Cuba: Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices 2004.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. February
28, 2005. (FULL REPORT)
Cuba is a totalitarian state controlled by Fidel Castro, who is chief of
state with the titles of president, head of government, first secretary
of the Communist Party (CP), and commander in chief of the armed forces.
The regime exercises control over all aspects of life through the CP and
its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy headed by
the Council of State, and the state security apparatus. In March 2003,
he declared his intent to remain in power for life. The CP is the only
legal political entity, and President Castro personally chooses the
membership of the Politburo, the select group that heads the CP. There
are no contested elections for the 609 member National Assembly of
People's Power (ANPP), which meets twice a year for several days to
rubber stamp decisions and policies previously decided by the governing
Council of State. In 2003, government supporters won all 609 ANPP seats
in uncontested elections. In 2003, the Government also held a referendum
making the socialist character of the constitution "untouchable." The CP
controls all government positions, including judicial offices. The
judiciary is completely subordinate to the Government and to the CP.
The Ministry of Interior is the principal instrument of state security
and control. Officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which are led
by Fidel Castro's brother, General Raul Castro, have occupied the
majority of key positions in the Ministry of Interior during the past 15
years. In addition to the routine law enforcement functions of
regulating migration and controlling the Border Guard and the regular
police forces, the Interior Ministry's Department of State Security
investigated and suppressed political opposition and dissent. It
maintained a pervasive system of surveillance through undercover agents,
informers, rapid response brigades (RRBs), and neighborhood based
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). The Government
traditionally has used the CDRs to mobilize citizens against dissenters,
impose ideological conformity, and root out "counterrevolutionary"
behavior. RRBs consisted of workers from a particular brigade such as
construction or factory workers organized by the CP to react forcefully
to any situation of social unrest. The Government on occasion used RRBs
instead of the police or military during such situations. Members of the
security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.
The economy was centrally planned, with some elements of state managed
capitalism in sectors such as tourism and mining. The country's
population was approximately 11 million. Exports largely were restricted
to primary products such as sugar and minerals, but tourism and emigre
remittances were key sources of hard currency. Inefficiency, outdated
infrastructure, and natural disasters led to the lowest sugar harvest in
70 years in 2003, with only a slight recovery during the year and
continued low yields projected for 2005. The Government announced
economic growth of 5 percent during the year using a new, unique way of
calculating gross domestic product that ostensibly gives greater weight
to social programs.
The State controlled approximately 90 percent of the formal economy, and
the Government continued to harass citizens working in the underground
economy. Less than 2 percent of citizens worked in the highly regulated
private sector. In August, the Government issued a resolution allowing
citizens with certain private sector licenses to exercise the right to
work in the licensed field only after completing a full day of work in
their regular government job. In October, the Government began a policy
of cancelling the issuance of new work licenses in 40 private sector
Government policy officially was aimed at preventing economic disparity,
but citizens with access to foreign currency enjoyed a significantly
higher standard of living than those with only pesos. In November, after
9 years as legal tender, the Government disallowed the use of the U.S.
dollar and began charging a 10 percent surcharge to exchange dollars to
"convertible pesos." A convertible peso is equivalent to one U.S.
dollar. The vast majority of citizens earned their salaries in pesos and
only had access to convertible pesos if they worked in the tourist
sector or received remittances from abroad. A system of "tourism
apartheid" continued, whereby citizens often were denied access to
hotels, beaches, and resorts reserved for foreigners.
The Government's human rights record remained poor, and the Government
continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. Citizens did not have the
right to change their government peacefully. Although the Constitution
allows legislative proposals backed by at least 10,000 citizens to be
submitted directly to the ANPP, in 2002 and 2003, the Government
rejected 2 petitions, known as the Varela Project, with more than 25,000
signatures, calling for a national referendum on political and economic
reforms. CP affiliated mass organizations tightly controlled elections
to provincial and national legislative bodies, resulting in the
selection of single, government approved candidates. In March 2003, the
Government arrested 75 human rights activists, subjected them to summary
trials, and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 6 to 28 years.
During the year, authorities arrested an additional 22 human rights
activists and sentenced them for acts such as contempt for authority.
Members of the security forces and prison officials continued to beat
and abuse detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists. The
Government failed to prosecute or sanction adequately members of the
security forces and prison guards who committed abuses. Prison
conditions remained harsh and life threatening, and the Government
restricted medical care to some prisoners as a method of control.
Prisoners died in jail due to lack of medical care. The authorities
routinely continued to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain,
imprison, and defame human rights advocates and members of independent
professional associations, including journalists, economists, doctors,
and lawyers. The Government denied political dissidents and human rights
advocates due process and subjected them to unfair trials. The
Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government denied
citizens the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association and
closely monitored domestic and international journalists through
physical and electronic surveillance. It limited the distribution of
foreign publications and news, restricted access to the Internet, and
strictly censored news and information. The Government restricted some
religious activities but permitted others. The Government limited the
entry of religious workers to the country. The Government tightly
restricted freedom of movement, including foreign travel, and did not
allow some citizens to leave the country. The Government controlled
internal movements and used external exile to punish dissenters. The
Government did not permit domestic human rights groups to function
legally, sharply and publicly rejected all criticism of its human rights
practices, and discouraged foreign contacts with human rights activists.
Violence against women, especially domestic violence, and underage
prostitution were problems. Racial discrimination was a problem. The
Government severely restricted worker rights, including the right to
form independent unions.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life
committed by the Government or its agents.
Unlike in 2003, there were no reports during the year of the Government
summarily executing its citizens.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
The Constitution prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners;
however, members of the security forces sometimes beat and otherwise
abused human rights advocates, detainees, and prisoners. The Government
took no steps to curb these abuses. There continued to be numerous
reports of disproportionate police harassment of black youths (see
On August 2, Nivaldo Diaz Castello, a Varela Project leader, was
detained by State Security agents, threatened, and stripped of all his
belongings before being released.
