As discussed in a prior post, on April 20, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on the status of human rights in nearly 200 countries around the world. Here is the Executive Summary of its report on human rights in Cuba in 2017.
“Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the leading force of society and of the state. The government postponed October municipal elections due to recovery efforts related to Hurricane Irma but conducted them in November, although they were neither free nor fair. A CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates, and the government actively worked to block non-CP approved candidates.”
“The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.”
“The most significant human rights issues included torture of perceived political opponents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; politically motivated, sometimes violent, detentions and arrests; a complete absence of judicial independence; arbitrary arrest and detention that was politically motivated and sometimes violent; trial processes that effectively put the burden on the defendant to prove innocence; and political prisoners.”
“ There was arbitrary interference with privacy, including search-and-seizure operations in homes and monitoring and censoring private communications.”
“Freedom of expression was limited to expression that ‘conforms to the goals of socialist society’ with strict censorship punishing even distribution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There were bans on importation of informational materials; strict control of all forms of media; restrictions on the internet, including severely limiting availability and site blocking; restrictions on academic freedom, including punishment for any deviation from the government line; criminalization of criticism of government leaders; and severe limitations on academic and cultural freedom, including on library access.”
“There were restrictions on rights of assembly to those that the government deemed to be “’against the existence and objectives of the socialist state;’ criminalization of gatherings of three or more not authorized by the government, and use of government-organized acts of repudiation in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement; restriction of participation in the political process to those approved by the government; official corruption; outlawing of independent trade unions; compulsory labor; and trafficking in persons.”
“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”
I believe that a lot of what this Report says about Cuba is true. But it reflects a common failure of Americans to recognize and appreciate Cuba’s situation. As a relatively poor, small nation, Cuba has faced over the last 59 years a vastly larger, wealthier, stronger United States which has overtly and secretly attempted to impose or encourage regime change on the island. Under those circumstances, it should be easy for Americans to understand why Cuba has sought to control opposition.
On April 20 the U.S. State Department released its 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan wrote the Preface to the Reports and made remarks upon their release while a Special Briefing on the Reports was conducted by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, the head of the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
These three introductions to the Reports will be discussed below, and a future post will review the report on Cuba.
“We are a nation founded on the belief that every person is endowed with inalienable rights. Promoting and defending these rights is central to who we are as a country.”
“The 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices . . . document the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories. These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a variety of actors, including the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch as a factual resource for decision-making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum.”
“The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes that corrupt and weak governance threatens global stability and U.S. interests. Some governments are unable to maintain security and meet the basic needs of their people, while others are simply unwilling. States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests. The Governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result.”
“Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”
The Acting Secretary noted that this was the 42nd year of such reports, which “are a natural outgrowth of our values as Americans. The founding documents of our country speak to unalienable rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – revolutionary concepts at the time of our founding that are now woven into the fabric of America and its interests both at home and abroad.”
“Promoting human rights and the idea that every person has inherent dignity is a core element of this administration’s foreign policy. It also strengthens U.S. national security by fostering greater peace, stability, and prosperity around the world. The Human Rights Reports are the most comprehensive and factual accounting of the global state of human rights. They help our government and others formulate policies and encourage both friends and foes to respect the dignity of all individuals without discrimination.”
“This year, we have sharpened the focus of the report to be more responsive to statutory reporting requirements and more focused on government action or inaction with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, each executive summary includes a paragraph to note the most egregious abuses that occurred in a particular country, including those against women, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and members of religious minorities.”
Sullivan then had comments about some countries “with the most egregious human rights records:” Syria, Burma, North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and Russia. He concluded by noted three countries with improvements: Uzbekistan, Liberia and Mexico.
Responding to a journalist’s question whether the U.S. issuance of this report could be regarded as hypocrisy because of U.S. human rights problems, the Ambassador said that this would be an unfounded charge. The report criticizes some country’s revoking licenses of media that criticize the government and even killing journalists; the U.S. does not do that. He also said the U.S. has laws to protect foreigners from being returned to countries where they are likely to face illegal persecution.
