1. Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses nearly all forms of political dissent. President Fidel Castro, during his 47 years in power, has shown no willingness to consider even minor reforms. Instead, the Cuban government continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, police warnings, surveillance, house arrests, travel restrictions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment. The end result is that Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law.
2. Cuba’s Criminal Code provides the legal basis for repression of dissent. Laws criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of “unauthorized news,” and insult to patriotic symbols are used to restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The government also imprisons or orders the surveillance of individuals who have committed no illegal act, relying upon provisions that penalize “dangerousness” (estado peligroso) and allow for “official warning” (advertencia oficial).
3. In early July 2006 the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a respected local human rights group, issued a list of 316 prisoners who it said were incarcerated for political reasons. Serving sentences that average nearly 20 years, the incarcerated dissidents endure poor conditions and punitive treatment in prison.
4. The Cuban government forbids the country’s citizens from leaving or returning to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which is often denied. Unauthorized travel can result in criminal prosecution. The government also frequently bars citizens engaged in authorized travel from taking their children with them overseas, essentially holding the children hostage to guarantee the parents’ return. Given the widespread fear of forced family separation, these travel restrictions provide the Cuban government with a powerful tool for punishing defectors and silencing critics.
5. The Cuban government maintains a media monopoly on the island, ensuring that freedom of expression is virtually non-existent. There are currently 23 journalists serving prison terms in Cuba, most of them charged with threatening “the national independence and economy of Cuba.” This makes the country second only to China for the number of journalists in prison.
6. Access to information via the Internet is highly restricted in Cuba (see map above showing visits to this blog, none are from Cuba). In late August 2006 the dissident and independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas ended a seven-month hunger strike in opposition to the regime’s Internet policy. He began the strike after the Cuban authorities shut down his e-mail access, which he had been using to send dispatches abroad describing attacks on dissidents and other human rights abuses.
7. Prisoners are generally kept in poor and abusive conditions, often in overcrowded cells. They typically lose weight during incarceration, and some receive inadequate medical care. Some also endure physical and sexual abuse, typically by other inmates and with the acquiescence of guards.
8. Under Cuban law the death penalty exists for a broad range of crimes. It is difficult to ascertain the frequency with which this penalty is employed because Cuba does not release information regarding its use.
9. Refusing to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity, the government denies legal status to local human rights groups. Individuals who belong to these groups face systematic harassment, with the government putting up obstacles to impede them from documenting human rights conditions.
10. International human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are barred from sending fact-finding missions to Cuba. In fact, Cuba remains one of the few countries in the world to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons.