-cautelosos que en su mayoría están de acuerdo unos con otros, siendo toda la energía redirigida hacia las polémicas contra los enemigos oficialmente sancionados y los flagelos intemporales del gobierno: dogmatismo, burocratismo, corrupción, descontento juvenil, residuos pre-revolucionarios del sexismo y el racismo, y por supuesto, el imperialismo norteamericano, el “bloqueo” y el orden mundial capitalista. Todos se animan para “mejorar el socialismo”, y de hecho los líderes políticos rutinariamente desafían a los “intelectuales públicos” a atreverse más, pero el espacio permitido es mucho menos tangible que la anticipación del castigo si se violan los parámetros. La mejor estrategia de supervivencia es la autocensura y la ambigüedad. En cualquiera de estos “debates” (como los de Último Jueves, por ejemplo) las soluciones a los problemas convergen hacia la posición oficialista: más participación, más compromiso con L’Etre Suprême revolución, y a mejorar un sistema político en movimiento (La Revolución sin fin) pero irrevocable (Artículo 62 de la Constitución vigente). No se puede hablar de cómo funciona el sistema político exactamente porque eso necesitaría, en Cuba, como en cualquier otro país, un examen crítico de quién obtiene qué, cuándo y cómo. Es significante que cuando unos se atreven a abordar el tema, como fue excepcionalmente el caso de un “debate” de Último Jueves en febrero de 2016, no hay ninguna discusión sobre “cómo funciona”, solamente comentarios generales sobre posibles mejoras, las cuales invariablemente pasan por una reafirmación de los objetivos oficiales.

Marxismo-Leninismo como pensée unique

El marxismo-leninismo es una ideología conveniente para el gobierno cubano por dos razones. En primer lugar, abrazar y estudiar sus textos canónicos adormece la curiosidad sobre los procesos de toma de decisiones reales bajo un tipo de régimen que fue solo un sueño durante la vida de Marx: el comunismo. Marx escribió ampliamente sobre las fallas estructurales de las sociedades capitalistas (y pre-capitalistas), pero casi nada sobre la transición al comunismo. Aparte de las nebulosas referencias a la Comuna de París y las glosas sobre las estrategias revolucionarias en su “Crítica del Programa de Gotha”, el análisis de Marx del comunismo es más teleológico que político. En Cuba de hoy, el marxismo es una ideología que permite criticar los enemigos del gobierno. En segundo lugar, el marxismo-leninismo puede usarse como una teoría o un paradigma en ciencias sociales, como ocurre en todas partes (hoy más en humanidades y estudios culturales que en ciencias sociales y no en economía). Pero en sociedades abiertas, el marxismo compite con otras teorías e interpretaciones, lo que le da una vitalidad inexistente en países donde es una pensée unique. No es sorprendente que el Marxismo no sea muy sofisticado en Cuba: la ausencia de crítica genuina, la cual pasa por la confrontación con otras perspectivas, es una sentencia de muerte para cualquier perspectiva científica o filosófica. Por consiguiente, se puede repetir infatigablemente que el marxismo cubano es crítico y humanista, al revés del marxismo soviético (i.e. del pasado) “rígido” y “mecánico” defendido (y definido) por nadie. Pero no se puede realmente explorar cual es la diferencia entre los dos. En otras palabras, se puede criticar el “estalinismo” (como desviación del modelo marxista-leninista) pero no la Constitución de Stalin de 1936.

Uno de los efectos de la parametración en ciencias sociales es la presencia de un cierto estilo de comunicación que es blando, resbaladizo y oblicuo, que finge la complejidad y termina siendo poco concreto. Rafael Hernández, director de la revista Temas, declaró en 2014, en un artículo sobre las “estructuras políticas” en Cuba, que en su país se puede encontrar:

“[…] un consenso político alterado, contradictorio y heterogéneo, en cuya reproducción convergen viejos y nuevos sujetos sociales, que son los ciudadanos cubanos reales. Estrictamente hablando, estos no están repartidos solo en fábricas y campos sembrados, cursos universitarios y maestrías de negocios, hospitales y hogares de ancianos, cooperativas, talleres de equipos electrónicos, parroquias, sino en ministerios, oficinas del PCC, batallones de artillería, escuelas superiores para la formación de cuadros de dirección, y publicaciones estatales y eclesiásticas. Estos diversos sujetos sociales ejercen su condición ciudadana desde una inusitada pluralidad, correspondiente a una gama de clases y grupos, ocupaciones, generaciones, géneros, colores de piel –además, naturalmente, de sus particulares ideas políticas”.