The Government continued to subject persons who disagreed with it to
what it called acts of repudiation. At government instigation, members
of state controlled mass organizations, fellow workers, or neighbors of
intended victims were obliged to stage public protests against those who
dissented from the Government's policies, shouting obscenities and often
causing damage to the homes and property of those targeted; physical
attacks on the victims sometimes occurred. Police and State Security
agents often were present but took no action to prevent or end the
attacks. Those who refused to participate in these actions faced
disciplinary action, including loss of employment.
On March 5 and March 17, an unknown group stoned the house of activists
Tomas Gonzalez Coya Rodriguez and Beatriz Pacheco Nunez, of Santa Clara,
breaking down the front door. The stones were wrapped in paper on which
obscenities were written. The family also received anonymous death
threats via phone.
On April 19, assailants pelted the Havana home of Henry Samuel,
President of the Republican Alternative Movement, with jars of human
excrement. Samuel reported the incident to the National Revolutionary
Police (PNR), which took no action.
On September 8, Elsa Morejon reported that on several occasions during
the year, large groups of people had gathered around her home to yell
profanities and insult her husband, human rights activist Dr. Oscar
Elias Biscet, who was arrested in 2002 for "acts against the
independence or the territorial integrity of the State."
Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening, and
conditions in detention facilities also were harsh. The Government
claimed that prisoners enjoyed rights such as family visitation,
adequate nutrition, pay for work, the right to request parole, and the
right to petition the prison director. Police and prison officials,
however, often denied these rights in practice, and beat, neglected,
isolated, and denied medical treatment to detainees and prisoners,
including those convicted of political crimes or those who persisted in
expressing their views. Political prisoners in particular often were
held at facilities hundreds of miles from their families, placing an
undue hardship on many families' time and financial resources.
The Penal Code prohibits the use of corporal punishment on prisoners and
the use of any means to humiliate prisoners or to lessen their dignity;
however, the Code fails to establish penalties for committing such acts,
and they continued to occur in practice. Detainees and prisoners, both
common and political, often were subjected to repeated, vigorous
interrogations designed to coerce them into signing incriminating
statements, to force collaboration with authorities, or to intimidate
victims. Some endured physical and sexual abuse, typically by other
inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in punitive
isolation cells. Pretrial detainees were generally held separately from
convicted prisoners, although some long term detainees, including
political detainees, were held with convicted prisoners. In Havana,
there were two detention centers; once sentenced, persons were
transferred to a prison.
Fabio Prieto Llorente, one of the 75 activists arrested in March 2003,
reported he was held in a small cell with leaky walls and a cement slab
for a bed. The cell was infested with rats, frogs, and insects. Prieto
was serving a 20 year sentence for "acts against the independence or the
territorial integrity of the State."
Prisoners sometimes were held in "punishment cells," which usually were
located in the basement of a prison, with continuous semi dark
conditions, no available water, and a hole for a toilet. Reading
materials, including Bibles, were not allowed, and unlike in previous
years, authorities denied visits to families of political prisoners
while they were held in these cells. Prisoners in punishment cells had
no access to lawyers.
On January 1, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, a Varela Project leader and one
of the 75 activists arrested in March 2003, reported serving 45 days in
a punishment cell for protesting the suspension of correspondence and
the delivery of food and medical supplies from his family. He did not
receive food or water during the first 3 days of his confinement and
slept on a cement floor. Authorities confiscated his Bible and
prohibited any contact with other prisoners. Ferrer was serving a 25
year sentence for "acts against the independence or the territorial
integrity of the State."
On July 5, Elsa Morejon reported that her husband, Dr. Biscet, was sent
to a punishment cell for refusing to eat in the prison cafeteria, wear
the uniform of common prisoners, and stand at attention when guards
entered his cell. He was not permitted to read, write, or leave his cell
to get exercise. In addition, prison authorities refused to accept food
and medical supplies brought by Morejon or permit anyone to bring him
food. As a result, Biscet found himself on a virtual hunger strike.
Prison guards and State Security officials subjected human rights and
pro democracy activists to threats of physical violence, to systematic
psychological intimidation, and to detention or imprisonment in cells
with common and violent criminals, sexually aggressive inmates, or State
Security agents posing as prisoners.
On January 21, Yeni Veloz Oquendo, wife of common prisoner Estany
Rodriguez Preval, reported that jailers at Valle Grande prison had
sexually abused her husband.
On June 17, Ana Aguililla, wife of political prisoner Francisco Chaviano,
arrested in May 1994 for "revealing state security secrets," reported
that prison authorities forced Chaviano from his cell, stripped him, and
publicly beat him.
On July 6, family members of political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez,
arrested in 1990 for articulating "enemy propaganda," reported being
beaten along with Garcia during a prison visit. Authorities handcuffed
and beat Garcia and later punched his sister and kicked his girlfriend's
9 year old son after the visitors protested the harsh treatment.
On August 3, Yarai Reyes, wife of Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, 1 of the
75 political prisoners arrested in March 2003, reported that prison
authorities incited common prisoners to beat her husband. Hernandez was
serving a 25 year sentence for "acts against the independence or the
territorial integrity of the State."
The Government regularly failed to provide adequate nutrition and
medical attention, and approximately 10 to 20 prisoners reportedly died
due to lack of medical attention. Both the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights (IACHR) and the Representative for Cuba of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as other human rights monitoring
organizations, have reported the widespread incidence in prisons of
tuberculosis, scabies, hepatitis, parasitic infections, and
malnutrition. In April, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights
Watch (HRW) issued reports expressing concern regarding the poor health
of numerous political prisoners, the limitations on family visits for
some political prisoners, and the incarceration of many political
prisoners far from their home provinces. The Government did not respond
to AI or HRW.
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a political prisoner released during the year,
reported that prison officials regularly denied him adequate medical
treatment during his 20-month incarceration.
