U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released online from January 1, 1997 to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for current material from the Department of State. Or visit http://2001-2009.state.gov for information from that period. Archive sites are not updated, so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
U.S. Department of State

Department Seal

U.S. Department of State

Cuba Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997.



Cuba is a totalitarian state controlled by President Fidel Castro, who is Chief of State, Head of Government, First Secretary of the Communist Party, and Commander in Chief of the armed forces. President Castro exercises control over all aspects of Cuban life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy, and the state security apparatus. The party is the only legal political entity, and President Castro personally chooses the membership of the select group that heads the party. The party controls all government positions, including judicial offices.

The Ministry of Interior is the principal organ of state security and totalitarian control. The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), led by President Castro's brother Raul, exercises control over this Ministry. In addition to regulating migration and controlling the Border Guard and the police forces, the Interior Ministry investigates and actively suppresses organized opposition and dissent. It maintains a pervasive system of vigilance through undercover agents, informers, the Rapid Response Brigades, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR's). While the Government traditionally used the CDR's to mobilize citizens against dissenters, impose ideological conformity, and root out "counterrevolutionary" behavior, severe economic problems have reduced the willingness of citizens to participate in the CDR's and thereby lessened their effectiveness. Other mass organizations also inject government and Communist Party control into every citizen's daily activities at home, work, and school. There were instances in which members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

The Government continued to control all significant means of production and remained the predominant employer, despite permitting some carefully controlled foreign investment and legalization of some minor categories of self-employment. Although the Government forecast a 5 percent economic growth rate for 1996, the economy remained in a slump due to the inefficiencies of the centrally controlled economic system, the collapse of Cuba's trade relations with the former Soviet bloc, and the end of the $4 to $5 billion in annual Soviet subsidies. Despite some economic recovery, gross domestic product is still only about two-thirds the 1989 level, and total foreign trade about one-fourth the 1989 level. For the sixth straight year, the Government continued its austerity measures known euphemistically as the "special period in peacetime." Agricultural markets, legalized in 1994, gave consumers wider access to meat and produce, although at prices beyond the routine reach of most Cubans living on peso-only incomes. The system of "tourist apartheid" continued, in which foreign visitors receive preference over citizens for food, consumer products, and government services, as well as access to hotels and resorts from which Cuban citizens remain barred.

The Government's human rights record worsened in 1996 with the large-scale crackdown against the prodemocracy umbrella group "Concilio Cubano," the shootdown of two U.S. civilian airplanes in international airspace, increased reports of deaths due to the excessive use of force by police, further restrictions on the distribution of foreign publications, increased use of exile and internal exile to control the activities of independent journalists and human rights advocates, antagonism to any foreign diplomatic criticism of human rights practices, restrictions on foreign contacts with human rights activists, the denial of visas to prominent U.S. journalists, and the expulsions of visiting foreign journalists. The authorities continued routinely to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain, imprison, defame, and physically attack human rights advocates and members of independent professional associations, including journalists, economists, and lawyers, often with the goal of encouraging them to leave Cuba. Members of the security forces and prison officials continued to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and prisoners. The Government continued to restrict sharply basic political and civil rights, including: The right of citizens to change their government; the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; the right to privacy; and various worker rights. The judiciary is completely subordinate to the Government and to the Communist Party. The Government denied human rights advocates due process and subjected them to unfair trials. Political prisoners were offered the choice of exile or continued imprisonment. Prison conditions remained harsh.

In April the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) once again passed a resolution endorsing the report of the UNHRC Special Rapporteur, which detailed Cuba's violations of human rights. The Government continued to refuse the Special Rapporteur permission to visit Cuba.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Reports increased of deaths due to the excessive use of force by police. Policeman Jose Angel Merino Fragoza of the Sixth Precinct of Marianao in Havana reportedly shot and killed 30-year-old Renzo Falbello Gallego on the night of September 14 for not stopping when Merino called out, "Halt, Jose." Falbello apparently did not believe that the policeman was addressing him. The Government tried Merino for manslaughter and a court and sentenced him to 7 years in prison on December 20.

On May 24, a policeman shot and killed 28-year-old Ivan Agramonte Arencibia in Havana. Agramonte, who was reportedly carrying contraband pizza dough on the back of his bicycle, had fled a policeman's order to halt. Policemen Yosvani Maturell Fernandez and Omar Castro pursued Agramonte, knocking him off his bicycle and then beating him. While Agramonte lay semi-conscious on the ground, Maturell took out his pistol and shot him in the head. He died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. On September 6, the Government tried Maturell for manslaughter and sought a prison sentence of 14 years. The court had not issued its verdict at year's end. The authorities detained Omar Castro for 5 days and then released him.

On March 9, policeman Francisco Valdes shot and killed 26-year-old Osmany Campos Valle on his family's small ranch in Guane, in the province of Pinar del Rio; Valdes had just returned from a party at which alcoholic beverages had been served. On seeing some movement on the ranch, Valdes had asked the person's identity and, although Campos reportedly repeated his nickname several times, Valdes shot him. The authorities tried Valdes on May 22 in a Ministry of Interior courtroom for "special cases." The prosecution sought a 12-year prison sentence and monthly support payments of about $1.50 (30 pesos at the prevailing legal exchange rate) for each of Campos' two young children. On appeal, the court sentenced Valdes to 8 years' imprisonment.

Late in the evening of December 16, 1995, a policeman in Camaguey shot at Yoel Leyva and Pedro Roque, whom he had ordered to halt. The 18-year-old Leyva died the following day. The youths reportedly had told the policeman that they could not stop because the bicycle they were riding had no brakes. At the wake, Carlos Diaz Barranco, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Camaguey, pledged to bring the policeman to justice. The policeman was tried on December 16, 1995 and released in February.