Conclusión

Un país no puede sobrevivir sin historiadores, matemáticos, economistas, biólogos, etc. Aparentemente sí se puede subsistir sin genuinas ciencias políticas… pero ¿a qué precio? Para funcionar bien y utilizar plenamente su capital humano, un sistema político necesita información, transparencia, examen crítico y comparativo de las políticas y de los dirigentes, con respeto pero sin miedo a la verdad. No hay sistema político perfecto, ni mucho menos. En Cuba se necesita mejores datos sobre cómo funciona realmente su sistema político, y análisis a fondo de los problemas y de sus posibles causas políticas, levantando el velo del secreto que cubre la mayoría de las transacciones políticas. Para que esa importante transición tenga lugar, mis estimados colegas tendrán que jugar un papel crucial. Historiadores de la diplomacia, filólogos marxistas y tímidos contadores de la administración pública no son sustitutos de politólogos de verdad. La iniciativa podría emerger dentro de las filas de las ciencias sociales o incluso, de institutos de investigación y centros de estudios, como Convivencia. De otra manera, el “debate” político en Cuba seguirá siendo, para parafrasear lo que Borges dijo sobre la metafísica, una rama del género fantástico.

Yvon Grenier, Profesor del Departamento de Ciencias Políticas. St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canadá.

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 2017 REPORT on CUBA

Original Article: Human Rights Watch 2017 on Cuba:

Summary:

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and punish public criticism. It now relies less than in past years on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public shaming, and termination of employment.

On November 25, Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba from 1959 until handing off the presidency to his brother, Raúl, in 2006, died in Havana.

In March, US President Barack Obama visited Cuba, where he met with President Raúl Castro, as well as with representatives of Cuban civil society. President Obama gave a nationally televised address and held a joint press conference with President Castro in which he urged the Cuban government to lift restrictions on political freedoms and reiterated his call for the US Congress to end the economic embargo of the island.

Arbitrary Detention and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics, independent activists, political opponents, and others. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group that lacks official authorization and is therefore considered illegal by the government, received more than 7,900 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2016. This represents the highest monthly average of detentions in the past six years.

Security officers rarely present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of “delinquent” behavior.

Detention is often used preemptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days. The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners also, like the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, lacks official authorization and is therefore considered illegal by the government. Its members are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained by either police or state security agents before or after they attend Sunday mass.

Prior to President Obama’s visit in March, police arrested more than 300 dissidents as part of a crackdown on opposition leaders.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information.  A small number of journalists and bloggers who are independent of government media manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. However, the government routinely blocks access within Cuba to these websites. Moreover, only a fraction of Cubans can read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the internet. Independent journalists who publish information considered critical of the government are subject to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger and videographer who often covers the Sunday demonstrations of the Ladies in White, was jailed for five days after trying to cover a protest on March 20, the day of President Obama’s arrival in Cuba. Police officers apprehended Valle Roca, beat him, and took him to a nearby police station, according to Aliuska Gómez García, a member of the Ladies in White who witnessed the beating and arrest and spoke afterwards to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Valle Roca was later accused of attacking an official. While he did not face charges on this occasion, officers warned him that he might if arrested in the future.

In May, police detained journalist Daniel Domínguez López in his office at the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Speech and Press (ICLEP) after he wrote an article about a deprivation-of-property case involving a member of the National Revolutionary Police Force. Police ultimately took him to a “criminal instruction unit,” where he said that they threatened to imprison or kill him and his family. Officers reportedly warned him against further distribution of his bulletin and told him that they were determined to destroy ICLEP.

Police in October detained Maykel González Vivero, a reporter of the news site Diario de Cuba, while he was reporting on the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. Three days later, police arrested Elaine Díaz, director of the independent news site Periodismo del Barrio and four of her colleagues when they traveled to Baracoa, eastern Cuba, to report on the storm’s effects. She and her team were released a few hours later, as was González, but authorities reportedly confiscated their laptop computers, cameras, and other equipment.

The government harasses artists as well. Police detained Danilo Maldonado, a graffiti artist known as “El Sexto,” during a march led by the Ladies in White movement shortly before President Obama’s visit in March 2016, but released him the following day. The day after Fidel Castro’s death in November, police arrested Maldonado again after he posted an online video mocking Castro’s death and spray painting “se fue” (he’s gone) on a wall in downtown Havana. Police held him incommunicado for 72 hours, inflicting a beating that triggered an asthma attack. After his mother brought an inhaler, his detention continued. He was still detained at time of writing in early December. Two years earlier, Maldonado had been charged with “contempt for authority” for attempting to stage a satirical performance with two pigs daubed with “Raul” and “Fidel.” He served 10 months in prison.

Political Prisoners

Despite the release of the 53 political prisoners in conjunction with the agreement to normalize relations with the US, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons, according to local human rights groups. The government denies access to its prisons by independent human rights groups, which believe that additional political prisoners, whose cases they cannot document, remain locked up.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are subordinated to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.

Travel Restrictions

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminated the need for an exit visa to leave the island. Exit visas had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government—and to their families. Since then, many people who had previously been denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reforms gave the government broad discretionary powers to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest.” Such measures have allowed authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217, which is designed to limit migration to Havana. The decree has been used to harass dissidents and prevent those from elsewhere in Cuba from traveling to Havana to attend meetings.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress for abuses. Those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are often subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denied medical care.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Labor Rights

Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

In September, police raided Cubalex, a six-year-old organization that investigates human rights violations and provides free legal services to free-expression activists, migrants, and human-rights defenders. Officers confiscated files, strip-searched four men and a woman, and arrested two attorneys, one of whom was still in detention at time of writing.