On April 13, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez reported the deaths of three common
prisoners, Vidal Caerencio de la Hoz Avila, Felix Hernandez Soa, and
Didier Marrero Pereira, because they had not received emergency medical
On June 14, Masiel Gutierrez, wife of Rolando Jimenez Posada, a human
rights activist arrested in April 2003 without any formal charges,
reported that her husband had been beaten and placed in a punishment
cell for demanding his asthma medication.
On August 29, Barbara Rojo Arias, wife of Omar Ruiz Hernandez, an
independent journalist and 1 of the 75 human rights activists arrested
in March 2003, reported that her husband was denied access to required
medications for his heart condition and stomach problems. Ruiz was
serving an 18 year sentence for "acts against the independence or the
territorial integrity of the State."
During the year, the Government released 18 political prisoners,
reportedly for medical reasons.
Prison officials regularly denied prisoners other rights, such as the
right to correspondence, and continued to confiscate medications and
food brought by family members for political prisoners. Some prison
directors routinely denied religious workers access to detainees and
On March 11, in a letter to his wife Gisela Sanchez Verdecia, Antonio
Diaz Sanchez complained that prison authorities confiscated and censored
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, a political prisoner released during the
year, reported that prison authorities denied her access to religious
workers during her entire 16 month incarceration. She also stated that
prison authorities offered religious services to common prisoners but
threatened prisoners who exercised this right with denial of privileges,
such as visits and correspondence.
There were separate prison facilities for women and for minors. Human
rights activists believed that conditions in these facilities were poor.
The law provides that pretrial detainees are held separately from
convicted prisoners; however, the law was seldom enforced in practice,
often because of a lack of facilities.
The Government did not permit independent monitoring of prison
conditions by international or national human rights monitoring groups.
The Government has refused to allow prison visits by the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 1989. In April, for the first
time in 15 years, the Government invited a group of international
journalists to visit two selected prison hospital wards. Many
participants dismissed the visits as staged propaganda.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be problems, and they
remained the Government's most effective and commonly used tactics for
harassing opponents. The Law of Penal Procedures requires police to file
formal charges and either release a detainee or bring the case before a
prosecutor within 96 hours of arrest. It also requires the authorities
to provide suspects with access to a lawyer within 7 days of arrest.
However, the Constitution states that all legally recognized civil
liberties can be denied to anyone who actively opposes the decision of
the people to build socialism. The authorities routinely invoked this
sweeping authority to deny due process to those detained on purported
state security grounds.
The Ministry of the Interior exercises control over police and internal
security forces. The PNR is the primary law enforcement organization and
generally was effective in investigating common crimes. Specialized
units of the Ministry of the Interior are responsible for monitoring,
infiltrating, and suppressing opposition political groups. The PNR plays
a supporting role by carrying out house searches and providing
interrogation facilities for State Security agents. There were some
reports in both the independent and official press of bribery and
corruption within the security forces.
The authorities routinely engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention of
human rights advocates, subjecting them to interrogations, threats,
degrading treatment, and unsanitary conditions for hours or days at a
time. Police frequently lacked warrants when carrying out arrests or
issued warrants themselves at the time of arrest. Authorities sometimes
employed false charges of common crimes to arrest political opponents.
Detainees often were not informed of the charges against them. The
authorities continued to detain human rights activists and independent
journalists for short periods, including house arrest, often to prevent
them from attending or participating in events related to human rights
issues (see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.).
Time in detention before trial counted toward time served if convicted.
Bail was available and usually was low and more equivalent to a fine.
During the year, authorities arrested 22 human rights activists,
including 3 Varela Project organizers and an independent librarian. By
year's end, 13 of the 22 had been tried and sentenced.
On February 4, authorities arrested independent librarian Jose Agramonte
Leiva for contempt for authority, specifically for having yelled, "Down
with Fidel!" At year's end, he remained incarcerated awaiting trial (see
On April 19, authorities arrested Alexis Garcia Pena and Walter Lopez
Gonzalez of the Christian Liberation Movement for their activities in
promotion of the Varela Project.
In March 2003, authorities arrested 75 human rights activists,
journalists, and opposition political figures, charging them with
violating national security and aiding a foreign power, among other
crimes. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern
regarding the arrests and summary trials, as did many governments,
international organizations, and public figures. During the year, the
Government released 14 of the 75 activists, including Martha Beatriz
Roque Cabello of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, independent
journalist Raul Rivero, independent journalist and economist Oscar
Espinosa Chepe, and independent journalist and poet Manuel Vasquez
Portal. At year's end, the other 61 activists remained in prison.
During the year, the 15 remaining persons arrested near the Mexican
Embassy in 2002 remained in prison awaiting trial, which was scheduled
for January 2005.
At year's end, at least 13 political detainees were awaiting trial, many
of whom had been held for more than 1 year.
The Government often held persons without charges for months. On April
27, after more than 25 months in prison, authorities sentenced 10 human
rights activists and independent journalists arrested in 2002, including
blind human rights activist Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva (see Section
1.e). Gonzalez Levya subsequently was released conditionally and told he
could not leave his home province of Ciego de Avila without express
The Government also often released activists after months of detention
On June 8, authorities released Leonardo Bruzon Avila, Carlos Alberto
Dominguez, Emilio Leyva Perez, and Lazaro Rodriguez Capote after 28
months of imprisonment without trial.
The authorities sometimes detained independent journalists to question
them about contacts with foreigners or to prevent them from covering
sensitive issues or criticizing the Government (see Section 2.a.).
The Penal Code includes the concept of "dangerousness," defined as the
"special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by his
conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms." If the police
decide that a person exhibits signs of dangerousness, they may bring the
offender before a court or subject him to therapy or political
reeducation. Government authorities regularly threatened prosecution
under this provision. Both the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR)
and the IACHR criticized this tactic for its arbitrariness, the summary
nature of the judicial proceedings employed, the lack of legal
safeguards, and the political considerations behind its application.