On April 18, the Government tried the prison officials and inmates alleged to have been involved in the September 12, 1995 death in police custody of Estanislao Gonzalez Quintana. While the court determined that Gonzalez' death was the result of alcoholism-related heart problems, not the beating he received at the hands of the defendants, the prosecution nevertheless sought prison sentences of 10 years for the prison guard, 12 years for one of the inmates, and from 1 to 4 years on the charge of dereliction of duties for other prison officials. Gonzalez' widow denied that Gonzalez had suffered from heart problems or alcoholism. The court sentenced the prison guard and the inmate to 2 years' imprisonment and the other prison officials to 8 months' house arrest. The widow appealed the sentences, and appeals trials were pending as of November.

On February 24, the Cuban Air Force shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft from the United States, killing all four people aboard. The report issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) found that the shootdown occurred in international airspace and without warning. The ICAO Council "reaffirmed its condemnation of the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight as being incompatible with elementary considerations of humanity and the rules of customary international law." The U.N. Security Council endorsed the report and the ICAO Council resolution and "noted that the unlawful shooting down by the Cuban Air Force of two civil aircraft on 24 February 1996 violated the principle that states must refrain from the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight and that, when intercepting civil aircraft, the lives of persons on board and the safety of the aircraft must not be endangered." The UNHRC expressed its "dismay [over] the loss of human life and disregard for human rights norms shown by the Government of Cuba."

On October 16, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued its final report on the Government's July 13, 1994 sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat in which 41 individuals died. The Government did not respond to the IACHR's preliminary report issued on May 3. The IACHR concluded that the Government violated Article I of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which guarantees the rights to life and the integrity of the person, and Articles VIII and XVIII, which guarantee the rights of transit and justice, respectively. The report found the Government legally obligated to indemnify the survivors and the relatives of the victims for the damages caused.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners, but there were instances in which members of the security forces and prison officials beat and otherwise abused human rights advocates, detainees, and prisoners. At the police station in Nueva Gerona, on the Isle of Youth, policeman Gerardo Acedia Frometa reportedly subjected detainee Octavio Rodriguez Gonzalez to electric shocks during an interrogation in June. Rodriguez allegedly was taken to an extremely cold interrogation room and seated on, and handcuffed to, a metal chair which was bolted to the floor. The policeman then reportedly applied electric shocks to the chair.

Individuals linked to state security forces subjected human rights advocates to physical aggression. Four men attacked Diosdado Gutierrez Hernandez, a member of the Human Rights Party of Cuba, on the street the night of April 20 in Pinar del Rio and whispered "take your human rights" while punching him in the stomach. They did not rob him.

In May the Cuban Psychiatric Society (CPS) withdrew its 1993 invitation to the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Committee on International Abuse of Psychiatry and Psychiatrists which had planned to visit Cuba to investigate charges that the Government was repressing political dissidents through abusive psychiatric interventions. The CPS reportedly found APA's conditions that a Cuban-American psychiatrist be included on the delegation and that interviews with dissident psychiatrists be permitted to be "colored by political interests."

Prison conditions continued to be harsh. The Government claims that prisoners have guaranteed rights, such as family visitation, adequate nutrition, pay for work, the right to request parole, and the right to petition the prison director. However, police and prison officials often denied these rights and used beatings, neglect, isolation, denial of medical attention, and other abuse against detainees and prisoners, including those convicted of political crimes or those who persisted in expressing their views. There are separate prison facilities for women and for minors.

The IACHR reported that prison authorities subjected prisoners who protested the conditions or treatment to reprisals such as beatings, transfer to punishment cells, transfer to prisons far from their families, suspension of family visits, or denial of medical treatment.

A member of the France-Liberte delegation that interviewed political prisoners in May 1995 stated that lengthy and often incommunicado pretrial detention constitutes a form of psychological torture. State security officials also subjected dissidents to systematic psychological intimidation, including sleep deprivation, imprisonment in cells with common criminals, aggressive homosexuals, or state security agents, and threats of physical violence, in an attempt to coerce them to sign incriminating documents or to collaborate. Human rights advocate Alberto Perera Martinez, detained as part of the Government's crackdown against the Concilio Cubano (see Section 1.d.), reported that prison guards deprived him of sleep for 17 consecutive days, woke him at regular intervals throughout the night for questioning, and kept him in a cell with 24-hour-a-day illumination in order to pressure him to sign false statements. During the crackdown, the authorities held human rights advocate Eugenio Rodriguez Chaple, a diminutive man in poor health, in the same cell as a boxer who was detained on criminal charges.

At the Kilo 8 prison in Camaguey, Jesus Chamber Ramirez, who sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for enemy propaganda and disrespect against government authority, was regularly denied family visits because of his insistence on treatment as a political rather than a common prisoner. Prison authorities often placed political prisoners in cells with common and sometimes violent criminals and required that they comply with the rules for common criminals.

The rights to adequate nutrition and medical attention were also regularly violated. The IACHR described the nutritional and hygienic situation in the prisons, together with the deficiencies in medical care, as "alarming." Both the IACHR and the U.N. Special Rapporteur, as well as other human rights monitoring organizations, reported widespread incidence in prisons of tuberculosis, scabies, hepatitis, parasitic infections, and malnutrition. In the Guamajal prison in Villa Clara, several tuberculosis-infected prisoners staged a hunger strike in mid-July to protest the lack of appropriate medical care. On February 9, a guard at the same prison hit a hungry prisoner, Eleodoro Sanches, on the head with a metal spoon, causing a gash that required two stitches, for eating a stolen plate of boiled bananas in the kitchen where he worked.