Key International Actors

In December 2014, President Obama announced that the United States would ease decades-old restrictions on travel and commerce, and normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. In return, the Cuban government released 53 political prisoners and committed to allowing visits by international human rights monitors. The two governments restored diplomatic relations in July 2015, but at time of writing, no international human rights monitors had visited Cuba.

In January 2015, President Obama called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo on the island that had been imposed more than four decades earlier. In October 2016, he used executive orders to end a few trade restrictions, including the longstanding $100 import limit on two of Cuba’s signature products: cigars and rum.

In September 2016, the European Union approved an agreement with Cuba that would strengthen economic and political ties and bring an end to the EU’s 1996 “Common Position on Cuba,” which conditions full European Union economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. In October, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution—for the 25th consecutive year—calling on the US to end the embargo. Only the US and Israel did not vote in favor, but for the first time, they abstained instead of voting against.

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council from 2006 to 2012 and from 2014 to the present, Cuba has regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights abuses around the world—opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. However, Cuba supported a resolution adopted by the council in June 2016, establishing the post of an independent expert to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In October, Cuba was re-elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2017-2019 term.

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RIGHT AND LEFT, FROM A CUBAN PERSPECTIVE

Juan Antonio Blanco | Diario de Cuba | 2 Mar 2016

Original Article: Right and Left, from a Cuban Perspective

 zraulfamily28216iRaúl Castro, accompanied by a son and grandson. (Diario de Cuba)

From Havana I get an email seeking to address the challenges facing the country applying the binary axis of “Left” and “Right.” I imagine that two factors lead to this interest. One is an incipient ebb in regional populism. Another is the congress in April of the island’s only legal party – the same one that imposes on Cuba these dubious semantics and focus, exercising a monopoly over all State institutions.

But the language of the Jacobins and Girondins from the 18th century does not allow us to understand what is happening in the 21st century, in any geographical region.

The dilemmas facing humanity today cannot be solved applying the outmoded concepts of Left and Right. Neither do the labels of socialism or capitalism apply. As I stated in Tercer Milenio (Havana, 1993) what we are experiencing today is a change of eras, not an era of changes. This period is characterized by the rapid obsolescence of all that we knew. As Moisés Naim recently reminded us, everything is now extraordinary. From the fall of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, to Kodak being sunk by Instagram, and taxis by Uber.

Discussing the future of Cuba – or of any country – based on the conceptual coordinates of the last century is a futile and even dangerous exercise.  It is not possible to address and resolve these current challenges if they are not designated lucidly.

Cuba today is simply a poor country, disconnected from global processes; with a dreadful physical, communications and financial infrastructure; two decades behind in the acquisition of reliable and fast internet connections; public services (health, education, transport, water, electricity, sewage), whose quality is plummeting; degraded land, and the lowest wages in the hemisphere. It is also a closed society, where there is no basic freedom to exercise the right to free expression, association, movement, the forming of unions, or political choice, such that citizens have no way to peacefully alter this sorry state of affairs and achieve prosperity.

The policies that could resolve this mess are not socialist or capitalist, but rather good or bad, efficient or inefficient. Those in force today are terrible and counterproductive.

Revolution? The “Cuban Revolution” was already being quashed even as forces were fighting Batista, when a group of totalitarians yearning for a caudillo began to plot how to liquidate their comrades after their victory. Talking about this in 2016 is a big scam. What exists in Cuba is a totalitarian regime in the hands of a family, a clan.

Sovereignty? How can one uphold it in the 21st century to oppose citizens’ civil rights when Cuban society as a whole is deprived of the right to self-determination?

Nationalism? It is difficult to defend the government’s administration based on this outdated concept, nurtured in the late 18th century, when Havana prefers to negotiate with foreign powers and refuses to even dialogue with its own citizens.

I do not share the idea that the “bureaucracy” is the Big Culprit. Power in Cuba is held by two families with the same surname: Castro. Around them is a select military cadre. Together they constitute a permanent elite wielding power. Below them is a bureaucracy that serves only to “manage” their interests, not to make key decisions that benefit the country.

Lage, Robaina —and Díaz Canel today— were never members of the governing elite. They are simply CEOs, always expendable. Cuba’s real owners exercise their privileges as if the island were a private company registered under the trade name “Cuban Revolution.” They attach to this corporate appellation a series of qualifiers —”progressive,” “leftist,” “anti-capitalist” and others— which only serve to distract from reality.

I laugh when I think about Bernie Sanders and Podemos speaking, terrified, of a casta that represents 0.1% of the population but owns more than half of the economy. In this regard, as in others related to human rights, they suffer from a severe moral hemiplegia by selecting the victims they prefer to “defend.” When the offender is in their political camp, they choose to look the other way. In Cuba some 100 people rule the roost, lording it over the rest of the island. What percentage do they represent in relation to the 11.5 million citizens on the island, and the other two million off it?

Invoking the abstraction “state ownership of the means of production,” the “shareholders” of this dubious corporation, and the family presiding over it, claim permanent and unlimited exploitation rights over Cuba, not even needing to be the formal owners of work or recreational facilities, or real estate. They also have unlimited powers to do whatever they please vis-a-vis all other Cubans. The demand for freedom and human rights is the only solution that goes to the heart of the problem.

Modernity died in the ovens of Auschwitz. Absolute respect for the sovereignty of Germany allowed Hitler’s government, first, to deprive citizens of their freedoms and rights, and, then, under the shadow of a closed society, to undertake a forbidden process of rearmament. The Soviets and the Cuban government were able to secretly install nuclear missiles on the island because there existed no basic freedoms to denounce that operation in time. The Khmer Rouge initiated a national genocide —which rendered any dissent impossible, even within the party— and then turned on its former ally and neighbor: Vietnam. Hanoi, incidentally, did not hesitate to adopt a policy of “regime change” to install, at gun-point, a government that would be friendly to it in Cambodia.

The human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of 1948 take as their reference point those adopted by the French Revolution, but with a substantial difference: thereafter it was established that such rights were not just a national affair, but a good that was to be protected by the international community. It is not a question of moralizing. Respect for these rights is vital for international stability and security. The signers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various international agreements for the protection of citizens’ rights have recognized that their sovereignty in this regard has limits.

Without freedoms and rights Cuban society will be neither socialist or capitalist, left-wing nor right-wing, but rather remain a sort of disastrously managed private Estate, employing slave labor. And a country whose owners can again pose a serious danger to their neighbors.

This, I think, is what we need to talk about.

zCaptureJuan Antonio Blanco Gil

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, 2016 WORLD REPORT 2015: CUBA

Original Report:  World Report 2016,  Cuba

zzzzzzzzzzCuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White group after their weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana, on September 13, 2015.  Human Rights Watch, World Report: Cuba  2016

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. It now relies less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would ease restrictions on travel and commerce and normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. In exchange, the Cuban government released 53 political prisoners and committed to allow visits by international human rights monitors. The two governments restored diplomatic relations in July 2015.

Arbitrary Detention and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detentions to harass and intimidate people who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group that the government views as illegal, received more than 6,200 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through October 2015. While this represented a decrease from the number of detentions during the same 10-month period in 2014, it was still significantly higher than the number of yearly detentions prior to 2012.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior.  Detention is often used preemptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days. Members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained before or after they attend Sunday mass.

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger and videographer who often covers the Sunday demonstrations of the Ladies in White, wrote that police arbitrarily detained him on June 7 and drove him 30 miles from Havana, where they took him from the car at gunpoint, made him kneel on the grass, and put the gun to his neck, telling him he was “on notice” to stay away from the demonstrations.

The artist Tania Bruguera was arrested on December 30, 2014, hours before her planned performance art piece in Havana’s Revolution Square, in which she was to have invited passersby to walk up to a podium and express themselves at a microphone for one minute. Security officials confiscated her passport and computer. Bruguera was released the following day but was detained and released twice more during the next two days. Cuban dissidents and independent journalists who had planned to attend the event—including Reinaldo Escobar, Eliecer Avila, and Antonio Rodiles—were also arrested on December 30. Bruguera was again detained in May during the 12th Havana Biennial Art Exhibition. She was released the same day.

On August 9, a few days before US Secretary of State John Kerry was to attend a ceremony to mark the opening of the US embassy in Havana, 90 people—including an estimated 50 Ladies in White—were arrested and detained after Sunday mass in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar during a peaceful march against political repression.

During the visit of Pope Francis in September, police detained some 100 to 150 dissidents to prevent them from seeing him. Miriam Leiva, a freelance journalist and blogger and a founder of the Ladies in White, was invited by the Papal Nuncio in Havana to greet the Pope twice, on September 19 and 20, but was detained for several hours each time, preventing her attendance.

Political Prisoners

Despite the release of the 53 political prisoners in conjunction with the agreement to normalize relations with the US, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons, according to local human rights groups. The government prevents independent human rights groups from accessing its prisons, and the groups believe there are additional political prisoners whose cases they cannot document.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are subordinated to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.

Graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” was arrested in December 2014 and charged with “contempt for authority” for attempting to stage a performance involving two pigs painted with the names “Raul” and “Fidel”—a satire of the current and former heads of state. He was released on October 20.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression.

A small number of journalists and bloggers who are independent of government media manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. However, the government routinely blocks access within Cuba to these websites, and those who publish information considered critical of the government are subject to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.  Only a fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. In July, Cuba increased Internet access by opening 35 Wi-Fi hot spots in parks and city boulevards nationwide. The US$2-an-hour Wi-Fi connection fee is expensive in a country where the average wage is approximately $20 a month.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminated the need for an exit visa to leave the island. Exit visas had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government—and to their families. Since then, many people who had previously been denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reforms gave the government broad discretionary powers to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest.” Such measures have allowed the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), was denied the right to travel abroad in August for “reasons of public interest,” authorities said.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217, which is designed to limit migration to Havana. The decree has been used to prevent dissidents from traveling to Havana to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live there.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.  While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Labor Rights

Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages and wage payment, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Key International Actors

In January, a month after announcing plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo of Cuba imposed more than four decades ago. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called on the United States to end the embargo, most recently in October by a vote of 191 to two.

At time of writing, Cuba had yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by UN human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the US.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position on Cuba,” adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. After a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, EU and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. A fifth round of negotiations towards an EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement took place in Havana in September 2015, and a sixth round was scheduled for late November.

In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a regional position on the UN Human Rights Council, despite its poor human rights record and consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a member of the council, Cuba has regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights abuses around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. However, Cuba supported a landmark resolution the council adopted in September 2014 to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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HOW GREAT IT IS TO BE ABLE TO “THROW THE RASCALS OUT”!

By Arch Ritter

The people of Canada just changed governments, voting out the Conservatives under Steven Harper and voting in The Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau.  It was a hard-fought campaign, with the Liberals coming from a distant third place and gradually moving to first place by means of great campaigning, good policies, steadily improving leadership and a widespread dissatisfaction with the government of Steven Harper.  The win by the Liberal party represents generational change, the installation of a new team to form the government, new energy and intellectual entrepreneurship, and a new and improved rapport with the Canadian people.

How great it is to be able to “Throw the Rascals Out”!

The results of the election are illustrated graphically below.

“Old Regimes” in time become mired in their sense of entitlement, self-importance, paralytic conservatism, sclerosis, irrelevance, entrepreneurial lethargy, and intellectual exhaustion.

The regime of the Castro dynasty in Cuba continues to block any opening to an authentic pluralistic and participatory democracy. This is most likely largely because it fears that it would be voted out of office and lose its monopoly of political power and the perquisites of power. How nice it must have been for President Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul to know that they would never have to fight a free and fair election and that they would never wake up the next morning out of office and out of power – despite their long series of policy screw-ups.[i]

But whether Raul’s regime likes it or not, an opposition, though tightly or almost totally repressed at this time, will strengthen. Movement towards genuine participatory democracy will only intensify.  Generational change will come.

If Raul Castro were truly interested in the long term health of Cuba – and his own historical “legacy” – he himself would make moves towards such political pluralism. Unfortunately, this is improbable though perhaps not impossible

[i] Recall Fidel, 1970: ” We have cost the people too much in our process of learning. … The learning process of revolutionaries in the field of economic construction is more difficult than we had imagined.” Speech of July 26, 1970, Granma Weekly Review, August 2, 1970

xzzzz zzzzzz zz

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WHEN FRANCIS CAME TO CUBA

By Carlos Eire

Carlos Eire is the T. L. Riggs Professor of Catholic Studies at Yale University.

Original article here: When Francis Came to Cuba, 

From “First Things” (“America’s most influential journal of religion and  public life”), October 25, 2015

CUBA-POPE-VISIT-MASSWe should cheer any time a pope mingles with sinners. It’s what Jesus did, and what his vicar on earth is supposed to do, too. Sin and evil need to be confronted, not ignored, and those who are unjust should be urged to repent and mend their ways. Unfortunately, there is little to cheer about when it comes to the mingling Pope Francis did with the Castro brothers in Cuba, and with other heads of state in Latin America who praise and emulate their dictatorship. Pope Francis seems much too comfortable with Latin American dictators and with their symbols of repression.

A few months ago, when he visited Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis mingled with presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, avowed disciples of Fidel and Raul Castro with tyrannical tendencies, but he refrained from speaking about their human rights abuses. He also received a blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix from Evo Morales and accepted this gift with a smile. What if that crucifix had been in the shape of a swastika rather than a hammer and sickle?

That incident was a portent of things to come in Cuba, where Pope Francis has smiled his way through meetings with blood-soaked tyrants and failed to speak out about human rights abuses on the island, or to challenge the cruelty of his hosts. Pope Francis also failed to meet with any of Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, despite their urgent pleas for an encounter. This is not so much the “preferential option for the poor” as the preferential option for oppressors.

Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino explained this approach by saying that the Catholic Church in Cuba had to avoid “partisan politics.” This is the same prince of the Church who has called for the arrest of asylum-seeking dissidents in his churches, and in April of 2012, at Harvard University, ridiculed these persecuted Cubans as “former delinquents” and “people with psychological disturbances” who lacked “any cultural level.” Despite his frequent calls for “reconciliation,” Ortega has referred to Cuban exiles as “gusanos” (worms or maggots), the unchristian epithet that the Castro regime has applied to all its opponents for over half a century.