According to the IACHR, the so called special inclination to commit
crimes referred to in the Penal Code amounted to a subjective criterion
used by the Government to justify violations of individual freedoms and
due process for persons whose sole crime was to hold a view different
from the official view.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for independent courts; however, it explicitly
subordinates the courts to the ANPP and the Council of State. The ANPP
and its lower level counterparts choose all judges. The subordination of
the courts to the CP, which the Constitution designates as the superior
directive force of society and the State, further compromises the
judiciary's independence. The courts undermined the right to a fair
trial by restricting the right to a defense and often failed to observe
the few due process rights available to defendants.
Civilian courts existed at the municipal, provincial, and supreme court
levels. Panels composed of a mix of professionally certified and lay
judges presided over them. There was a right to appeal, access to
counsel, and charges were generally known to the defendant, although
many political detainees subjected to summary trials in April 2003 were
unaware of the charges against them until moments before trial. The law
presumes the innocence of the accused, but the authorities often ignored
this right in practice.
The law and trial practices did not meet international standards for
fair public trials. Almost all cases were tried in less than 1 day;
there were no jury trials. While most trials were public, trials were
closed when there were alleged violations of state security. Prosecutors
may introduce testimony from a CDR member about the revolutionary
background of a defendant, which may contribute to either a longer or
shorter sentence. The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal
courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases such as those
involving maximum prison terms or the death penalty. Appeals in capital
cases are automatic. The Council of State ultimately must affirm capital
Criteria for presenting evidence, especially in cases involving human
rights advocates, were arbitrary and discriminatory. Often the sole
evidence provided, particularly in political cases, was the defendant's
confession, usually obtained under duress and without the legal advice
or knowledge of a defense lawyer (see Section 1.c.). The authorities
regularly denied defendants access to their lawyers until the day of the
trial. Several dissidents who served prison terms reported that they
were tried and sentenced without counsel and were not allowed to speak
on their own behalf.
On April 27, after 25 months in prison, the Government tried Juan Carlos
Gonzalez Leyva, of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights, and sentenced
him to 4 years in prison. He was released conditionally with credit for
time served, but told he could not leave the province of Ciego de Avila
without government permission. Gonzalez was arrested in 2002 after an
"illegal gathering" in support of an independent journalist who had been
beaten by State Security agents.
On April 27, the Government tried Antonio and Enrique Garcia Morejon of
the Christian Liberation Movement and sentenced them to 3 1/2 years'
imprisonment each for attending the same gathering as Gonzalez Leyva.
On May 18, after 18 months in prison, the Government sentenced Raul
Arencibia Fajardo, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and Virgilio Marantes Guelmes
to 3 years' imprisonment for public disorder, contempt for authority,
and resistance. The three were members of different organizations, but
were arrested together in 2002.
In April 2003, the Government arrested, summarily tried, convicted, and
sentenced 75 political activists within a period of 20 days. Authorities
did not reveal the charges against them and denied access to counsel
until the day of the trial. Much of the evidence against the defendants
consisted of unsubstantiated or unspecified allegations of activities
against the Government on behalf of a foreign power and vague
accusations of "counterrevolutionary" behavior. AI determined that all
75 jailed activists were "prisoners of conscience."
The law provides the accused with the right to an attorney, but the
control that the Government exerted over the livelihood of members of
the state controlled lawyers' collectives compromised their ability to
represent clients, especially those accused of state security crimes.
Attorneys reported reluctance to defend those charged in political cases
due to fear of jeopardizing their own careers.
Military tribunals assumed jurisdiction for certain counterrevolutionary
cases and were governed by a special law. The military tribunals
processed civilians if a member of the military was involved with
civilians in a crime. There was a right to appeal, access to counsel,
and the charges were known to the defendant.
Human rights monitoring groups inside the country estimated the number
of political prisoners at approximately 300. The authorities imprisoned
persons on charges such as disseminating enemy propaganda, illicit
association, contempt for the authorities (usually for criticizing
President Castro), clandestine printing, or the broad charge of
rebellion, which often was brought against advocates of peaceful
democratic change. The Government continued to deny human rights
organizations and the ICRC access to political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of a citizen's home and
correspondence; however, official surveillance of private and family
affairs by government controlled mass organizations, such as the CDRs,
remained one of the most pervasive and repressive features of daily
life. The Government employed physical and electronic surveillance
against nonviolent political opponents. The State assumed the right to
interfere in the lives of citizens, even those who did not oppose the
Government and its practices actively. The authorities utilized a wide
range of social controls. The mass organizations' ostensible purpose was
to improve the citizenry, but their real goal was to discover and
discourage nonconformity. Although official statistics indicated that
CDRs have grown over the past decade and included 93.5 percent of the
population over the age of 14, in reality, citizen participation in
these mass organizations declined. Economic constraints both reduced the
government's ability to provide material incentives for their
participation and forced many persons to engage in black market
activities, which the mass organizations were supposed to report to the
The Ministry of Interior employed an intricate system of informants and
block committees (the CDRs) to monitor and control public opinion. While
less capable than in the past, CDRs continued to report on suspicious
activity, including: Conspicuous consumption; unauthorized meetings,
including those with foreigners; and defiant attitudes toward the
Government and the revolution.
The Government controlled all access to the Internet, and censored all
electronic mail messages. Dial up Internet service was prohibitively
expensive for most citizens. State Security often read international
correspondence and monitored overseas telephone calls and conversations
with foreigners. The Government also monitored domestic phone calls and
correspondence, and sometimes denied telephone service to dissidents.
Cell phones generally were not available to average citizens.
On January 14, Barbara Lorenzo, who had attempted to emigrate illegally,
reported that police and other State Security agents threatened to
imprison her and take away her 3 year old daughter if she attempted to
leave the country again.
On October 18, Varela Project volunteer Ricardo Montes Puron reported
that State Security agents threatened to take away his granddaughter,
whom he had custody of and legally was trying to adopt, if he did not
leave the organization.
