Cuba Human Rights Practices

U.S. Department of State
March 1996

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 which 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), directed by President Castro's brother Raul, exercise de facto 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 Reaction 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. 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 some foreign investment and legalization of some types of self-employment. Although the Government claimed 2.3 percent economic growth during the first 9 months of 1995, the economy remained in a depression 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 indications of economic growth, gross domestic product is still only about two-thirds the 1989 level, and total foreign trade about one-fourth the 1989 level. 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 received preference over citizens for food, consumer products, and government services, as well as access to hotels and resorts from which Cuban citizens were barred.

The Government's human rights record continued to be poor with allegations of serious abuses. Although the Government made some positive gestures, including ratifying the United Nations International Convention Against Torture, permitting a delegation led by France- Liberte to interview a number of political prisoners, and releasing several prominent political prisoners, it continued to restrict sharply basic political and civil rights. These included: the right of citizens to change their government; the freedoms of speech, press, association, assembly, religion, and movement; as well as the right to privacy and various workers' rights. The judiciary is subordinate to the Government and to the Communist Party.

Authorities continued to harass, threaten, 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. In October a number of human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations formed an umbrella association, known as the "Concilio Cubano." The Government responded by detaining and harassing certain key members and obstructing meetings of the group. Human rights advocates were denied the right of due process and subjected to unfair trials. Political prisoners were regularly offered the choice of exile or continued imprisonment. Prison conditions remained harsh.

Human rights advocates and religious leaders, such as Francisco Chaviano and Pentecostal pastor Orson Vila, were denied the right of due process and subjected to unfair trials. In March the United Nation's 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

One criminal suspect died as a result of a beating received while in police custody. On September 12, police in the city of Consolacion del Sur informed the family that Etanislao Gonzalez Quintana, detained since September 8 for the alleged illegal purchase of beef, had died of a heart attack. However, his body showed signs of having been beaten, including a deep gash on his forehead and multiple bruises. The family received no response to the formal complaint they filed with the police.

The Government never conducted a full investigation into the Cuban Coast Guard's sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat on July 13, 1994, which caused the death of 37 people.

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 members of the security forces and prison officials continued to beat and otherwise abuse human right advocates, detainees, and prisoners. For example, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, president of the Institute of Independent Economists of Cuba, received several anonymous, written death threats and on one occasion was visited by an unknown man who brandished a gun and made a gesture as if slitting her throat. Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, was visited on several occasions by individuals claiming to be relatives of political prisoners who shouted abuse, threatened him, tried to punch him through the window, and finally hurled porch chairs against the window. Local police never followed up on his complaint. This harassment is consistent with the pattern of abuse practiced by state security agents.

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 used beatings, neglect, isolation, denial of medical attention, and other abuses against detainees and prisoners, including those convicted of political crimes or those who persisted in expressing their views. State security officials often subjected dissidents to systematic psychological intimidation, including sleep deprivation, in an attempt to coerce them to sign incriminating documents or to collaborate. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found that the "serious prison conditions and other deliberately severe and degrading treatment meted out to prisoners by the Cuban Government amount to serious violations of human rights."

Prison authorities used physical violence even against prisoners seeking medical attention. On May 10, Leonor Zamora Fernandez, imprisoned in the Manto Negro women's prison, was kicked, beaten, and thrown down the stairs by a prison official for demanding medical attention. She was then sent to a punishment cell and left for 8 days without medical treatment for either her new injuries, including a broken arm, or her original medical problem. In September three guards at the Combinado del Este prison beat prisoner Victor Villar Vidot for having shouted out for medical attention to deal with his migraine headache.

A group of political prisoners in the Kilo 8 prison in the province of Camaguey reported that prison authorities routinely denied political prisoners the right to have their sentence reduced for good behavior, as well as access to food, clothing, medical and dental treatment, and educational, sporting, and cultural activities. They reported that prisoners received no salary for their work in the Abatur S.A. company that provides laundry services for the hotels in Camaguey province. Kilo 8 prison authorities also denied political prisoners requests for visits by the local priest.