The papal entourage eventually decided to give in to the dissidents’ pleas for a meeting at the last minute, as an afterthought, but the results were predictably disastrous. When some democracy advocates were suddenly and unexpectedly invited to meet with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana all of them were arrested as soon as they left their homes. In addition, many other non-violent dissidents were rounded up or placed under house arrest, to prevent them from attending the pope’s open-air Mass. Meanwhile, the Castro regime sent busloads of its own hand-picked supporters to the papal Mass, to ensure that Pope Francis would have a sufficiently large audience of politically-correct Cubans. Worst of all, the selection process for those who were crammed into those buses was vetted at the parish level by the Cuban Catholic Church, and approved by its bishops.

When four dissidents somehow managed to get close to Pope Francis, despite the efforts of church and state to keep all such Cubans away from him, they were quickly attacked by plain-clothed state security agents and whisked away to prison. Has Pope Francis denounced these injustices, which amount to religious persecution? Has he voiced concern over the compliance of his bishops in this persecution? No. Not a word. His silence is deafening.

The Holy Father’s homily on Sunday, in Havana, focused on the vulnerable members of society, and it could have been delivered anywhere on earth. His sermon was full of beautiful sentiments, but there was very little in it about Cuba, and nothing whatsoever about the oppression, vulnerability, and poverty of the Cuban people. This sermon displayed none of the sharp-edged subtlety favored by his own Jesuit order. It was far too subtle. So subtle, in fact, that only someone with a doctoral degree in theology, rhetoric, or political science might be able to detect any reference to injustice in it.

As Newsweek has observed, seventeen years ago in his homily in Havana, John Paul II mentioned “freedom” seventeen times and “justice” thirteen times. In his homily, Francis did not mention “freedom” or “justice” once. All that Francis said about Cubans was that they are “a people which has its wounds, like every other people.” In other words, Francis told Cubans that they are no worse off than any other people on earth after fifty-six years of economic and political repression, and that they really have nothing to complain about. The closest he came to upbraiding the Castro regime or to calling for an end to the enslavement of the Cuban people was to say: “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”

Ironically, dictator Raúl Castro had just greeted Pope Francis at the airport with a long speech that had less to do with his visit than with praising the failed ideology that has made Cuba one of the poorest and most repressive nations on earth. “Preserving socialism is tantamount to securing independence, sovereignty, development and the well being of our nation,” said dictator Raúl.

In his long-winded speech, Raúl Castro strung together a series of lies that have yet to be challenged by the Pope or by anyone at the Vatican. Emboldened by the pope’s overt approval of his regime, made manifest in their meeting in Rome this past spring, the octogenarian dictator boasted: “We have founded an equitable society with social justice and extensive access to culture, attached to traditions and to the most advanced ideas of Cuba, Latin America, the Caribbean and the world.”

As if this were not cheeky enough, the unelected and unchallenged “president” Raúl Castro also claimed that he was committed to building “a prosperous and sustainable socialism focused on human beings and the family, and with the free, democratic, conscious and creative involvement of the entire society.”

Fine things to say, especially for someone who is responsible for driving out into exile twenty percent of his country’s population, breaking apart millions of families, and stifling all dissent and all access to outside sources of information. The Holy Father had nothing to say about these lies then or afterward.

Sadly, however, he did have something nice to say to the oppressors. According to Granma, the top official newspaper of that regime, in a private meeting Francis “thanked comrade Fidel Castro for his contributions to world peace in a world saturated with hate and aggression.” If this is indeed true, Francis has overlooked the history of a consistently violent government, one of the very few to have brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and the only one in Latin America to have sent troops to three continents and to have sponsored warfare and terrorism around the globe, and to have consistently called for the extermination of Israel.

What is any Catholic to make of this? Why has Pope Francis chosen to side with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed?

God only knows. Perhaps he wants to win favor with the Castro regime so that the Catholic Church in Cuba can avoid the persecution experienced by Protestant evangelical churches on that island? Perhaps he knows that most popes who have locked horns with secular rulers have ended up losing way too much? Perhaps he is taking a cautious Jesuit approach of the sort taken by his order in seventeenth-century China? Perhaps he knows that the Catholic Church has always thought of change in terms of decades, centuries, and millennia rather than days, weeks, months, or years? Or perhaps he likes what he sees in Cuba and genuinely admires its unelected rulers? His reasoning is immaterial. What matters most is that his smiling silence and his joviality in the company of ruthless oppressors is immensely dismaying.

Pope Francis is not exactly the silent type when it comes to social, political, or economic issues. When he thinks something is wrong, he lets the world know, as he has just done in his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he champions environmentalism and excoriates materialist consumerism. A few months ago, in Bolivia, he spoke of “the unfettered pursuit of money” as nothing less than “the dung of the devil.”

So, why is it that he refrained from calling the Castro regime and other such failed experiments in materialist totalitarian communism “the dung of the devil”? Is communist materialism any less fiendish? Is communist political and economic repression any less reprehensible? Why didn’t he call Raúl and Fidel Castro to repentance? Why did he praise them instead?

We’d like to know why.

But who are “we,” and why are “we” so impertinent, you ask?