There were numerous credible reports of forced evictions of squatters
and residents who lacked official permission to reside in Havana.
On March 19, State Security agents forced independent journalist Carlos
Garcell Perez to abandon his father in law's house, where he had been
living because Garcell did not have government permission to live in the
house. Agents threatened the father in law and informed him that his
granddaughter would lose her job if he continued to allow Garcell to
live in the house.
The Government sometimes punished family members for the activities of
their relatives. On July 15, Dayli Tejeda Herrera, a third year
chemistry student, was expelled from the Central University of Las
Villas for "being the daughter of a counterrevolutionary." Her father,
Miguel Tejeda Tenorio, was the secretary general of the illegal
Christian Workers Union of Las Villas.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press insofar
as they "conform to the aims of socialist society"; this clause
effectively bars free speech. In law and in practice, the Government did
not allow criticism of the revolution or its leaders. Laws against anti
government propaganda, graffiti, and disrespect of officials impose
penalties between 3 months and 1 year in prison. If President Castro or
members of the ANPP or Council of State were the objects of criticism,
the sentence could be extended to 3 years. Charges of disseminating
enemy propaganda, which included merely expressing opinions at odds with
those of the Government, could result in sentences of up to 14 years. In
the Government's view, such materials as the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, to which the country is a signatory, international reports
of human rights violations, and mainstream foreign newspapers and
magazines, constituted enemy propaganda. Local CDRs inhibited freedom of
speech by monitoring and reporting dissent or criticism. Police and
State Security officials regularly harassed, threatened, and otherwise
abused human rights advocates in public and private to intimidate them.
The Constitution states that print and electronic media are state
property and can never become private property. The CP controlled all
media except for a few small, unauthorized church run publications. The
Penal Code bars "clandestine printing" and provides for 3 to 6 months'
imprisonment for failure to identify the author of a publication or the
printing press used to produce the publication. Even the Catholic church
run publications, denied access to mass printing equipment, were subject
to governmental pressure. Vitral magazine, a publication of the diocese
of Pinar del Rio, continued to publish during the year, although
officials publicly described it as "counterrevolutionary propaganda."
The Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops indicated that the Church did
not register its publications with the Ministry of Culture as required
by law because registration would force it to cede control to the State.
Citizens did not have the right to receive or possess publications from
abroad, although news stands in hotels for foreigners and certain hard
currency stores sold foreign newspapers and magazines. The Government
continued to jam the transmission of Radio Marti and Television Marti.
Radio Marti broadcasts at times overcame the jamming attempts on short
wave bands, but its medium wave transmissions were blocked completely in
Havana. State Security agents subjected dissidents, foreign diplomats,
and journalists to harassment and surveillance, including electronic
surveillance and surreptitious entry into their homes.
All legal media must operate under CP guidelines and reflect government
views. The Government attempted to shape media coverage to such a degree
that it pressured not only domestic journalists but also groups normally
outside official controls, such as visiting and resident international
correspondents. The Government barred some foreign journalists from
entering the country.
Law 88 outlaws a broad range of activities that undermine state security
and toughens penalties for criminal activity. Under the law, anyone
possessing or disseminating "subversive" literature or supplying
information that U.S. authorities could use to apply U.S. legislation,
may be subject to fines and prison terms of 7 to 20 years for each
charge. AI expressed "grave concern" regarding the application of Law
88, which it said appeared to place "unlawful restrictions on
internationally recognized rights."
In 2003, authorities arrested and sentenced more than 30 independent
journalists and human rights activists under Law 88. Reporters without
Borders (RSF) continued its campaign on behalf of the imprisoned
At year's end, 22 independent journalists arrested in March 2003 for
violating Law 88, including Ricardo Gonzalez Alonso, remained in prison.
On February 4, the Government arrested Jose Agramonte Leiva, of the
Project for Independent Libraries, on charges of contempt for authority
for yelling "Down with Fidel!" Agramonte was still awaiting trial at
year's end (see Section 1.c.).
The Government continued to subject independent journalists to: Internal
travel bans; arbitrary and periodic detentions (overnight or longer);
harassment of family and friends; seizures of computers, office, and
photographic equipment; and repeated threats of prolonged imprisonment.
Independent journalists in Havana reported that threatening phone calls
and harassment of family members continued during the year. The
authorities also placed journalists under house arrest to prevent them
from reporting on human rights conferences and events and on court cases
against activists. In addition, police increasingly tried to prevent
independent journalists from covering so called sensitive events. AI,
HRW, the Inter American Press Association, RSF, and the CPJ criticized
the imprisonment of journalists and the Government's continued practice
of detaining independent journalists and others simply for exercising
their right to free speech.
The Government used Ministry of the Interior agents to infiltrate and
report on independent journalists.
The authorities often confiscated journalists' equipment, especially
photographic and recording equipment. Fax machines or computers could be
purchased only using inconvertible pesos, with government permission;
however, even if a receipt could be produced, police often confiscated
equipment. Journalists reported that photocopiers and printers either
were unavailable locally or the stores refused to sell them to
individuals. During the year, the Government increased its efforts to
confiscate satellite television antennas, which it considered
Resident foreign correspondents reported that the very high level of
government pressure experienced since 2000, including official and
informal complaints about articles, continued throughout the year. The
Government controlled members of the resident foreign press by requiring
them to obtain an exit permit each time they wished to leave the
country. The Government also forced foreign correspondents to hire local
staff from government agencies.
Distribution of information continued to be controlled tightly.
Importation of foreign literature was controlled, and the public was
unable to receive or possess foreign magazines or newspapers. Leading
members of the Government asserted that citizens did not read foreign
newspapers and magazines because they had access to government media,
including the daily televised government led discussion on the issues
which they needed to concern themselves. The Government sometimes barred
independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized
materials donated by foreign diplomats.
By year's end, 8 of 9 independent librarians arrested in March 2003 and
convicted of violating Law 88 or for "acts against the independence or
the territorial integrity of the State" remained in prison, under
sentences of 13 to 26 years' imprisonment.