Nozak rejected the notion that the report was weakened by President Trump’s calling the U.S. press an enemy of the people and suggesting changing U.S. libel laws to protect politicians like him from unfounded reporting. In contrast he said independent journalists in Cuba “are routinely slapped around, they also get called names, “
This year’s report omitted a special section on women’s reproductive rights because it is not a term derived from an international treaty or from the U.S. statute requiring these annual reports; the latter refers to coerced family planning, coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In addition, the new U.S. report has a hyperlink to a WHO report on the subject.
Kozak rejected the notion that this report was undercut by President Trump’s meetings with leaders of countries with poor human rights records.
The U.S. as a matter of policy supports NGOs around the world that are working to improve human rights.
For North Korea, the U.S. is concerned about the nuclear issue and about human rights. The report “pretty starkly [discusses] the kinds of abuses, and over the last year or two, we’ve supported . . . a commission of inquiry on North Korea, we support NGOs that are working on North Korea and exposing the human rights abuses that occur in the camps there and so on. But some of the stories that are contained in the report are just overwhelming. There’s one about 11 people who were arrested for supposedly making a pornographic film and they were executed by shooting anti-artillery weapons at them, and then they brought out tanks and ran over the bodies, and this is supposed to be a civilized country.”
The Preface to the report calls China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as “forces of instability.” This is not a defined term, but refers to situations where internal actions generate international problems like refugee flows and humanitarian crises.
On March 14, Jason Mack, a member of the U.S. delegation in Geneva, made a statement to the Council expressing concern over various human rights issues in Iran, Syria, Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cambodia, South Sudan, Russia, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Venezuela and Turkey.
With respect to Cuba, Mack said, “We continue to be concerned about Cuba’s harassment and detention of individuals who attempt to peacefully assemble or otherwise express themselves. We condemn the undemocratic electoral process in which the Cuban people cannot freely choose their future leaders.”
In response, the Cuban Permanent Representative, Ambassador Pedro L. Pedroso Cuesta, first made a general statement. He said, “At each session of the Council, we call for the rejection of manipulation and double standards in the treatment of human rights, as well as abandoning the path of politicization and selectivity.”
“However, when in this debate we observe powerful countries seeking to establish themselves as paradigms of promotion and protection of human rights, omitting serious violations of these rights committed by them, we ask ourselves: was it not to avoid this situation and promote dialogue and cooperation for what we created this Council?”
“Xenophobia, racism and intolerance are rising to worrying levels in those countries that refuse to recognize the right to development as a basic human right. That is why we reject the use of the human rights issue to exert political pressure and seek to impose punitive actions, with the objective, many times, of promoting regime changes.”
Ambassador Cuesta then made the following direct response to the U.S.:
“The accusations made against Cuba in the statement by the US representative are illegitimate and a demonstration of an approach inconsistent with the need to promote an objective, non-politicized and non-discriminatory debate on the problem of human rights. When criticizing other countries, it seems that they intend us to forget the human rights violations they commit in their territory and against other peoples of the world.”
“The use of torture, the killing of African-Americans by the police, the deaths of civilians by their troops, the indiscriminate and racially differentiated use of the death penalty, murder, repression and police surveillance of immigrants, the separation of families and the detention or deportation of minors and the brutal measures with which it threatens the children of illegal immigrants who grew up and were educated in the United States should be condemned. Is it the government that lost the popular vote the one that wants to give us lessons in democracy?”
“We demand the cessation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed against Cuba almost 60 years ago. We demand the return of the territory usurped by the Guantánamo Naval Base.”
“Cuba will continue its struggle because its society is as fair as possible. We will persist in defending the right of the Cuban people to give itself the political system it deems, and follow its path of self-determination without any intervention or interference.”
Note that Ambassador Cuesta did not respond to the two specific accusations by the U.S. about Cuba. Nor did the U.S. representative seek to respond to the subsequent accusations about the U.S. from Ambassador Cuesta.
On March 6, the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (ICEP) announced that in 2017 there were at least 240 violations against freedom of the press on the island and that 97 independentjournalists were subjected to repression. 