The authorities regularly denied prisoners other purportedly guaranteed rights, such as the right of correspondence. At the Guamajal prison on January 15, political prisoners gave their personal correspondence to a prison official to send to their relatives. Those letters were found later that day torn and discarded in a wastepaper basket.

Three prison guards severely beat Ramon Varela Sanchez, Vice President of the Marti Civic League, on his head, back, and chest on May 3 after he intervened on behalf of another prisoner who was denied medical attention for an abscessed molar. Due to the severity of his injuries, the authorities transferred Varela to a prison hospital where he remained for 6 days. Varela's lawyer presented a formal complaint to the Ministry of Interior official responsible for prisons, but no action was taken against the prison guards. Varela, who had been held without charges since July 30, 1995, was finally tried on September 25. The Government alleged that Varela was the intellectual author of an arson attack on a train station in the Calabazar municipality of Havana and sought 5 years' imprisonment. During the trial, however, the authorities changed the charge, and the court sentenced him to 2 years' imprisonment for inciting to commit delinquent acts.

Prison officials also confiscated medications and food brought by family members for political prisoners. In March a prison official at the Kilo 8 prison seized the medications and food brought by relatives for political prisoners Eduardo Gomez Sanchez, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, Alejandro Mustafa Reyes, and Luis Gustavo Dominguez Gutierrez. They were threatened with beatings if they complained.

In March the prison warden at Kilo 8 denied pastoral visits and confiscated religious books, including the Bible, from political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez. Garcia, who staged several hunger strikes in protest, is a member of the group of political prisoners at Kilo 8 who publicly denounce human rights violations occurring in the prison.

Prison officials at Kilo 8 mounted a campaign to find and seize any reports of human rights violations within the prison. In a meeting with a group of prisoners in mid-April, a prison official promised that those who passed notes from counterrevolutionary prisoners to visiting relatives would be expelled from their prison jobs, while those who turned them in to the authorities would receive conjugal visits and other benefits.

The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights monitoring groups.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

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 10 days of arrest. However, the Constitution states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied anyone actively opposing the "decision of the Cuban people to build socialism." The authorities routinely invoke this sweeping authority to deny due process requirements to those detained on purported state security grounds.

The authorities routinely engage in arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates, subjecting them to interrogations, threats, and degrading treatment and conditions for hours or days at a time. The police detained Ronald Faxas Maceo on January 31 in Old Havana for distributing copies of the Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald and the magazine Dissident. They held him overnight, fined him about $5 (100 pesos) for disrespect, and warned that he could be imprisoned for 4 to 5 years for spreading enemy propaganda. On July 22, police detained Marvin Hernandez and Benito Fojaco and held them for 4 days in Cienfuegos for meeting with a foreign diplomat. The authorities detained human rights advocate Osmel Lugo Gutierrez on May 22, held him for a month at the state security headquarters in Havana, and then transferred him to the 1580 prison pending trial on charges of disrespect and inciting to commit a delinquent act. The secretary of his human rights organization, Grisel Galera Gomez, faced similar charges but was released on bail. The charges reportedly stemmed from their organization's petition drive and other efforts to protest the forcible eviction of squatters in a shantytown in the San Miguel del Padron municipality of Havana. As of November, no trial date had been set.

On January 6, state security agents arrested John Sweeney, a visiting researcher with the Heritage Foundation, and interrogated him for 4 hours about the purpose of his visit and his contacts in Cuba. They reportedly said that they had "accompanied" him since his arrival in Cuba.

Amnesty International noted that the Government had changed its tactics in dealing with human rights advocates, and "rather than arresting them and bringing them to trial, the tendency was to repeatedly detain them for short periods and threaten them with imprisonment unless they gave up their activities or left the country." The Government applied this tactic to dozens of members of Concilio Cubano, a prodemocracy umbrella group composed of over 130 human rights, political opposition, and independent professional organizations, which was founded in October 1995. The harassment intensified in the weeks surrounding Concilio Cubano's planned February 24 meeting to discuss Cuba's future. State security agents visited, harassed, threatened, or briefly detained over 200 individuals, including 4 of the 5 members of the Concilio Cubano secretariat (see Section 1.e.). The UNHRC "deplored" the detention and harassment of Concilio Cubano members.

The authorities detained Concilio Cubano activists Eugenio Rodriguez Chaple, Rafael Solano, Alberto Perera Martinez, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, Heriberto Leyva, and Radames Garcia de la Vega for 6 to 8 weeks, much of the time incommunicado. They subjected them to physical threats, several interrogations daily, imprisonment in cells with aggressive common criminals, sleep deprivation, confiscation of food, vitamins, and medications brought by relatives, and strictly supervised and limited family visits. When released, all were told that they would be brought to trial and given lengthy prison terms if they did not leave the country.

The Penal Code also 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 threaten prosecution under this article. Both the UNHRC and the IACHR condemned this concept for its subjectivity, 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 special inclination to commit crimes referred to in the Cuban Criminal Code amounts to a subjective criterion used by the Government to justify violations of the rights to individual freedom and due process of persons whose sole crime has been an inclination to hold a view different from the official view."

On May 7, a court tried human rights advocate Ernesto de la O Ramos in San Juan y Martinez in the province of Pinar del Rio and sentenced him to 2 years' imprisonment on the charge of dangerousness for belonging to a dissident organization and disseminating news about Cuba on foreign radio stations. As of November, De la O Ramos also faced trial on a separate charge of disseminating enemy propaganda.

The Government also used exile as a tool for controlling and eliminating the internal opposition. The Government regularly offered exile as the condition for release to political prisoners. In January the Government released political prisoners Luis Grave de Peralta Morell, Carmen Julia Arias Iglesias, and Eduardo Ramon Prida Gorgoy at the request of visiting U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson. They were taken from prison directly to the airport for departure.