Here is who “we” are: we who have been unjustly abused by the Castro regime, who have seen our nation ruined, who have had our relatives tortured and killed, who have seen our families torn apart by imprisonments and exile, who have been denied the right to express ourselves freely, who have been subjected to atheist indoctrination and had our right to worship denied. In brief: we who know from first-hand experience that to live in Cuba is to be a slave.

We could provide a much longer list of injustices endured for the past fifty-six years, but what would be the use? For now, all we Cuban Catholics can do is acknowledge the fact that the first pope, Saint Peter, made many, many mistakes, and that none of his successors have been infallible when it comes to politics. And we can take comfort in praying along with an innumerable throng of Christians who stretch all the way back to first century: Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

CUBA-POPE-VISIT-MASS pope

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THE CHURCH, POPE FRANCIS, AND CUBA

Raul-Castro-Pope-FrancisWorld Affairs Journal September/October Issue, 2015.

José Azel

Eight hundred years ago, the Magna Carta laid the foundations for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler.

King John of England, who signed this great document, believed that since he governed by divine right, there were no limits on his authority. But his need for money outweighed this principle and he acceded to his barons’ demand to sign the document limiting his powers, in exchange for their help.

King John then appealed to Pope Innocent III who promptly declared the Magna Carta to be “not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust” and deemed the charter to be “null and void of all validity forever.” Thus from the beginning of the conflict between individual rights and unlimited authority, the Church sided with authority. It is a position that, with notable exceptions has, and continues to characterize the conduct of Church-State affairs.

In 1929, the Holy See signed with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government the Lateran Treaty which recognized the Vatican as an independent state. In exchange for the Pope’s public support, Mussolini also agreed to provide the Church with financial backing.

In 1933, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) signed on behalf of Pope Pius XI, the Reich Concordat to advance the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany. The treaty predictably gave moral legitimacy to the Nazi regime and constrained the political activism of the German Catholic clergy which had been critical of Nazism. Similarly, advancing the Church’s interests in Cuba is the explanation given for the Church’s hierarchy coziness with the Castro regime.

For most of us the Catholic Church is simply a religion, but the fact is that it is also a state with its own international politico-economic interests and views. It is hard to discern the defense of any moral or religious principles in the above historic undertakings of the Church-State.

These doings of the Church, as a state in partnership with authoritarian rule, are in sharp contrast with the Biblical rendition, where Christ was persecuted for his political views by a tyrannical regime acting in complicity with the leadership of His church. Cubans today are also politically persecuted by a tyrannical regime. The question arises as to whether the leadership of the Catholic Church will side with the people or with the Castro regime.

Pope Francis probably, was not thinking of Magna Carta, the Lateran Treaty or the Reich Concordat, when he warmly received General Raul Castro in the Vatican earlier this spring, and he probably won’t be thinking about that foundational document for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler or how the medieval Church spurned it when he travels to Cuba in September. But the questions of the Vatican’s support for authoritarianism and the Pope’s political ideology will be in the background of his visit nonetheless.

In political terms, Pope Francis is himself the head of an authoritarian state -an oligarchical theocracy where only the aristocracy -the Princes of the College of Cardinals- participate in the selection of the ruler. Most religions do not follow a democratic structure, but the Catholic Church is unique in that it is also a state recognized by international law.

Pope Francis may seem to be sailing against the winds of this structure in some of his carefully publicized “iconoclasms,” but clues he has left as to his political and economic thought regarding Cuba show someone very comfortable with certain status quos.

In 1998, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the Pope was then known, authored a book titled: “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro.” In my reading of the Pope’s complex Spanish prose, he favors socialism over capitalism provided it incorporates theism. He does not take issue with Fidel Castro’s claim that “Karl Marx’s doctrine is very close to the Sermon on the Mount,” and views the Cuban polity as in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine.

Following Church tradition he severely condemns U.S. economic sanctions, but Pope Francis goes much further. He uses Cuba’s inaccurate and politically charged term “blockade” and echoes the Cuban government’s allegations about its condign evil. He then criticizes free markets, noting that “neoliberal capitalism is a model that subordinates human beings and conditions development to pure market forces…thus humanity attends a cruel spectacle that crystalizes the enrichment of the few at the expense of the impoverishment of the many.” (Author’s translation)

In his prologue to “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Monsignor Bergoglio leaves no doubt that he sympathizes with the Cuban dictatorship and that he is not a fan of liberal democracy or free markets. He clearly believes in a very large, authoritarian role for the state in social and economic affairs. Perhaps, as many of his generation, the Pope’s understanding of economics and governance was perversely tainted by Argentina’s Peronist trajectory and the country’s continued corrupt mixture of statism and crony capitalism.