Of the 240 violations, 102 were threats and psychological attacks; 84, arbitrary detentions; 32, dispossessions of work media; 16, prohibitions to leave the country; 4,four, physical attacks; and 2,expulsions from jobs.
More generally the ICEP said, ”During the year of 2017, the Cuban regime maintained its monopoly on the mass media, and . . . article 53 of the Cuban Constitution that conditions the ‘freedom of speech and press according to the aims of the socialist society’ continues to muzzle all [journalists]. The judicial system uses a Penal Code that sanctions any type of press freedom, political police harass, arrest and threaten to imprison journalists for various, alleged, crimes.”
ICEP is a non-profit NGO that defends freedom of the press and has within Cuba the only network of community media that publishes, prints and distributes printed newspapers to the population with information about the most pressing problems the Cuban population suffers.
In early January, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, conducted an official visit to Cuba to celebrate and solidify the EU’s relationship with Cuba. The visit included her Magisterial Lecture at the San Gerónimo School in Havana; meetings with President Raúl Castro, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and other Cuban officials; and a concluding press conference.
This visit followed the two parties December 12, 2016, signing of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement and its July 5, 2017, ratification by the European Parliament and the entry into effect of most of its provisions on November 1, 2017.  Its main chapters concern the following:
Political dialogue, addressing issues, such as human rights, small arms and disarmament, migration, drugs, fight against terrorism and sustainable development;
Cooperation and sector policy dialogue, including areas, such as human rights, governance, civil society, social and economic development, environment as well as regional cooperation;
Trade and trade cooperation, dealing with principles of international trade and covering cooperation on customs, trade facilitation, technical norms and standards, sustainable trade and investment.
Magisterial Lecture: “The EU and Latin America”
Agreement approved in December 2016 : “With the new political dialogue agreement, we have the opportunity to elevate our relations to a level that truly represents the close historical, economic and cultural ties that unite Europe with Cuba. This agreement opens new opportunities to increase our trade, our investments and to promote common solutions to global challenges such as migration, the fight against terrorism, nuclear disarmament and climate change. One example is the new cooperation program to promote the use of renewable energies that we are going to start with Cuba, especially in rural and isolated areas.
Move forward with Cuba:“Even in the most difficult moments of our common history, European and Cuban citizens have never turned their backs on each other. There are so many things that unite us, so many common values, that’s why we know well that the best way to accompany the updating of Cuba’s system is with commitment and dialogue. We want to continue moving forward with Cuba and work for a better future. ”
Strong rejection of the U.S. embargo (blockade) : “The blockade is not the solution. We have said this to our American friends many times and we have affirmed it repeatedly in the United Nations. The only effect of the blockade is to worsen the quality of life of Cuban women, men and children. The blockade is obsolete, illegal and the EU will continue working to put an end to it.”
Influence of Cuba and the EU in the world:“Experiences teach us that if the European Union and Cuba work together we can have a positive influence around the world. Together we have worked in favor of peace in Colombia, in the fight against Ebola in Africa, in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and in pursuit of achieving the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and the 2030 Agenda. ”
Response to Hurricane Irma: “The assistance and support of the Cuban government to the victims of the hurricane were effective and professional, evacuating almost two million inhabitants to protect their lives. Europeans have contributed a humanitarian package to support the Caribbean countries, including nine million euros. We are facilitating monetary aid to contribute with shelter, food and tools to repair houses in the most affected areas of Cuba such as Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus and Camagüey. With these resources we are also helping to recover affected agricultural areas.”
Strengthen the Cuba-EU dialogue on human rights:“We are working to formalize the dialogue between Cuba and Europe on human rights, which began in 2015. Although there are some differences in our respective positions, the openness and willingness to dialogue are always present.”
Common objectives:“The EU and Cuba may be geographically distant, but we have many things in common, not all, but many. We both believe in international collaboration and solidarity, we believe in the power of mediation and dialogue to solve all types of disputes. We believe that the only alternative to the current international disorder is a more cooperative, fairer and more united world order based on multilateralism and the United Nations system. We believe that sustainable development is the great challenge of this century and that the fight against inequalities throughout the world has a direct effect on our own security.”