In contrast to its general practice of offering exile only after imprisonment, the Government increasingly threatened to charge, try, and imprison human rights advocates and independent journalists if they did not leave the country. Human rights advocates Mercedes Parada Antunez, Eugenio Rodriguez Chaple, Alberto Perera Martinez, Luis Felipe Lores Nadal, Lucila Irene Almira, and Miguel Angel Aldana, and independent journalists Rafael Solano, Roxana Valdivia Castilla, and Olance Nogueras Rofe, were among those threatened. Amnesty International expressed "particular concern" about this practice, which "effectively prevents those concerned from being able to act in public life in their own country."

The Government also increasingly began to employ internal exile as a means to restrict the activities of independent journalists and human rights advocates. The authorities prohibited independent journalists Olance Nogueras Rofe and Roxana Valdivia Castilla from traveling to Havana from their hometowns of Cienfuegos and Ciego de Avila, respectively, unless the travel was for the purpose of making arrangements to leave the country.

One June 6, police arrested university reform advocates Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina and Radames Garcia de la Vega, who had remained in Havana following their release from detention in April despite orders to return to their homes in the eastern provinces. A court tried them on June 12 for resisting authority and disobedience and sentenced them to 6 months and 1 year, respectively, of restricted movement in their hometowns, 5 years of internal exile in their home provinces, and to report periodically to the local police. According to Amnesty International, "the sentence is believed to have been imposed to prevent them from returning to the capital to carry on with their activities." Rodriguez and Garcia remained in Havana pending the results of their appeal and the police arrested them again on June 25 for breach of sentence. The following day, when taken to the courthouse, Rodriguez reportedly appeared with facial bruises and accused a civilian-clad security agent of having beaten him. While handcuffed, he was attacked and again beaten by the agent. The authorities forcibly sent Rodriguez and Garcia to the provinces of Guantanamo and Santiago, respectively, on July 1. The authorities also confiscated their identity documents, which Cuban citizens are required to carry at all times, as a means of enforcing the restriction on their movement. In mid-July, state security agents threatened Rodriguez and Garcia with imprisonment if they continued their political activities.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the Constitution provides for independent courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly (ANPP) and the Council of State, which is headed by Fidel Castro. The ANPP and its lower level counterparts elect all judges. The subordination of the courts to the Communist Party further compromises the judiciary's independence.

Civil courts exist at municipal, provincial, and Supreme Court levels. Panels composed of a mix of professionally certified and lay judges preside over them. Military tribunals assume jurisdiction for certain counterrevolutionary cases. Cuban law and trial practices do not meet international standards for fair public trials. Almost all cases are tried in less than a day.

There are no jury trials. While most trials are public, trials are closed when state security is allegedly involved. Prosecutors may introduce testimony from a CDR member as to 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. The law requires that an appeal be filed within 5 days of the verdict.

Criteria for presenting evidence, especially in cases of human rights advocates, are arbitrary and discriminatory. Often the sole evidence provided, particularly in political cases, is the defendant's confession, usually obtained under duress and without the legal advice or knowledge of a defense lawyer. The authorities regularly deny defendants access to their lawyers until the day of the trial. Several dissidents who have served prison terms report that they were tried and sentenced without counsel and were not allowed to speak on their own behalf. Amnesty International stated that "trials in all cases fall far short of international standards for a fair trial."

The law provides the accused the right to an attorney, but the control that the Government exerts over the livelihood of members of the state-controlled lawyers' collectives--

especially when they defend persons accused of state security crimes--compromises their ability to represent clients. Attorneys have reported reluctance to defend those charged in political cases out of fear of jeopardizing their own careers.

The Government summarily tried and imprisoned four members of the Concilio Cubano (see Section 1.d.). The police arrested Concilio Cubano founder Leonel Morejon Almagro on February 15. A court sentenced him on February 23 to 6 months' imprisonment for resisting authorities; on appeal, it sentenced him to an additional 9 months' imprisonment for disobedience. The court also fined his defense attorney, Jose Angel Izquierdo Gonzalez, for characterizing the trial as a "sham." In August the authorities transferred Morejon from Vallegrande prison on the outskirts of Havana to Ariza prison in Cienfuegos, on the southern coast of Cuba, for refusing to accept the prison's reeducation system.

The police also arrested Concilio Cubano secretariat member Lazaro Gonzalez Valdes on February 15, and a court sentenced him on February 22 to 14 months' imprisonment for disobedience and disrespect. Izquierdo, who also represented Gonzalez, was only informed of the charges a few hours before the trial and was only able to speak to his client a few minutes beforehand. People believed to be members of the Government's Rapid Response Brigade, armed with iron bars and sticks, reportedly surrounded the courthouse during the trial.

The police arrested Juan Francisco Monzon Oviedo, an alternate member of the coordinating body of Concilio Cubano, on March 18, and a court sentenced him on March 21 to 6 months' imprisonment for illegal association. His attorney did not appear for the trial. The authorities detained human rights advocate Roberto Lopez Montanez on February 23, and held him until a court tried and sentenced him on July 16 to 15 months' imprisonment for disrespect and falsification of documents. Despite serious health problems, the Government refused to release Lopez on bail pending trial.

According to Amnesty International, some 600 persons were imprisoned for various political crimes. Other human rights monitoring groups estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 individuals--not including those held for dangerousness--were imprisoned on such charges as disseminating enemy propaganda, illicit association, contempt for authorities (usually for criticizing Fidel Castro), clandestine printing, or the broad charge of rebellion, often brought against advocates of peaceful democratic change. In a television interview in October 1995, President Castro acknowledged and attempted to justify the existence of political prisoners in Cuba by stating that this was a normal practice in many other countries.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the Constitution provides for the inviolability of one's home and correspondence, official surveillance of private and family affairs by government-controlled mass organizations, such as the CDR's, remains one of the most pervasive and repressive features of Cuban life. The State has assumed the right to interfere in the lives of citizens, even those who do not actively oppose the Government and its practices. The Communist Party controls the mass organizations that permeate society. Their ostensible purpose is to "improve" the citizenry, but in fact their goal is to discover and discourage nonconformity. Citizen participation in these mass organizations has declined; the economic crisis has both reduced the Government's ability to provide material incentives for their participation and forced many people to engage in black market activities, which the mass organizations are supposed to report to the authorities.