Other prisons also routinely denied prisoners their "guaranteed" rights. Pastor Orson Vila, serving an 18-month sentence for disobedience and illegal meetings in the work farm "La 40" in the province of Camaguey (see Section 2.c.), was denied regularly authorized passes as well as a special award pass due him as "best worker." For over a year, prison authorities at the Kilo 5 1/2 prison in Pinar del Rio denied a family visit to Jose Miranda Acosta, sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for alleged terrorist acts. Only when his ailing 85-year-old father appeared at the prison and refused to leave did prison authorities permit him to see his son. They told the father that they would not allow further visits because Miranda Acosta refused to wear the prison uniform and demanded that his rights as a political prisoner be respected.

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 of tuberculosis, scabies, hepatitis, parasitic infections, and malnutrition in prisons. Moreover, the IACHR noted 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.

Political prisoners Sebastian Arcos Bergnes, Agustin Figueredo Figueredo, and Luis Enrique Gonzalez Ogra, released in May at the urging of the French humanitarian organization France-Liberte (see Section 4), suffered from advanced stages of cancer that, despite obvious symptoms, had gone undiagnosed and untreated during their imprisonment. Omar del Pozo Marrero, sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for revealing state secrets, was denied medical treatment despite the fact that his family brought all the necessary medicines and supplies to the military hospital for the required surgery.

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. Luis Gustavo Dominguez Gutierrez, sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment for enemy propaganda, conducted a hunger strike for several weeks to protest his confinement in a cell with common criminals who had been harassing and threatening him. Political prisoner Francisco Chaviano (see Section l.e.) undertook a hunger strike for several weeks in September to protest his unfair imprisonment as well as his treatment as a common criminal. Omar del Pozo Marrero wrote several letters to government leaders demanding that they respect his status as a political prisoner.

The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights monitoring groups. However, the Government did permit the France-Liberte delegation to interview 24 political prisoners in the prisons' administrative sections. The Government refused the delegation access to prison cells, kitchens, dining halls, or infirmaries (see Section 4).

Effective May 17, the Government ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, with certain reservations relating to the investigation and arbitration of complaints.

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." Authorities routinely invoke this sweeping authority to deny these guarantees to those detained on purported state security grounds.

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. Ramon Varela Sanchez, vice president of the Marti Civic League, has been detained without charges since July 31. In addition, the Government regularly cracked down on groups of human rights advocates, including the newly formed Concilio Cubano. Between May 13 and May 16, state security agents detained 17 provincial and municipal leaders of the Human Rights Party of Cuba for periods ranging from several hours to several days. They were released pending trial on charges of enemy propaganda. To prevent any organized commemoration of the anniversary of the death of 37 people aboard the "13th of March" tugboat, state security agents detained over 30 human rights advocates between July 11 and July 13, releasing them hours or days later without charges.

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 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 intimidate critics by threatening 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 right to individual freedom and due process of persons whose sole crime has been an inclination to hold a view different from the official view."

Jesus Castillo, an independent lawyer who works with human rights and independent labor organizations, was threatened with a charge of dangerousness if he refused to accept work washing floors at a cafeteria. The National Lawyers' Organization had disbarred him in 1984 for "ideological deviationism," and authorities also detained him for 2 years without charges. On October 20, state security agents detained independent journalist Olance Nogueras Rofes and threatened him with imprisonment on the charge of dangerousness if he did not leave the country or apply for refugee status (see Section 2.a.). They released him 5 days later but rearrested him on October 26 and held him for several days. He was released pending police investigation of potential charges of revealing state secrets and enemy propaganda. Nogueras had been investigating alleged construction and safety deficiencies at the Juragua nuclear power plant in Cienfuegos.

The Government also used exile as a tool for controlling and eliminating internal opposition. The Government regularly offered exile as the condition for release to political prisoners. Rodolfo Gonzalez Gonzalez, Luis Alberto Pita Santos, and Pablo Reyes Martinez were all taken directly from prison to the airport for flights to other countries. The UNHRC condemned the practice of "obligating political prisoners to leave the country and subjecting them to pressure while they are in prison to accept this condition." For the first time, however, the Government permitted the unconditional release of a number of political prisoners, although many of those ostensibly released unconditionally as "special cases" were advised to begin their refugee processing immediately or risk reimprisonment. Six prisoners released in late May following the visit of France-Liberte, including Sebastian Arcos Bergnes and Yndamiro Restano Diaz, were allowed to remain in the country.

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 rubber-stamp 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 1 day.

There are no jury trials. Most trials are public; however, 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 say that they were tried and sentenced without counsel and were not allowed to speak on their own behalf.