The Cuban people have not and will not be alone in facing “those who want to build walls and close doors. Regardless of the changes in policy in Washington, the message I am bringing here is that Cuba’s friendship and relationship with the EU is here to stay. It’s solid, it’s stable and it’s reliable.”
Mogherini opened by referring to the EU-Cuba”agreement of political dialogue and cooperation, which is the first legal agreement ever signed between the parties. We have raised our relationships to a new level. The EU is already the first commercial partner, the first investor, and the first partner for the development of Cuba. This agreement now opens new opportunities to increase our trade, our investments, and to promote solutions to global challenges such as immigration and climate change.”
“We will soon sign a new cooperation program for the use of renewable energies worth 18mn (Euros), another for sustainable agriculture of 21 million (Euros), and we will increase and expand the program of cultural exchanges and experts for 10 million (Euros).”
On February 28 in Brussels she and Foreign Minister Rodriguez will preside over the first joint council to discuss how we can further advance our cooperation in concrete projects.
“We are also working to formalize the dialogue between the EU and Cuba on human rights, a dialogue that we maintain in more than 40 countries. Our dialogue with Cuba on human rights began in 2015, and since then, this dialogue has allowed us to address the human rights situation both in Europe and in Cuba. There are differences in our respective visions, but openness and willingness to dialogue are always present within mutual respect.”
“We also have agreed to intensify our cooperation in the area of culture, in particular in 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage and with a view to the year 2019 when the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana will be celebrated. Our participation as a European Union is also planned at the book fair and there will be a new edition of the European film festival in June.”
Mogherini said that the EU is a “predictable and solid” partner that can help Cuba manage a political transition and slow, halting economic opening.”We are consistent and we do not have unpredictability in our policies, or sudden shifts,” in an obvious reference to President Trump’s reversal of some elements of President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba.
The EU has a consolidated opposition to the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. “The foreign policy priorities and orientations of the EU are autonomous, independent. They are decided in Brussels by the 28 Member States, with the participation of the European Parliament that has supported the finalization of the agreement we have now with Cuba, and we follow our path.”
“We regret that the current U.S. administration has apparently changed policy towards Cuba. We are convinced – as we were one year ago and as we were two years ago, that it is in our European interest; it is in the Cuban interest and it is in the international interest at large, to have relations, to discuss issues of disagreement and to deepen and extend cooperation or partnership on issues that are of mutual interest. For instance, I mentioned climate change, migration which are issues on which the Sustainable Development Goals, the ONE agenda, on which we believe the European Union and Cuba can work well together and we remain convinced of that.”
“A delegation from the European Investment Bank is going to visit Cuba at the end of January to explore possibilities for working together.”
“The world is appreciating, in this moment, the value of having the EU as a solid, reliable, predictable partner. We have differences, but you can always know what to expect from the EU. We are consistent, we do not have unpredictability in our policies or sudden shifts. The process we have launched two years ago of discussing, negotiating an agreement, was leading in a very solid manner to the signature of the agreement, the provisional entry into force of the agreement, the proceeding of ratifications. The might take time to decide but once it is decided it’s solid and there is no element of unpredictability.”
Mogherini expressed what every reasonable person should desire in every relationship, personal and international. The Trump Administration hostile actions and rhetoric against Cuba has provided opportunities for the EU and other nations to expand their connections and relationship with Cuba comes at the expense of the U.S. economic and national interest.
On December 5 El Salvador’s Attorney General advised a Salvadoran court that the case over the 1989 murder of the Jesuit priests should be reopened. This follows a similar request on November 27 by the Institute for Human Rights of the University of Central America (UCA), where the priests lived and worked.
The defendants in the case are the alleged intellectual authors of the crime: former president, Alfredo Cristiani; the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, René Emilio Ponce (now deceased); ex-commander of the Air Force, Juan Rafael Bustillo; Deputy Defense Minister, Juan Orlando Zepeda; Public Security Vice Minister, Inocente Orlando Montano; the former commander of the First Infantry Brigade, Francisco Elena Fuentes; and the former Minister of Defense, Rafael Humberto Larios.