The authorities utilize a wide range of social controls. The Interior Ministry employs an intricate system of informants and block committees (the CDR's) to monitor and control public opinion. While to a lesser extent than in the past, CDR's continue to report on suspicious activity, including conspicuous consumption; unauthorized meetings, including those with foreigners; and defiant attitudes toward the Government and the revolution.

State security often reads international correspondence and monitors overseas telephone calls and conversations with foreigners. The Government controls all access to the Internet, and all electronic mail messages are subject to censorship. Citizens do not have the right to receive publications from abroad, although newstands in foreigners-only hotels and outside certain hard currency stores do sell foreign newspapers and magazines. The Government continued to jam U.S.-operated Radio Marti and Television Marti; Radio Marti broadcasts frequently overcame the jamming attempts. Security agents subject dissidents, foreign diplomats, and journalists to harassment and surveillance.

The authorities regularly search people and their homes, without probable cause, to intimidate and harass them. During the Government's crackdown on Concilio Cubano, state security agents searched the homes of dozens of human rights advocates and independent journalists, seizing typewriters, personal and organizational documents, books, and foreign newspapers. On April 26, state security agents searched the office of the Independent Press Bureau of Cuba and seized files, correspondence, magazines, two typewriters, a computer, a printer, and office supplies.

The authorities regularly detained human rights advocates after they visited the U.S. Interests Section, confiscated their written reports of human rights abuses, and seized copies of U.S. newspapers and other informational material.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government does not allow criticism of the revolution or its leaders. Laws against antigovernment propaganda, graffiti, and insults against officials carry penalties of from 3 months to 1 year in prison. If President Castro or members of the National Assembly or Council of State are the object of criticism, the sentence is extended to 3 years. Local CDR's inhibit freedom of speech by monitoring and reporting dissent or criticism. Police and state security officials regularly harassed, threatened, beat, and otherwise abused human rights advocates in public and private as a means of intimidation and control.

The Constitution states that electronic and print media are state property and "cannot become in any case private property." The Communist Party controls all media as a means to indoctrinate the public. All media must operate under party guidelines and reflect government views. In late June, the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television demoted translator Pedro Hernandez Diaz for refusing to "soften" the subtitled translation of the last two lines of the "Star Spangled Banner" in a movie to be shown on Cuban television.

At year's end, the authorities fired the director and three writers and editors of the Havana Tribune, a weekly published by Havana province's Communist Party, for two pieces that appeared on December 22. One was an article that appeared to attack the pet project of two influential officials and the other an editorial subject to interpretation as a subtle criticism of the regime. These firings highlighted the ideological rigidity within which the official media must operate, and are expected to cause reporters and editors to follow the official line even more stridently in the future.

The Government usually did not jam foreign radio broadcasts; however, it continued to jam U.S.-operated Radio Marti and Television Marti (see Section 1.f.)

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) listed Cuba as one of the 10 worst "enemies of the press" because of the Government's prohibition against any independent publications or broadcasters. The Government subjects independent journalists to internal travel bans, periodic overnight detentions, the harassment of friends and relatives, seizures of written manuals and computer and facsimile equipment, and repeated threats of prolonged imprisonment. The CPJ publicly complained about the denial of essential telecommunications services to independent journalists. The Inter-American Press Association awarded its 1996 Grand Prize for Press Freedom to the Independent Press Bureau of Cuba, the Association of Independent Journalists of Cuba, Havana Press, CubaPress, and La Patria--all independent press agencies--for their work in the face of constant government harassment and threats.

Several visiting foreign journalists who met with independent journalists were harassed or expelled from the country. On June 12, four men seized Rodrigo Alonso, a Chilean national in Cuba to prepare a program on the life of Che Guevara, as he left his hotel. They forced him into a car, drove him around Havana for about 4 hours, and questioned him aggressively about his activities in Cuba. The authorities expelled Susan Bilello, a representative of the CPJ, and Jacques Perrot, a representative of the French-based "Reporters Sans Frontieres," from Cuba on June 20 and July 12, respectively.

The Government rigorously monitored other forms of expression and often arrested people for the crimes of enemy propaganda and clandestine printing. Enemy propaganda was considered to include materials ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to reports of human rights violations, to mainstream foreign newspapers and magazines. In September state security agents searched the library of the Grand Masonic Lodge, seized "illegal" newspapers and magazines, and then met with the Masonic leadership. On September 15, before representatives of over 200 lodges, Grand Mason Eriberto Saborit Verdecia announced that Gustavo Pardo had been fired from his position as library director and expelled from the Masonic Lodge. He presented five cartons of books, which he suggested be burned.

The Government prohibits all diplomatic missions in Havana from printing or distributing publications, particularly newspapers or newspaper clippings, unless those publications deal exclusively with conditions in the mission's home country and receive prior government approval. The Government reacted negatively against foreign diplomats who focused on human rights problems in Cuba. It withdrew official approval for a new foreign ambassador because of his public comments that his door would be open to dissidents, and refused to renew the visa of another diplomat who maintained contacts with human rights activists, requiring that she leave the country for allegedly engaging in "activities incompatible with her diplomatic status." Foreign Ministry officials accused the diplomat of distributing antigovernment literature to dissident groups, citing such volumes as George Orwell's novel "Animal Farm" and biographies of Cuban independence heroes Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo.