The Government controlled all access to the Internet, and all electronic
mail messages were subject to government review and censorship. In
November, RSF issued a report noting the severe repression of online
freedom of expression. Access to computers and peripheral equipment was
limited, and the Internet could be accessed only through government
approved institutions. On January 12, the Ministry of Information and
Communications issued a report stating there were 750 websites based in
the country, including 1,100 ".cu" domains, many of which were hosted
outside the country. Dial up access to government approved servers was
prohibitively expensive for most citizens. For example, cyber cafes
routinely charged 6 convertible pesos (150 pesos) per hour, nearly the
average worker's monthly salary. Only foreigners were permitted to
purchase Internet access cards from the national telephone monopoly,
ETECSA. As a result, clandestine Internet connections continued to
increase, and it was estimated that more than 40,000 of these
connections were made during the year.
On January 24, the Ministry of Information and Communications enacted a
resolution stating that direct access to the Internet only would be
available through telephone lines paid for in dollars, in an attempt to
restrict access "for the social good." In August, the Government closed
six cyber cafes in Camaguey for not serving the "social good," leaving
only one Internet cafe in the entire province. AI expressed concern
stating, "the new measures constitute yet another attempt to cut off
Cubans' access to alternative views and a space for discussing them."
E mail use grew slowly as the Government allowed access to more users;
however, the Government still permitted access to very few persons or
groups. In 2003, the Government blocked instant messaging programs. In
2002, the Government opened a national Internet gateway to some
journalists, artists, and municipal level youth community centers, but
the authorities continued to restrict the types and numbers of
international sites that could be opened. The Government did not permit
Catholic Church representatives to have Internet access.
The Government officially prohibits all diplomatic missions in Havana
from printing or distributing publications, particularly newspapers and
newspaper clippings, unless these publications exclusively address
conditions in a mission's home country and prior government approval is
received. Many missions did not accept this requirement and distributed
materials; however, the Government's threats to expel embassy officers
who provided published materials had a chilling effect on some missions.
The Government restricted literary and academic freedoms and continued
to emphasize the importance of reinforcing revolutionary ideology and
discipline at the expense of freedom of expression. The educational
system taught that the State's interests took precedence over all other
commitments. Academics, government journalists, and other government
officials were prohibited from meeting with some diplomats without prior
approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Education
required teachers to evaluate students' and their parents' ideological
character and to place such evaluations in school records. These reports
directly affected students' educational and career prospects. Government
policy required teaching materials for courses such as mathematics or
literature to have an ideological content. Government efforts to
undermine dissidents included denying them advanced education and
professional opportunities. Government controlled public libraries
denied access to books or information if the requestor was unable to
produce a letter of permission from the proper government ministry. In
2003, President Castro stated publicly that the universities were open
only to those who shared his revolutionary beliefs.
On February 22, an official of the Association for the Promotion and
Development of Literature barred independent journalist Abela Soto from
a literary presentation in Pinar del Rio, stating that the event was
"only for revolutionaries."
On May 24, authorities expelled 16 year old student Yasmani Oliva from
the Art Teachers School in Santa Clara for producing an anti Castro
poster. He was sent home and later summoned to a minor's reeducation
Artistic expression was less restricted. The Government encouraged the
cultural community to attain the highest international standards and to
sell its work overseas for hard currency.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the Constitution grants limited rights of assembly and
association, these rights are subject to the requirement that they may
not be "exercised against the existence and objectives of the Socialist
State." The law punishes any unauthorized assembly of more than three
persons, including those for private religious services in private
homes, by up to 3 months in prison and a fine. The authorities
selectively enforced this prohibition and often used it as a legal
pretext to harass and imprison human rights advocates.
On February 9, Doralis Velasquez Falcon, wife of jailed labor activist
Hector Raul Valle Hernandez, was summoned to the police station after a
group of Czech officials visited her to express solidarity with her
husband's case. Officers of the State Security agency warned that action
would be taken against her if she continued her pro civil rights
The Government's policy of selectively authorizing the Catholic Church
to hold outdoor processions at specific locations on important feast
days continued during the year. On September 8, the Government
permitted, for the seventh consecutive year, a procession in connection
with Masses celebrating the feast day of Our Lady of Charity in Havana.
A number of activists participated in the procession. The authorities
permitted approximately 50 processions nationwide to mark the feast day
of Our Lady of Charity but denied approximately 14 others. The Catholic
Church decided to stop requesting permits for processions in areas where
they historically were not permitted.
The authorities never have approved a public meeting by a human rights
group and often detained activists to prevent them from attending
meetings, demonstrations, or ceremonies (see Section 1.d.). There were
unapproved meetings and demonstrations, which the Government frequently
disrupted or attempted to prevent. The authorities sometimes used or
incited violence against peaceful demonstrators.
On April 9, authorities in Regla informed Pedro Pablo Valdes that the
ceremony his group was planning for April 11 to commemorate the 2003
execution of three youths by the Government would be considered a
"terrorist act" and that participants would be punished accordingly. The
PNR posted two uniformed officers at the home where the ceremony was to
be held and forced the promoters to cancel the event.
Family members and supporters of political prisoners continued their
silent marches after attending weekly Mass at Havana's Santa Rita
Catholic Church. Authorities attempted to discourage members from
participating by arranging prison visits or phone calls with the
prisoners on Sundays during hours that conflicted with the Masses and
The Government organized marches on May Day and held a rally, "Tribuna
Abierta," every Saturday in a different municipality in the country. The
Government employed CDRs and officials in the workplace to compel mass
participation in these events, despite the fact that they were covered
by both radio and television.
