RIGHTS-CUBA: Few Advances, Besides Release of Prisoners

  • by Patricia Grogg (havana)
  • Thursday, January 27, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

'Despite the release of several dozen political prisoners in the second half of 2010, a positive development,' the situation of 'civil, political, economic and cultural rights is still negative,' says a new report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

Like other dissident groups, the CCDHRN is not legally recognised but is tolerated by the government, which sees all opposition organisations as mercenaries in the pay of Washington.

The government thus tends to ignore such accusations like the ones voiced by the CCDHRN, which it considers to be part of the hostile U.S. policy towards Cuba.

The report issued by the CCDHRN, which is headed by Elizardo Sánchez, includes a 'documented' list of 105 people in prison or facing charges for political reasons. The figure is much lower than the 201 names listed in January 2010, or the 167 included in the group's June 2010 report.

The significant reduction was due 'fundamentally to the release, directly from prison to exile in Spain, of 56 prisoners, including 41 who were adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty international, in the second half of 2010. The individuals who opted for exile were accompanied abroad by a total of 323 family members,' the report says.

The CCDHRN's list of names includes 28 people handed stiff sentences, including life in prison, for terrorism, and 14 for hijacking -- in cases involving smuggling people out of the country -- accompanied in some cases by murder.

It also includes the last 11 of a group of 75 prisoners who the government promised to release, 23 of whom had already been freed.

The Catholic Church helped broker a deal in which the government of Raúl Castro agreed to release the 52 of the original group of 75 who were still in prison in mid-2010. The 11 who are still behind bars have refused to leave Cuba if they are freed.

The 75 dissidents were imprisoned in early 2003 on charges of conspiring with a foreign power -- the United States -- to destabilise the Cuban state. In response to the arrests of the dissidents and the lengthy sentences they were given, the European Union adopted diplomatic sanctions, and talks between the EU and Cuba were broken off.

In his report, Sánchez complains that the draft guidelines for the sixth congress of Cuba's governing Communist Party (PCC) 'do not say a single word about the need to improve the situation of civil, political, economic and cultural rights of the citizens, which would require reforms to modernise the legal system.'

When it reported that the PCC's sixth congress would be held in April 2011, the government said it would be exclusively dedicated to modernising the country's economic policies.

The draft guidelines on economic and social policy are currently being debated by the public.

Sánchez commented to IPS that many social problems in Cuba could be aggravated by the elimination of state subsidies and the mass dismissals of public employees, which he said would leave many people unemployed.

'Instead of advancing, we are moving backwards -- that is the risk we see,' he said.

The report says the situation could give rise to tension and lead to 'an increase in expressions of discontent by citizens, to which the regime will respond with repression, pure and simple, which will mean greater violations of civil, political, economic and social rights.'

The CCDHRN says it documented at least 870 politically motivated detentions in 2009 and 2,074 detentions in 2010.

'In the great majority of cases, they were arbitrary detentions that lasted a few hours or days,' although at least 10 of the detainees remain in prison awaiting trial, the report says.

'No government has the right to permit or order arbitrary detentions that deprive citizens of freedom even for one hour, and much less, mistreat them physically or subject them to unacceptable humiliations,' it adds.

In brief statements to IPS, Sánchez mentioned the example of the six-hour detention last Wednesday of political dissident Guillermo Fariñas, when he and a score of other people held a demonstration in the central city of Santa Clara to protest the eviction of a pregnant single mother of two who had occupied an empty apartment that belongs to the Public Health Ministry.

Fariñas, who held a 134-day hunger strike last year to demand the release of political prisoners with health problems, was awarded the European Parliament's 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?