04 April 2014
Reforms are continuing in Cuba, most recently in the form of a new foreign-investment law that provides a greater margin of return for investors. The political arena, however, seems to have been exempted from any changes. This includes the repression of individual liberties, press freedom, and freedom of expression. Beatings, detentions, acts of intimidation or vandalism, and harassment of the opposition continue unabated. Nor has there been an end to the acts of protest by the opposition and the work of independent journalists and bloggers, or to the debate in both government and independent circles on the country’s problems and the need to democratize Cuban society. Cuba’s state-run press continues to carry the same propaganda as always and denies people access to news on events inside and outside Cuba. Coverage of the protests in Venezuela, for example, has been nonexistent. News on Venezuela is about speeches and appearances by Nicolás Maduro and other “Chavista” leaders, as well as government activities and pro-government demonstrations, while demonizing what they call “right-wing fascists.” In November the political police intervened against the “State of SATS” cultural project as it was celebrating, at its offices in Havana, the release of the premiere issue of the magazine Cuadernos para la Transición. At the event’s conclusion, many attendees were arrested and the magazines confiscated. In December the project’s director, Antonio González Rodiles, and other activists participating in the First International Conference on Human Rights and the UN Covenants, organized by State of SATS, were beaten and detained. Only 15 percent of the Cuban population is connected to the Internet. The Cuban Telecommunications Company, a state agency, announced that it plans to offer residential Internet access by late 2014. It also said that it will offer new services for cellphone users, including email and web browsing. Although no definitive pricing information is available, it is speculated that rates will be astronomical to attract foreign currency from abroad, mainly from the United States, where payments for cellphone connections are made. In February the Associated Press withdrew seven photographs of Fidel Castro because some of them had been digitally altered. The images had been disseminated by Estudios Revolución, a government entity that distributes images of government leaders and activities, during the recent summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), held in Havana. BBC World, the online service of the BBC, removed the journalist Fernando Ravsberg’s blog “Cartas desde Cuba” in late March. According to a source at the BBC, Ravsberg’s blog was apparently too friendly to the regime in Havana. Also in February, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) noted the incarceration of author and blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for “violation of domicile and injuries” in a trial riddled with irregularities. Santiesteban has complained from prison of being abused and tortured, and has said that his only crime was to run a blog. In the same month, RWB included Cuba in its “Enemies of the Internet” report, saying that the government bases its system of control on three pillars: local intranet, high-priced Internet, and constant monitoring. On March 25, independent attorneys with the organization Cubalex and reporters participated in a public hearing as part of the 150th Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC. Attorneys Laritza Diversent, Yaremis Flores, and Veizant Boloy, along with independent journalists Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez and Aleaga Pesant, spoke about the human rights situation for journalists and persons with disabilities. The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported that at least 909 politically motivated arrests were made in October 2013, one of the highest figures in the past two decades. It also noted an increase in police and parapolice violence and brutal physical attacks—sometimes under civilian cover—against dissidents. November saw 761 short-term arbitrary detentions for political reasons, as well as 192 victims of physical attacks, 119 of vandalism, 94 of harassment, and 72 of what are known as mítines de repudio (“repudiation rallies”). There were 1,123 politically motivated arbitrary detentions in December, and 1,052 in January. For the CELAC summit, the Cuban government deployed thousands of officers of the political police force, other repressive bodies, and parapolice agents, who spent days stationed outside the homes of hundreds of members of the opposition, subjecting them to de facto house arrest, with no court order, as one way of silencing dissident voices. Gabriel Salvia, general director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, was expelled upon his arrival in Cuba. Salvia was the organizer of the Second Democratic Forum on International Relations and Human Rights, which was to be held at the same time as the CELAC summit. The 2014 World Report of Human Rights Watch criticized the government’s tight control on information, which severely restricts freedom of expression. The report made special mention of the smear campaigns, assaults, and arbitrary detentions to which opponents and critics are subjected. Alan Gross, a former contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), remains in prison. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has been calling for his immediate release since 2012. Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for distributing telecommunications equipment to religious groups. The working group said that Gross’s detention was arbitrary and that the Cuban government had not provided sufficient evidence of his crimes. Meanwhile, despite the poor human rights situation on the island, Cuba was reelected to the UN Human Rights Council. In early March, the government announced its willingness to negotiate an agreement for political dialogue and cooperation with the European Union, with an eye to furthering the so-called reforms in Cuba and supporting greater respect for human rights. Some countries, such as Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic, have called for monitoring to ensure that measures are taken to uphold political freedoms and freedom of expression in Cuba.