The Government generally denied citizens the freedom of association. The
Penal Code specifically outlaws illegal or unrecognized groups. The
Minister of Justice, in consultation with the Ministry of Interior,
decides whether to give organizations legal recognition. The authorities
never have approved the existence of a human rights group; however, a
number of professional associations operated as nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) without legal recognition, including the
Association of Independent Teachers, the Association of Independent
Lawyers (Agramonte), the Association of Independent Architects and
Engineers, and several independent journalist organizations. The
Constitution proscribes any political organization other than the CP
(see Section 3).
Recognized churches (see Section 2.c.), the Roman Catholic humanitarian
organization Caritas, the Masonic Lodge, small human rights groups, and
a number of nascent fraternal or professional organizations were the
only associations permitted to function outside the control or influence
of the State, the CP, and their mass organizations. With the exception
of recognized churches and the Masons, who have been established in the
country for more than a century, the authorities continued to ignore
those groups' applications for legal recognition, thereby subjecting
members to potential charges of illegal association. All other legally
recognized NGOs were affiliated at least nominally with, or controlled
by, the Government.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to profess and
practice any religious belief within the framework of respect for the
law; however, in law and in practice, the Government continued to
restrict freedom of religion. In general, unregistered religious groups
continued to experience various degrees of official interference,
harassment, and repression. The Government's main interaction with
religious denominations was through the CP's Office of Religious
Affairs. The Ministry of Interior engaged in active efforts to control
and monitor religious institutions, particularly through surveillance,
infiltration, and harassment of religious professionals and
practitioners. The Government's policy of permitting apolitical
religious activity to take place in government approved sites remained
unchanged; however, citizens worshiping in officially sanctioned
churches often were subjected to surveillance by State Security forces,
and the Government's efforts to maintain a strong degree of control over
The Constitution provides for the separation of church and state. The
Government has allowed religious adherents to join the CP since 1991. A
1992 constitutional amendment prohibits religious discrimination and
removed references to "scientific materialism" (i.e., atheism) as the
basis for the State. The Government does not favor any one particular
religion or church; however, the Government appeared to be most tolerant
of those churches that maintained close relations to the State through
the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC). The CCC generally was supportive of
government policies. Members of the armed forces did not attend
religious services in uniform.
The Government requires churches and other religious groups to register
with the provincial registry of associations within the Ministry of the
Interior to obtain official recognition. In practice, the Government
refused to recognize new denominations; however, the Government
tolerated some religions, such as the Baha'i Faith and a small
congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.
Unregistered religious groups were subject to official interference,
harassment, and repression. The Government, with occasional exceptions,
prohibited the construction of new churches, forcing many growing
congregations to violate the law and meet in private homes.
In January, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited and
presided over the consecration of a church for the small Greek Orthodox
community in Havana. In November, a delegation of the Moscow
Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church visited the country to
consecrate the first Russian Orthodox temple in the country. Government
media cast these events as evidence of the Government's religious
On September 23, members of the First Bethany Baptist church of Holguin
ended a 74 day hunger strike and sit in. The Government granted
permission to renovate the church, but before the work was finished, it
decided the renovation was too opulent and threatened to take over the
facility. The Government only allowed work to continue after the
Government harassment of private houses of worship continued, with
evangelical denominations reporting evictions from houses used for these
purposes. The CCC claimed that most private houses of worship closed by
the Government were unregistered and therefore illegal. In addition, CCC
Pentecostal members complained about the preaching activities of foreign
missionaries that led some of their members to establish new
denominations without obtaining the required permits. Because of these
complaints by the Pentecostals, the CCC formally requested overseas
member church organizations to assist them in dissuading foreign
missionaries from establishing Pentecostal churches.
In September 2003, the Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document
accusing the Government of imposing tighter restrictions on the Church
and on society since the 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II, and calling on
the Government to show clemency towards political prisoners.
Unlike in 2003, authorities in the town of Managua in Havana Province
permitted a procession to mark the feast day of the patron saint of
The Government allowed 9 foreign priests and 19 religious workers to
enter the country to replace other priests and nuns whose visas had
expired. The applications of 60 priests and 130 other religious workers
remained pending at year's end, as did a request from the Conference of
Catholic Bishops for the Government to permit 15 Catholic orders to
establish a presence in the country; the lack of approval limited the
training of seminarians.
In the past several years, the Government relaxed restrictions on some
religious denominations, including Seventh day Adventists and Jehovah's
Witnesses. Jehovah's Witnesses, once considered "active religious
enemies of the revolution," were allowed to proselytize door to door and
generally were not subjected to overt government harassment, although
there were sporadic reports of harassment by local CP and government
Education is secular, and no religious educational institutions are
allowed; however, the Catholic Church and Jewish synagogues were
permitted to offer religious education classes to their members. There
were no reports that parents were restricted from teaching religion to
The Government continued to prevent any national or joint enterprise
(except those with specific authorization) from selling computers, fax
machines, photocopiers, or other equipment to any church at other than
official and exorbitant retail prices. Religious literature and
materials must be imported through a registered religious group and may
be distributed only to officially recognized religious groups. In
punishment cells, prisoners were denied access to reading materials,
including Bibles (see Section 1.c.).
The CCC continued to broadcast a monthly 15 minute program on a national
classical music radio station on the condition that the program not
include material of a political character.
State Security officials visited some priests and pastors prior to
significant religious events, ostensibly to warn them that dissidents
were trying to "use the Church"; however, some critics claimed these
visits were an effort to foster mistrust between the churches and human
rights or pro democracy activists. In many churches, most noticeably at
Santa Rita's, the Conference of Catholic Bishops estimated that the
number of State Security agents attending Mass for the purpose of
intimidating spouses of political prisoners increased.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
The Government severely restricted freedom of movement. The Government
generally did not impose legal restrictions on domestic travel; however,
it limited internal migration to Havana, and restricted persons found to
be HIV positive to sanatoriums for treatment and therapy before
conditionally releasing them into the community. For the past several
years, State Security officials prohibited some human rights advocates
and independent journalists from traveling outside their home provinces,
and the Government also sentenced others to internal exile.