On December 24, the ANPP rubber-stamped a new law proscribing citizens from seeking or providing any information to any representative of the U.S. Government that might be used directly or indirectly in the application of U.S. legislation. This includes accepting or distributing any publications, documents, or other material from any origin which the authorities might interpret as facilitating implementation of such legislation.

The Government circumscribes artistic, literary, and academic freedoms. In a March 23 speech to the Fifth Plenary Session of the Communist Party, Party Second Secretary Raul Castro chastised intellectuals, Communist Party members, artists, and the media for ideological laxity. The Communist Party shortly thereafter replaced the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas, a think tank that Raul Castro had specifically criticized for having succumbed to foreign ideas and lifestyles. The authorities fired Jorge Luis Acanda, chairman of the Marxist Studies Department at the University of Havana, on April 19 after foreign news reports quoted him describing declining student enrollment in Marxist studies courses. They discharged University of Havana professors Miriam Gras and Gloria Leon without right of retirement in early September. The Communist Party had previously expelled the two professors. The party and the university reportedly objected to the regular professional contacts that Gras, a professor of political science, and Leon, a professor of American studies, maintained with foreign diplomats and visiting academics.

The educational system teaches that the State's interests have precedence over all other commitments. The Ministry of Education requires teachers to evaluate students' ideological character and note it in the records that students carry throughout their schooling, and which affect their future educational and career prospects. In many cases, the Government demands that teaching materials for courses such as mathematics or literature have an ideological content.

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, including for private religious services, of more than three persons, even in a private home, by up to 3 months in prison and a fine. The authorities selectively enforce this prohibition and often use it as a legal pretext to harass and imprison human rights advocates. The authorities have never approved a public meeting of a human rights group. The Government did not formally respond to the December 22, 1995 written request to the Council of State from the Concilio Cubano for authorization to hold a meeting on February 24-27 to discuss Cuba's future. State security officials informed human rights leader Gustavo Arcos Bergnes verbally on February 16, the day after the crackdown began, that the Government would not permit such a meeting.

The Penal Code specifically outlaws "illegal or unrecognized groups." The Ministry of Justice, in consultation with the Interior Ministry, decides whether to give organizations legal recognition.

Along with recognized churches, the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization CARITAS, small human rights groups, and several nascent fraternal or professional organizations are the only associations outside the control of the State, the party, and mass organizations. The authorities continue to ignore these groups' applications for legal recognition, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

All other legally recognized nongovernmental groups are affiliated with or controlled by the Government. Referring to the research institutes that he had criticized in his March 23 speech, Raul Castro stated in April that "the party has the right to question and analyze whether a [research] center that depends on it for material and human resources is doing what it is supposed to do and, if not, to correct things." Several of these research institutes applied for and received consultative status as nongovernmental organizations with the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Under ECOSOC rules, government support may be acceptable for a nongovernmental organization but should at no time "interfere with the free expression of views of the organization."

c. Freedom of Religion

In recent years, the Government has eased the harsher aspects of its repression of religious freedom. In 1991 it allowed religious adherents to join the Communist Party. In 1992 it amended the Constitution to prohibit religious discrimination and removed references to "scientific materialism," i.e., atheism, as the basis for the Cuban State. Nevertheless, the State prohibits members of the armed forces from allowing anyone in their household to observe religious practices, except elderly relatives if their religious beliefs do not influence other family members and are not "damaging to the revolution."

Despite continued prohibitions on access to the media and establishment of religious schools, and restrictions on the number of foreign priests and nuns, the Roman Catholic Church has observed that it has relatively more latitude in which to carry out its pastoral mission. Church attendance in all denominations has grown in recent years.

However, religious persecution continues. In December 1995, the Government issued a resolution preventing any Cuban or joint enterprise from selling computers, fax machines, photocopiers, or other equipment to any church. A December 1, 1995 decree signed by Politburo member Jose Ramon Machado Ventura prohibited Christmas trees and decorations in public buildings, except those related to the tourist or foreign commercial sector, and completely prohibited Nativity scenes. (Official recognition of all religious holidays ended in 1961.) In February the Union of Communist Youth (UJC) affiliate within the lawyers' collective in the town of Palma Soriano expelled attorney Cesar Antonio Martinez Melero from his longstanding membership because of his active involvement in the Roman Catholic Church. In April a disciplinary board of the Julio Mella Polytechnic Institute suspended Raul Leyva Amaran's student stipend for 6 months for refusing on religious grounds to participate in a February 27 rally in support of the Government's shootdown of two civilian U.S. aircraft. Leyva had said that as a Catholic, he "did not support the violent death of anyone and for reasons of conscience [he] could not go to the rally."

The Government continued its 1961 prohibition on nearly all religious processions outside churches and denied churches access to the mass media.

The Government requires churches and other religious groups to register with the provincial registry of associations to obtain official recognition. The Government prohibits, with occasional exceptions, the construction of new churches, forcing many growing congregations to violate the law and meet in people's homes. Government harassment of private houses of worship continued, with evangelical denominations reporting evictions from, and bulldozing of, houses used for these purposes. In the province of Las Tunas, neighbors of one private house of worship tried to provoke fights with parishioners, blared music during religious services, and tried to pour boiling water through the windows during a religious service. In the western mining town of Moa, a group of evangelical leaders submitted a written appeal to the local Communist Party to stop the harassment of church members and the demolition of private houses of worship and to lift the prohibition on the construction, expansion, or remodeling of churches. The authorities warned religious leaders in Havana that they would impose fines from $550 to $2,800 (10,000-50,000 pesos), imprison leaders and withdraw official recognition from the religious denomination itself unless the private houses of worship were closed.