The law provides the accused the right to an attorney, but the control the Government exerts over members of the state-controlled lawyer's collectives--especially when they defend persons accused of state security crimes--thoroughly compromises their ability to represent clients. Observers have reported reluctance among attorneys to defend those charged in political cases out of fear of jeopardizing their own careers.

Several members of the "Corriente Agramontista," an association of reform-minded lawyers who often defend individuals accused of political crimes, were either transferred to remote locations to encourage them to resign or were fired and disbarred. Agramontista President Rene Gomez Manzano was fired on October 6 for his "disrespectful and ironical attitude" at the 1992 general meeting of the National Lawyers' Organization, as well as for having written a letter containing "calumnious comments about the performance of the National Executive Board." Gomez' letter had criticized the financial and political management of the organization and had proposed the democratization of the organization and the reinstatement of the private practice of law.

The military trial of human rights advocate and leader of the National Council for Civil Rights, Francisco Chaviano, on charges of revealing state secrets and falsifying documents, exemplified the absence of fair trial procedures and due process. Chaviano, who was detained for 11 months without charges, received notice of his indictment only days before his April 15 trial date. After having dismissed his attorney in protest over the Government's refusal to give her access to his file or to conduct private interviews with him, he had only 1 day to review his 500-page case file. On the day of his trial, he accepted a court- appointed lawyer. During the 1-day trial closed to everyone except his immediate family, the military tribunal prohibited Chaviano from making any statement, calling defense witnesses, or presenting exculpatory evidence. The prosecution presented no physical evidence in support of the charges. Chaviano was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment; his appeals were subsequently denied. During the trial, the local CDR amassed a group of about 50 people armed with pipes, sticks, bats, and stones outside the courthouse to threaten the small group of family, friends, and human rights advocates who had gathered there.

According to Amnesty International, 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 enemy propaganda, illicit association, contempt for authority (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, 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 which 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. Citizens do not have the right to receive publications from abroad. Security agents subject dissidents, foreign diplomats, and journalists to surveillance.

State security officials threatened human rights advocate Victoria Ruiz Labrit with having her children removed from her custody if she continued her involvement in the human rights movement.

The authorities regularly search people and their homes, without probable cause, to intimidate and harass them. In July police searched the homes of independent journalists Nestor Baguer and Jose Rivero Garcia and seized their facsimile machines (see Section 2.a.). In August state security agents seized the replacement facsimile machine that Baguer had received. On October 18, state security agents in Camaguey spent 2 1/2 hours searching the home of Dulce Maria Suarez Ramirez, who provides temporary lodging for the visiting relatives of political prisoners detained in Camaguey province. State security agents seized letters from those families, as well as personal video cassettes and various foreign publications.

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 materials.

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.

Miguel Angel Aldana, President of the Marti Civic League, which regularly reports human rights violations to the U.S. media, was assaulted by three unidentified men in full daylight on June 15. While one pinned down his arm, another took a wooden stick and beat his hand telling him that it was "so you can't continue writing garbage." Police in the emergency room at the local hospital asked no questions when Aldana arrived obviously beaten and bloody.

Several members of the Independent Press Bureau of Cuba (BPIC), founded in September by former political prisoner Yndamiro Restano Diaz, were detained and threatened with imprisonment if they continued their work as independent journalists. Olance Nogueras Rofes was detained twice, each time for several days, and threatened with imprisonment if he did not either stop working for BPIC or leave the country (see Section l.d.).

The Government rigorously monitored other forms of expression and often arrested people for 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.

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 can only operate under Party guidelines and must faithfully reflect government views. No other public forums exist. The Government continued to jam U.S.-operated Radio Marti and Television Marti, although it usually did not jam other foreign radio broadcasts. Radio Marti broadcasts frequently overcame the jamming attempts. The Government's control often extends to the foreign press as well. The Government controls access to the Internet.

The Government circumscribes artistic, literary, and academic freedoms. Authorities denied exit permits to at least nine academics who were to attend the annual Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference in the United States because of the content of their research. According to the LASA president, "to impose such restrictions on academic travel is an embarrassment for the freedom of education." The University of Las Villas dismissed Alvaro Zamora Hernandez, a psychology professor, for "ideological treason" after he was returned to Cuba following an illegal departure attempt. Although the university refused to offer him another position at an equal salary, they did continue to pay him his previous salary.

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.