On July 13, authorities of the municipality of the Isle of Youth
prevented independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira from traveling to
Nueva Gerona to participate in the annual March 13 commemoration of
those who drowned in the tugboat sunk by the Government in 1994. Serpa
Maceira was advised he would be jailed if he attempted to travel to
Decree 217 prohibits persons in other provinces from moving into Havana
on the grounds that unchecked internal migration would exacerbate the
city's problems regarding housing, public transport, water, and
electrical supplies; visits to the city were permissible. Police
frequently checked the identification of persons on the streets, and
anyone from another province living in Havana illegally could be fined
12 convertible pesos (300 pesos) and sent home. Fines were 40
convertible pesos (1,000 pesos) for those who resided illegally in the
neighborhoods of Old Havana, Cerro, or 10 de Octubre. Human rights
observers noted that while the decree affected migration countrywide, it
targeted individuals and families predominantly of African descent from
the more impoverished eastern provinces.
The Government imposed some restrictions on both emigration and
temporary foreign travel. By year's end, the Government had refused exit
permits to 836 people, but allowed the majority of persons who qualified
for immigrant or refugee status in other countries to depart.
In June, authorities denied an exit permit to Julio Antonio Valdes
Guevara, 1 of the 75 activists arrested in March 2003 and subsequently
released on April 15. Valdes Guevara was reportedly extremely ill and
required hemodialysis and a kidney transplant. His wife, 4 year old son,
sister, and brother-in-law all were granted exit permits.
Some denials involved professionals who attempted to emigrate and whom
the Government subsequently banned from working in their occupational
fields. The Government refused permission to others because it
considered their cases sensitive for political or state security
reasons. Resolution 54 denies exit permits to medical professionals
until they have performed 3 to 5 years of service in their profession
after requesting permission to travel abroad. This regulation, normally
applied to recent graduates, was not published officially and may apply
to other professionals as well.
The Government routinely denied exit permits to young men approaching
the age of military service (18 years) until they reached the age of 27,
even when it authorized other family members to leave. However, in most
of those cases approved for migration to the United States under the
1994 U.S. Cuba Migration Accords, the applicants eventually received
exemption from obligatory service and were granted exit permits.
The Government has a policy of denying exit permission for several years
to relatives of individuals who successfully migrated illegally (for
example, merchant seamen who defected while overseas and sports figures
who defected while on tours abroad).
The Government also used both internal and external exile as tools for
controlling and eliminating internal opposition. The Penal Code permits
the authorities to bar an individual from a certain area or to restrict
an individual to a certain area for a period of 1 to 10 years. Under
this provision, authorities could exile any person whose presence in a
given location they deemed to be "socially dangerous."
The Government routinely invoked forced exile as a condition for
political prisoner releases and also pressured activists to leave the
country to escape future prosecution. Margarito Broche Espinosa's
conditional release papers stated that he was released "for 1 year,"
indicating that he would be imprisoned after 365 days if he remained in
the country. The conditional release papers given to Oscar Espinosa
Chepe indicated that he was released "until he recovers his health,"
compelling him to leave the country before his health improved.
Migrants who travel to the United States must pay the Government a total
of 600 convertible pesos per adult and 400 convertible pesos per child,
plus airfare. These government fees for medical exam, often of dubious
quality, passport, and exit visa which must be paid in dollars were
equivalent to approximately 5 years of a professional person's total
peso salary and represented a significant hardship, particularly for
political refugees. Many individuals applying for political refugee
status were fired from their jobs for being "politically unreliable" and
had no income. At year's end, however, there were no refugees unable to
leave the country because of inability to pay exit fees.
The Penal Code provides for imprisonment of up to 3 years or a fine of
12 to 40 convertible pesos (300 to 1,000 pesos) for unauthorized
departures by boat or raft. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) stated that it regarded any sentence of more than 1
year for simple illegal exit as harsh and excessive. Under the terms of
the 1994 U.S. Cuba Migration Accord, the Government agreed not to
prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or
U.S. waters, or from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, after attempting
to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal
In 1994, the Government eased restrictions on visits by, and
repatriations of, Cuban emigrants. Citizens who established residency
abroad and who were in possession of government issued permits to reside
abroad may travel to the country without visas, although citizens who
departed after December 31, 1970, must obtain a costly passport to
reenter the country. Persons who are at least 18 years of age are
eligible to travel abroad and may remain outside the country for up to
11 months. Emigrants who were considered not to have engaged in so
called hostile actions against the Government and who were not subject
to criminal proceedings in their countries of residence may apply at
consulates for renewable, 2 year multiple entry travel authorizations.
The Constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals
persecuted for their ideals or actions involving one of the following:
"For democratic rights against imperialism, fascism, colonialism, and
neocolonialism; against discrimination and racism; for national
liberation; for the rights of workers, peasants, and students; for their
progressive political, scientific, artistic, and literary activities;
and for socialism and peace." Although the Government has no formal
mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals, in practice, it
provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a
country where they feared persecution. The Government cooperated with
the UNHCR, and provided temporary protection to a small number of
persons. There was no information available on its use during the year.
The Government had an established system for providing assistance to
refugees. During the year, 15 persons applied for refugee status, of
whom 10 were approved; according to the UNHCR, there were 795 refugees
in the country.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change
Citizens do not have the right to change their government or to advocate
change, and the Government retaliated systematically against those who
sought peaceful political change. The Constitution proscribed any
political organization other than the CP. In 2002, the Government
amended the Constitution to restrict further citizens' rights to change
the Government, making socialism the "irrevocable" basis of the
Constitution. In March 2003, President Castro declared his intent to
remain in power for life. While the Constitution provides for direct
election of provincial, municipal, and ANPP members, the candidates for
provincial and national office must be approved in advance by mass
organizations controlled by the Government. In practice, a small group
of leaders, under the direction of President Castro, selected the
members of the highest policy making bodies of the CP, the Politburo and
the Central Committee.
The authorities tightly controlled the selection of candidates.