The Government, however, relaxed restrictions on members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, whom it had considered "active religious enemies of the revolution" for their refusal to accept obligatory military service or participate in state organizations. The Government authorized small assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses, the opening of a Havana central office, and the publishing of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower magazine and other religious tracts.

State security officials regularly harassed human rights advocates prior to religious services commemorating special feast days or before significant national days. A crowd of thugs, armed with wooden clubs hidden inside rolled-up newspapers, surrounded the Sacred Heart Church in central Havana before a mass on July 13, the second anniversary of the Cuban Coast Guard's sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat in which 41 people died.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government generally does not impose legal restrictions on domestic travel, except for persons found to be HIV-positive, whom it initially restricts to sanitoriums for treatment and therapy before conditionally releasing them to the community. However, state security officials forbade some human rights advocates and independent journalists from traveling outside their home provinces and has begun to sentence others to internal exile (see Section 1.d.).

The Government imposes some restrictions on both emigration and temporary foreign travel. It allows the majority of persons who qualify for immigrant or refugee status in other countries to leave Cuba. In certain cases, however, the authorities delay or deny exit permits, usually without explanation. Some of the denials involve professionals who have tried to emigrate and whom the Government subsequently banned from working in their occupational field. The Government refused permission to others because it considers their cases sensitive for political or state security reasons. The Government also routinely denies exit permits to young men approaching the age of military service until their 27th birthday, even when it has authorized the rest of the family to leave. However, most of those cases approved for migration to the United States under the September 9, 1994 U.S.-Cuban migration agreement eventually receive exemption from obligatory service and exit permits.

Migrants who travel to the United States must pay fees of $600 per adult, $400 per child, plus airfare. Such fees--which must be paid in dollars--are equivalent to 2 1/2 years of a professional person's salary. In April a ministerial decree reduced the fee by half for 1,000 individuals, but by year's end, 238 of these individuals still could not pay even this reduced amount. The International Organization for Migration is considering options to handle the fees for those refugees.

The Government denied temporary exit permits to several human rights advocates, including Osvaldo Paya Sardinas, Vladimiro Roca Antunez, and Rene Gomez Manzano.

The Penal Code provides for imprisonment from 1 to 3 years or a fine of $15 to $50 (300 to 1,000 pesos) for unauthorized departures by boat or raft. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated that it regards any sentence for illegal exit of over 1 year as harsh and excessive. Under the terms of the May 2, 1995 U.S.-Cuba migration accord, the Government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against rafters returned to Cuba from international or U.S. waters.

In August 1994, the Government eased restrictions on visits by, and repatriation of, Cuban emigrants. Cubans who establish residency abroad and who are in possession of government-issued "permits to reside abroad" may travel to Cuba without visas. The Government reduced the age of people eligible to travel abroad from 20 to 18 years and extended the period for temporary stay abroad from 6 to 11 months. In November 1995, the Government announced that emigrants who are considered not to have engaged in "hostile actions" against the Government and who are not subject to criminal proceedings in their country of residence may apply at Cuban consulates for renewable, 2-year multiple-entry travel authorizations.

The Constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted "for their ideals or struggles for democratic rights against imperialism, fascism, colonialism, and neocolonialism; against discrimination and racism; for national liberations; for the rights of workers, peasants, and students; for their progressive political, scientific, artistic, and literary activities, for socialism and peace." The Government honors the principle of first asylum and provided it to a small number of persons in 1996. According to the UNHCR, five foreign nationals sought asylum or refugee status from the Government in 1996. There were no reports of the force return of persons to countries where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have no legal right to change their government or to advocate change. The Constitution proscribes any political organization other than the Communist Party. A small group of leaders select members of its highest government bodies--the Politburo and the Central Committee.

The authorities tightly control all elections. The Government has ignored calls for democratic reform. The European Union suspended negotiations toward a cooperation agreement in February because of lack of progress toward political or economic reform and in December adopted a common position binding on all member states. It directly links improvement of European Union relations with Cuba to progress toward a democratic transition and an improvement in the human rights situation. The Government rejects any change judged incompatible with the revolution. The Government has systematically retaliated against those who have peacefully sought political change.

Although not a formal requirement, Communist Party membership is in fact a prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement.

Government leadership positions continued to be dominated by men. There are very few women or minorities in policymaking positions in the Government or the party. There are three women on the Politburo. Two of the 14 provincial party secretaries are women, the first chosen in 1993. The head of the Union of Communist Youth is a woman. Although blacks and mulattos make up over half the population, they hold only 2 seats in the 26-member Politburo.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not recognize any domestic human rights groups, or permit them to function legally. The Government subjects domestic human rights advocates to intense intimidation, harassment, and repression. In violation of its own statutes, the Government refuses to consider applications for legal recognition submitted by human rights monitoring groups.

The Government has steadfastly rejected international human rights monitoring. In 1992 Cuba's U.N. representative stated that Cuba would not recognize the UNHRC mandate on Cuba and would not cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, despite being a UNHRC member. This policy remains unchanged. The Government consistently refused even to acknowledge requests by the Special Rapporteur to visit Cuba.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Cuba is a multiracial society with a black and mixed race majority. The Constitution forbids discrimination based on race, sex, or national origin, although evidence suggests that racial and sexual discrimination occur often.


Violent crime is rarely reported in the press, and there are no publicly available data regarding the incidence of domestic violence. The law establishes strict penalties for rape, and the Government appears to enforce the law. Prostitution has increased greatly in the last few years; press reports indicate that tourists from various countries visit specifically to patronize inexpensive prostitutes. During its 1995 annual meeting, the official Federation of Cuban Women criticized government-sponsored advertising that promoted sex-related tourism.

The Family Code states that women and men have equal rights and responsibilities regarding marriage, divorce, raising children, maintaining the home, and pursuing a career. Women are subject to the same restrictions on property ownership as men. The Maternity Law provides 18 weeks of maternity leave and grants working women preferential access to goods and services. About 40 percent of all women work, and they are well represented in the professions.


The Constitution states that the Government will protect "family, maternity, and matrimony." It also states that children, legitimate or not, have the same rights under the law and notes the duties of parents to protect them. Education is free and is grounded in Marxist ideology. State organizations and schools are charged with the "integral formation of children and youth." The national health care system covers all citizens. There is no societal pattern of abuse of children.

People with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination based on disability, and there have been few complaints of such discrimination. There are no laws that mandate accessibility to buildings for people with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Many blacks have benefitted from the social changes of the revolution. Nevertheless, there have been numerous reports of disproportionate police harassment of black youths.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution gives priority to state or collective needs over individual choices regarding free association or provision of employment. The "demands of the economy and society" take precedence over an individual worker's preferences. The law prohibits strikes; none are known to have occurred. Established labor organizations have a mobilization function and do not act as trade unions or promote or protect worker rights, including the right to strike. Such organizations are under the control of the State and the Party.

The Communist Party selects the leaders of the sole legal confederation, the Confederation of Cuban Workers, whose principal responsibility is to ensure that government production goals are met. Despite disclaimers in international forums, the Government explicitly prohibits independent unions and none exist. There has been no change since the 1992 International Labor Organization (ILO) finding that independent unions "do not appear to exist" and its ruling that Cuba violated ILO norms on freedom of association and the right to organize. Those who attempt to engage in union activities face government persecution.

Workers can lose their jobs for their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union. The authorities dismissed Blanca Nieves Cruz Rivero, a secretary for 13 years with the Ministry of Justice in the province of Pinar del Rio, from her job on April 16. According to her dismissal letter, Nieves violated her work contract by "refusing to participate in the mass organizations and to be affiliated with the public administration union; and for having contact with people who do not share the philosophy of the revolution and for opposing it in an open manner as an activist of so-called human rights groups; and for having realized activities such as speaking on enemy radio stations that transmit from abroad messages of a counterrevolutionary content." Nieves had written an open letter to Raul Castro on April 2 criticizing his speech to the Fifth Communist Party Congress and had been interviewed on Radio Marti.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining does not exist. The State Committee for Work and Social Security sets wages and salaries for the state sector. Since all legal unions are government entities, antiunion discrimination by definition does not exist.

In 1993 the Government removed some of the restrictions on self-employment imposed in 1968 and allowed people to apply for licenses to work in over 125 different occupations, expanded to over 160 in 1994. Besides adding another 20 occupational categories, in 1995 the Government removed its previous ban on self-employment licenses for university graduates. However, university graduates cannot get self-employment licenses to work in their professional field and must remain employed in their state job to qualify for a self-employment license.

There are no functioning export processing zones in Cuba, although the 1995 Foreign Investment Law (Law 77), authorizes the establishment of free trade zones and industrial parks. Law 77 continued to deny workers the right to contract directly with foreign companies investing in Cuba. The Government requires foreign investors to contract workers through state employment agencies, which are paid in foreign currency and, in turn, pay their workers in pesos. Workers subcontracted by state employment agencies must meet certain political qualifications. According to Marcos Portal, Minister of Basic Industry, the state employment agencies consult with the party, the Confederation of Cuban Workers, and the Union of Communist Youth to ensure that the workers chosen deserve to work in a joint enterprise.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Neither the Constitution nor the Labor Code prohibit forced labor. The Government maintains correctional centers where it sends people for crimes such as dangerousness. They are forced to work on farms or building sites, usually with no pay and inadequate food. The authorities often imprison internees who do not cooperate. The Government employs special groups of workers, known as "microbrigades," on loan from other jobs, on special building projects. These microbrigades have increased importance in the Government's efforts to complete tourist and other priority projects. Workers who refuse to volunteer for these jobs often risk discrimination or job loss. Microbrigade workers, however, reportedly receive priority consideration for apartments. The military channels some conscripts to the Youth Labor Army, where they serve their 2-year military service requirement working on farms that supply both the armed forces and the civilian population.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum working age is 17 years. The Labor Code permits employment of 15- and 16-year-olds to obtain training or fill labor shortages. All students over age 11 are expected to devote 30 to 45 days of their summer vacation to farm work, laboring up to 8 hours per day. The Ministry of Agriculture uses "voluntary labor" by Student Work Brigades extensively in the farming sector. The law requires school attendance until the ninth grade, and this law is generally respected.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varies by occupation and is set by the Bureau of Labor and Social Security. The minimum monthly wage for a maid, for example, is $8.25 (165 pesos); for a bilingual office clerk, $9.50 (190 pesos); and for a gardener $10.75 (215 pesos). The Government supplements the minimum wage with free medical care, education, and subsidized housing and food. Even with these subsidies, however, a worker must earn far more than the average monthly wage to support a family. The Government rations most basic necessities such as food, medicine, clothing, and cooking gas, which are in very short supply, if available at all.

The standard work week is 44 hours, with shorter workdays in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The Government also reduced the workday in some governmental offices and state enterprises to save energy. Workplace environmental and safety controls are usually inadequate, and the Government lacks effective enforcement mechanisms. The Labor Code establishes that a worker who considers his life in danger because of hazardous conditions has the right not to work in his position or not to engage in specific activities until such risks are eliminated. According to the Labor Code, the worker remains obligated to work temporarily in whatever other position may be assigned him at a salary prescribed by law. Industrial accidents apparently are frequent, but the Government suppresses such reports.

[end of document]


Department Seal

Return to 1996 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.