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 (see Section 2.c.). 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 Penal Code specifically outlaws "illegal or unrecognized groups." The Ministry of Justice, in consultation with the Interior Ministry, decides whether to recognize organizations. Recognized churches, the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization CARITAS, the Masonic Order, small human rights groups, and several nascent independent professional organizations are the only associations outside the control of the State, the Party, and mass organizations. All other legally recognized nongovernmental groups are affiliated with or controlled by the Government. The authorities continue to ignore applications for legal recognition, thereby allowing the Government to threaten members of these groups with charges of illicit association.

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 July 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. While the Protestant Ecumenical Council praised such actions, the Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church replied with concern over the gap between the Government's rhetoric and actions. In late 1993, the Government harshly criticized the Roman Catholic bishops' pastoral letter calling for national reconciliation and dialog. Despite continued restrictions and harsh rhetoric, the Roman Catholic Church has observed that it has relatively more latitude in which to carry out its pastoral mission.

Despite legal changes, religious persecution continues. The State prohibits members of the armed forces from allowing anyone in their household to observe religious practices. It exempts elderly relatives only if their religious beliefs do not influence other family members and are not "damaging to the revolution."

The Government continued to use the Penal Code to persecute Jehovah's Witnesses and, to a lesser extent, Seventh Day Adventists because it considers them to be "active religious enemies of the revolution" for their refusal to accept obligatory military service or participate in state organizations. The Government also harasses other churches. Miguel Angel Leon, a Baptist minister in Cienfuegos province, and Jorge Luis Brito, a member of the church, were tried in December 1994 after 14 months in detention and sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment for enemy propaganda.

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 congregations to violate the law and meet in people's homes.

On May 24, Pentecostal Pastor Orson Vila was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 23 months' imprisonment (reduced on appeal to 18 months) on charges of disobedience and illegal meetings for refusing to close his private house of worship in the city of Camaguey (see Section l.c.). At the same time, authorities closed over 80 Pentecostal private houses of worship in the province of Camaguey. They charged that the private houses of worship were operating without official authorization. Vila had followed the prescribed procedures for requesting such authorization but had only received responses to 16 of the 101 applications he submitted.

Official recognition of all religious holidays ended in 1961. At that time, the Government also prohibited nearly all religious processions outside churches and denied churches access to mass media. Despite obstacles raised by the Government, church attendance has grown in recent years.

State security officials regularly harassed human rights advocates prior to services commemorating special feast days or before significant national days. A number of human rights advocates were warned against attending services at the Sacred Heart church in Havana on July 13, the anniversary of the sinking of the "13th of March" tugboat. Prior to the September 8 celebration of the feast day of the "Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre," 10 members of the Maximo Gomez Human Rights Democratic Front in Pinar del Rio were either detained or warned not to attend the church service. Sixteen members of the Jose Marti Democratic Bloc were detained or threatened before the September 24 celebration of the feast day of the "Virgen de las Mercedes."

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

The Government 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 human rights advocates Aida Rosa Jimenez and Miguel Angel Aldana from returning to the provinces of Camaguey and Pinar del Rio, respectively, and prohibited independent journalist Olance Nogueras Rofes from leaving his province of Cienfuegos.

The Government allows the majority of persons who qualify for immigrant or refugee status in other countries to leave Cuba. However, the authorities delay or deny exit permits in certain cases, usually without explanation. Many of the denials involve professionals who have tried to emigrate and whom the Government subsequently banned from working in their occupational field. The Government refuses 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 for military service, even when it has authorized the rest of the family to leave. However, most of those cases approved for migration to the United States eventually receive exemptions from obligatory service and exit permits. In midyear, the Government made it more difficult for individuals to leave the country by imposing high fees, payable in U.S. dollars, for passports, exit permits, and medical checkups. As a result of these fees, almost 1,000 approved migrants were unable to travel.

The Government denied temporary exit permits to several human rights advocates, including Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz and Osvaldo Paya, as well as to eminent neurosurgeon Hilda Molina Morejon, who had hoped to visit her son and newborn grandson in Argentina.