His language in the prologue is reminiscent of the “Liberation Theology” movement that developed in Latin America in the 1960’s and became very intertwined with Marxist ideology. Fathered by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, the liberation theology movement provided the intellectual foundations that, with Cuban support, served to orchestrate “wars of national liberation” throughout the continent. Its iconography portrayed Jesus as a guerrilla with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI censured Liberation Theology, but after Pope Francis met with father Gutierrez in 2013 in “a strictly private visit,” L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, published an essay stating that with the election of the first pope from Latin America Liberation Theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years…”

The political ideology of the Argentinian Monsignor Bergoglio may not have been of any transcendental significance. But as Pope Francis, he is now the head of a state with defined international political and economic interests. These state-interests and personal ideology will be in full display in his upcoming visit to Cuba and the United States.

In “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Pope Francis speaks of a “shared solidarity” but, as with Pope Innocent III’s rejection of the Magna Carta, that solidarity appears to be with the nondemocratic illegitimate authority in Cuba and not with the people. This is a tragic echo of the Cuban wars for independence when the Church sided with the Spanish Crown and not with the Cuban “mambises” fighting for freedom. No wonder that when Cuba gained its independence, many Cubans saw the Church as an enemy of the new nation.

In his September visit Pope Francis will have a chance to reverse this history and unequivocally put the Church on the side of the people, especially with the black and mulatto majority in the Island. If he does not, history will judge him as unkindly as it has Innocent III. When the Castros’ tropical gulag finally fades into the past, Cubans will remember that this Pope had a choice between freedom and authoritarianism, just as his predecessor did eight hundred years ago, and picked the wrong side.

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José Azel is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book “Mañana in Cuba.”

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Human Rights Watch, WORLD REPORT 2015: CUBA, EVENTS OF 2014

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HRW 2015The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. While in recent years it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island in exchange for several concessions by the Cuban government, including a commitment to release 53 political prisoners and to allow visits by international human rights monitors.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN)—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2014, a sharp increase from approximately 2,900 in 2013 and 1,100 in 2010 during the same time period.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics and threaten them with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can then use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.

Detention is often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. In the days leading up to the summit meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), for example, which took place in Havana on January 28 and 29, 2014, at least 40 people were arbitrarily detained, and 5 held under house arrest until the conference had ended, according to the CCDHRN.

Members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely detained before or after they attend Sunday mass. On May 4, for example, more than 80 women were detained before attending mass throughout the island. On July 13, 129 members of the group were detained as they prepared to attend commemorative ceremonies honoring Cubans who died attempting to leave the island in 1994.

Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours and even days. The former political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, who was placed under house arrest for the duration of the CELAC conference and then arrested when he attempted to leave home, reported suffering two broken ribs and other injuries as a result of a beating he received while in detention. Yilenni Aguilera Santos, a member of the Damas de Blanco movement in Holguín, reported suffering a miscarriage when security agents subjected her to a severe beating after arresting her on her way to mass on June 22.

Political Prisoners

Even after the conditional release of dozens of political prisoners in December 2014, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups. These groups estimate that there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government prevents independent national or international human rights groups from accessing its prisons.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. While people in cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, or Santa Clara have access to the Internet, people in more rural areas are not able to go online.

A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that the Internet cannot be used for activities that undermine “public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security” of Cuba—broadly worded conditions that could be used against government critics.

A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. Yet those who publish information considered critical of the government are sometimes subject to smear campaigns, attacks, and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

In May 2014, blogger Yoani Sanchez launched the website 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent online newspaper. Within hours, the site was hacked, and visitors were directed to a page dedicated to scathing criticisms of Sanchez. The site was restored the following day, but blocked again several days later, and has remained inaccessible to Internet users within Cuba ever since.

In May 2013, the director of the government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute, Roberto Zurbano, published an article in the New York Times highlighting persistent inequality and prejudice affecting Afro-Cubans. He was subsequently attacked in the government-controlled press and demoted to a lesser job at the institute.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminate the need for an exit visa to leave the island, which had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government and their families. Since then, many people who had been previously denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reform included very broad discretionary powers that allow the government to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest,” allowing the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, authorities have repeatedly denied Manuel Cuesta Morúa the right to travel abroad since he attempted to organize a parallel summit to the CELAC conference in January 2014.

The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August 2013, the Cuban government denied Blanca Reyes, a Damas de Blanco member living in exile in Spain, permission to travel to Cuba to visit her ailing 93-year-old father, who died in October before she could visit him.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents from traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, and unhygienic and unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest, are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Key International Actors

President Obama announced in December 2014 that the US government would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island. In exchange, the Cuban government committed itself to—among other things— releasing 53 political prisoners and allowing visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN human rights monitors.

President Obama also called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. For more than half a century, the embargo has  imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights record. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba. In October 2014, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the embargo.

The European Union (EU) continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. However, after a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, European Union and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. EU officials indicated that concerns about civil liberties and democratic participation would continue to influence EU policy towards Cuba.

At the Organization of American States General Assembly in June, governments throughout the region called for the attendance of Cuba at the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015.

In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and its consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a UNHRC member, Cuba regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights situations around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Belarus, and Ukraine. Cuba, however, supported the landmark resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity adopted by the council in September 2014.

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