U.S. State Department Reiterates Criticism of Cuba’s Human Rights

On March 11, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on human rights around the world and repeated its criticisms of Cuba on this subject.

Secretary Pompeo’s Introduction of the Report[1]

The Secretary used these words to announce the release of the report:  “As our founding documents remind us, nothing is more fundamental to our national identity than our belief in the rights and dignity of every single human being.  It’s in our Declaration of Independence.”  With the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 as its foundation, “The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is exploring the deep roots of America’s foundational belief in these ideals, and I look forward to receiving the commission’s work sometime around the Fourth of July of this year, a fitting time.” (Emphasis added.)

The Secretary then shifted to highlighting the report’s discussion of “human rights abuses . . . that are happening in China, Iran, Venezuela, and in Cuba.” His comments on Cuba focused entirely on the situation of Cuban dissident José Daniel Ferrer, which will be covered in a subsequent post.

The Executive Summary of the Report on Cuba[2]

 “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the republic, with former president Raul Castro serving as the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP). Despite ratifying a new constitution on February 24, Cuba remains a one-party system in which the constitution states the CCP is the only legal political party and the highest political entity of the state.”

“The Ministry of Interior exercises control over the police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.”

“Significant human rights issues included: reports of abuse of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; political prisoners; and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy. The government severely restricted freedom of the press, used criminal libel laws against persons critical of leadership, and engaged in censorship and site blocking. There were limitations on academic and cultural freedom; restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement and severe restrictions of religious freedom. Political participation was restricted to members of the ruling party, and elections were not free and fair. There was official corruption, trafficking in persons, outlawing of independent trade unions, and compulsory labor.”

“On February 24, the country adopted a new constitution in a coerced referendum marred by violent government repression against those that opposed the proposed constitution. On February 12, for example, 200 police and security agents raided the homes of leaders of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) [which is headed by José Daniel Ferrer] for openly campaigning against the draft constitution, detaining and reportedly beating UNPACU members. Other opponents reported that the government had blocked their email and texts to keep them from disseminating opposition campaign materials. Article 5 of the constitution enshrines one-party rule by the CCP, disallowing for additional political expression outside of that structure. Although the new constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not respect them, nor did the courts enforce them.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses and failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed the abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

Some Negative Details of the Report

Disappearance (Section 1.B): “There were confirmed reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were multiple reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were unknown for days or weeks because the government did not register these detentions; many detentions occurred in unregistered sites.”

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Section 1.C):

  • “There were reports that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, political dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners also endured physical abuse by prison officials or by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards.”
  • “There were reports police assaulted detainees or were complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators.”
  • “State security officials frequently deployed to countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, where they trained and supported other organizations in their use of repressive tactics and human rights abuses, and sometimes participated in them directly.”
  • “Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports that prison officials assaulted prisoners.”
  • “The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.”
  • “The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations.”

Arbitrary Arrest or Detention (Section 1.D):

  • “Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions increased, becoming a routine government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity.”
  • Authorities “routinely ignored” the requirement to “furnish suspects a signed ‘report of detention,’ noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search.”
  • “Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failure to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees.”
  • “The law allows for ‘preventive detention’ for up to four years of individuals not charged with an actual crime, based on a subjective determination of “precriminal dangerousness,” which is defined as the ‘special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms,’ which is sometimes used “to silence peaceful political opponents.”
  • “There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period;” that bail “typically [was] not granted to those arrested for political activities;” that “police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning;” that “authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely;” that officials often detain “suspects longer than the legally mandated period without informing them of the nature of the arrest, allowing them to contact family members, or affording them legal counsel;” that the “government [often] held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases.”

Denial of Fair Public Trial (Section 1.E):

  • “[P]olitically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving ‘state security’ or ‘extraordinary circumstances.’”
  • “[C]ourts regularly failed to protect or observe these [due process] rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.”
  • “Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory.” In cases involving “‘crimes against the security of the state,’ defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed.”
  • For charges of ‘precriminal dangerousness,’ “the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred.”
  • “The government continued to hold political prisoners and detainees but denied it did so and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.”
  • There are “political prisoners,’ but details are difficult to obtain.
  • “No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.”

Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence (Section 1.E): 

  • “Reportedly government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity.”
  • “Covert techniques to obtain information . . . . included information gathering by undercover officers, voice recording, location monitoring, filming, communications intercepts, and surreptitious access to computer systems.”
  • “The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities.”

Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press” (Section 2.A):

  • “Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.”
  • “The government did not tolerate public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive.”
  • “[S]ome religious groups reported increased restrictions to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings.”
  • “The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information.”
  • “The government harassed and threatened any independent citizen journalists who reported on human rights violations in the country.”
  • “The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered ‘counterrevolutionary’ or critical of the government.”
  • “The government used a combination of website blocking, pressure on website operators, arrests, intimidation, imprisonment, and extralegal surveillance to censor information critical to the regime and to silence its critics.”
  • “The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing ‘revolutionary ideology’ and ‘discipline.’”

Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association (Section 2.B):

  • The constitutional “limited right of assembly . . . is subject to the requirement that it may not be ‘exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.’ The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons.”
  • “Independent activists, as well as political parties other than the CCP, faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers. The government refused to allow independent demonstrators or public meetings by human rights groups or any others critical of any government activity.”
  • “The government, using undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents, organized “acts of repudiation” in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully.”
  • “The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The law proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition, and police sometimes raided their meetings.”
  • “The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The law proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition, and police sometimes raided their meetings.”

Freedom of Movement (Section 2.D):

  • “There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return.”
  • “The government also barred citizens and persons of Cuban descent living abroad from entering the country, apparently on grounds that they were critical of the government or for having “abandoned” postings abroad.”

Protection of Refugees (Section 2.F): “Cuba is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention [Treaty].”

Freedom to Participate in the Political Process (Section 3):

  • “[C]itizens do not have the ability to form political parties or choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from political parties other than the CCP. The government forcefully and consistently retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.”
  • “The new constitution includes many sections that restrict citizens’ ability to participate fully in political processes by deeming the CCP as the state’s only legal political party and the ‘superior driving force of the society and the state.’”

Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government (Section 4): The government did not effectively enforce the law against corruption.

Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights (Section 5):

  • “The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, periodic short-term detention, and long-term imprisonment on questionable charges.”
  • “The government refused to recognize or meet with any unauthorized NGOs that monitored or promoted human rights.”
  • “The government continued to deny international human rights organizations, including the United Nations, its affiliated organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, access to prisoners and detainees.”

Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons (Section 6):

  • “The government specifically targeted activists organizing a campaign called Women United for Our Rights that asked the state to update data on crimes against women, train officials to handle crimes against women, and define gender-based violence in the law.”
  • “A large number of persons with disabilities who depended on the state for their basic needs struggled to survive due to lack of resources and inattention.”
  • “Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, and some were subject to racial epithets while undergoing beatings at the hands of security agents in response to political activity. Afro-Cubans also reported employment discrimination, particularly in positions of prominence within the tourism industry, media, and government.”
  • Although Cuba has “a history of state-sanctioned events in support of the LGBTI community,” several “unrecognized NGOs that promote LGBTI human rights faced government harassment, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions.”

Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining (Section 7.A): “The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. use politically motivated and discriminatory dismissals against those who criticized the government’s economic or political model.”

Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor (Section 7.B): “Many citizens were employed by state-run entities contracted by foreign entities inside the country and abroad to provide labor, often highly skilled labor such as doctors or engineers. These employees received a small fraction of the salaries paid to the state-run company, often less than 10 percent. For example, in the “Mais Medicos” program run in cooperation with the Pan-American Health Organization in Brazil, of $1.3 billion the Brazilian government paid for the services of Cuban doctors, less than 1 percent–only $125 million–was paid to the doctors who provided the services. The rest went into the Cuban government’s coffers. Doctors in the program complained of being overworked and not earning enough to support their families. Former participants described coercion, nonpayment of wages, withholding of their passports, and restriction on their movement, which the government denied. Similar practices occurred in the tourism sector.”

Comments

The U.S.’ repeated allegation that Cuban medical personnel on foreign missions are engaged in illegal forced labor does not make it so. Moreover, there is a strong legal argument against that allegation.[3]

There may well be legitimate Cuban arguments against the other allegations mentioned above, which Cuba would need to assert and prove.

More importantly, the U.S. allegations ignore the long history of U.S. overt and covert hostile actions against the much smaller and militarily weaker island nation, and hence Cuba’s well-founded need to be suspicious of its domestic critics and to take some actions against those critics. This, however, does not provide Cuba with legitimate excuses for all of those actions.

=================================

[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo on the Release of the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 11, 2020); Jakes, Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (Mar. 11, 2020).

[3] See, e.g.,  these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Unjustified Campaign To Discredit Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program (Sept. 4, 2019); U.S. Litigation Over Cuba Medical Mission Program (Feb. 12, 2020); Cuba Response to U,S, Campaign Against Cuba’s Medical Missions (Feb. 13, 2020).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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