Unauthorized departures by boat or raft continue to be punishable by fines and prison terms of from 6 months to 3 years, although the Government agreed under the terms of the May 2 U.S.-Cuban migration accord not to prosecute or retaliate against rafters returned to Cuba from international or U.S. waters. Although none of the returned rafters has been prosecuted for illegal departure, 16 of 223 returnees were detained at year's end on various charges unrelated to their illegal departure attempt. Of these, nine were jailed on charges of committing common crimes, six on charges of escaping from prison or violating parole in connection with earlier illegal attempts to enter or exit Cuba, and one on charges of violating exit laws following his repatriation. The Penal Code provides for imprisonment from 1 to 3 years or a fine of 300 to 1,000 pesos for illegal departure. 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.

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 further 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 the Government announced a further relaxation in travel requirements. 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 liberation; for the rights of workers, peasants, and students; for their progressive political, scientific, artistic, and literary activities, for socialism and peace." According to the UNHCR, no third country national sought asylum or refugee status from the Government in 1995. The Government works with the UNHCR to process refugee and asylum claims.

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 governing bodies--the Politburo and the Central Committee.

The authorities tightly control all elections. The Government estimated a 97 percent turnout for the July 9 elections for municipal councils. Most of the candidates were members of the Communist Party, and no candidates entered in opposition to the Government.

The Government has ignored calls for democratic reform. In an interview with Cable News Network television in October, President Castro reiterated his view that political parties would fragment Cuban society, and he would therefore not permit them. The Government rejects any change judged incompatible with the revolution, as well as proposals by Cubans who seek nonviolent political change. The Government has systematically retaliated against those who have peacefully sought political change.

Though not a formal requirement, Communist Party membership is a de facto prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement.

Government leadership positions continued to be male dominated. 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 or international human rights groups, or permit them to function legally. The Government subjects domestic human rights advocates to intense intimidation, harassment, and repression (see Sections 1.c., 1.d., and 1.e.). 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 1991 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 requests by the Special Rapporteur to visit Cuba. The Government did allow a brief visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in November 1994, but it did not honor his request that it permit the Special Rapporteur to visit in compliance with his U.N. mandate.

As a result of an agreement between Danielle Mitterand, president of the humanitarian organization France-Liberte Foundation, and President Castro, the Government permitted a four-person delegation, headed by Raphael Doueb, vice president of France-Liberte, to meet with 24 political prisoners between April 28 and May 5. The members of that delegation included representatives of the International Federation for Human

Rights, Doctors of the World, and Human Rights Watch/Americas. The delegation was not permitted to conduct interviews in the prison cells or to inspect prison facilities. The delegation reported that no prisoner had complained of physical abuse during his detention, but that all had complained of summary and unfair trials, prolonged pretrial incommunicado detention, cruel and inhuman prison conditions, and confinement with common criminals. The delegation reported being particularly struck by the severity of the sentences imposed on political prisoners for nonviolent crimes.

The delegation requested the immediate release on health grounds of four of the political prisoners interviewed, and special medical treatment for two others who had not been interviewed. At the end of May, the Government released Agustin Figueredo Figueredo, Pedro Castillo Ferrer, Sebastian Arcos Bergnes, Yndamiro Restano Diaz, Ismael Salvia Ricardo, and Luis Enrique Gonzalez Ogra. Omar del Pozo Marrero, one of the four whose immediate release had been sought, was not released (see Section l.c.). The delegation presented a preliminary report on its visit to the Government in mid-June and issued a final report in December. In a televised interview conducted during his trip to New York, President Castro stated that he had disagreed with the preliminary report.

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 often occur.


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 Cuba specifically to patronize inexpensive prostitutes. During its annual meeting, the official Federation of Cuban Women criticized government-sponsored advertising which 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 childhood and youth." The national health care system covers all citizens. There is no pattern of societal 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 which mandate accessibility to buildings for people with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Many blacks have benefited from the social changes of the revolution. Nevertheless, there have been numerous instances of police harassment of blacks, including black foreigners and diplomats who were mistaken for being Cuban. Many black dissidents also report that the authorities single them out for harassment.

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 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. 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.

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. There are no independent unions.

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 for 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 new Foreign Investment Law (Law 77), promulgated on September 6, 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 which supply both the armed forces and the civilian population. The ILO's Committee of Experts criticized Cuba for violating ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labor, based on information provided by the International

Confederation of Free Trade Unions. In response the Cuban state labor committee in 1993 eliminated "merits and demerits" from workers' labor records.

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 $6.60 at the unofficial but actual exchange rate of 25 pesos to $1.00 in November 1995 (165 pesos); for a bilingual office clerk, $7.60 (190 pesos); and for a gardener $8.60 (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 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.