Another former Salvadoran military officer and intellectual author of the crime, Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, earlier was convicted of the crime in El Salvador and now is imprisoned in that country.
Montano, as reported in previous posts, is now in Spain facing the same charges in a Spanish court. Apparently he is asserting the following defenses: (a) he had no knowledge of the orders to kill the priests, (b) he was not part of the military chain of command; and (c) at the time of the assassination of the Jesuits, former President Cristiani was present in the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces. At least one of these defenses is supported by an attorney for the Salvadoran military, who is asserting that Montano had no command over military personnel since as deputy minister he only could give orders to members of the military corps security.
In response, the prosecution in Spain is arguing that Montano was present at the Salvadoran Military General Staff meetings when the orders were given to commit the murders and that as Deputy Minister of Defense and Public Security he was empowered to command the security forces (National Police, National Guard and Treasury Police) while as a Colonel he had command over the military units.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, had tough words for El Salvador in his concluding statement this week, highlighting many areas where the country falls short of international human rights standards. Here is a selection of his comments.
On extra-judicial killings:
There are also alarming reports of extrajudicial killings and the return of death squads. No matter how serious the human rights violations committed by violent gangs, all perpetrators of violence need to be held fully accountable for their actions through judicial mechanisms. Victims on all sides deserve justice.
On prison conditions:
The Extraordinary Security Measures… have placed thousands of people in prolonged and isolated detention under truly inhumane conditions, and with prolonged suspension of family visits. The vulnerability of these inmates is highlighted by an outbreak of tuberculosis, affecting more than a thousand inmates, with several hundred also said to be suffering from malnutrition. I called on the President to end the extraordinary measures and grant international independent organisations, including my Office, access to these detention centres.
On internal displacement:
I heard how the high levels of violence have seriously affected people’s lives, and I noted how such violence is increasing forced displacement within El Salvador and migration. To fully address this growing problem, the Government needs to recognise that it is happening.
On violence against women:
El Salvador has the awful distinction of having the highest rate of gender-based killings of women and girls in Central America – a region where femicide is already regrettably high, as is impunity for these crimes.
On the country’s extreme abortion law:
I am appalled that as a result of El Salvador’s absolute prohibition on abortion, women are being punished for apparent miscarriages and other obstetric emergencies, accused and convicted of having induced termination of pregnancy.
On Thursday morning, I visited the Ilopango detention centre for women on the outskirts of San Salvador and had the privilege to speak to women who were convicted of “aggravated homicide” in connection with obstetric emergencies and as a result are serving 30 years in prison. I have rarely been as moved as I was by their stories and the cruelty they have endured. It only seems to be women from poor and humble backgrounds who are jailed, a telling feature of the injustice suffered.
I call upon El Salvador to launch a moratorium on the application of article 133 of the Penal Code, and review all cases where women have been detained for abortion-related offences, with the aim of ensuring compliance with due process and fair trial standards. Should it be found their cases were not compliant, I appeal for the immediate release of these women. To establish compliance, my Office has proposed that such a review could be established by presidential decree and be carried out by an expert executive committee composed of national and international members. I asked the Government to act on this proposal and indicated the readiness of my Office to assist. This is in line with the recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
On impunity for human rights abuses during the civil war:
But despite the valiant efforts of civil society and victims’ groups, only three out of more than 100 criminal complaints brought over the years have so far been reopened. Left uninvestigated and unpunished, the crimes of the past fuel patterns of violence that poison the present and can undermine the future of a society. The past and the present are a continuum, I was told in my meeting with NGOs. The victims of the past are suffering still.
On attacks on human rights advocates and journalists:
I was struck by the dedication and courage of human rights defenders and journalists in El Salvador, who face threats, intimidation and smear campaigns. I urge the authorities to investigate these attacks and to establish effective means of ensuring their protection.
On LGBTI violence:
Similar action is needed to tackle the high rate of impunity for hate crimes against LGBTI persons, especially transgender women. As one civil society representative said: “There is no public policy for us, just institutional violence.”
*This is a re-posting with consent of El Salvador Perspectives’ November 18, 2017 post of the same name (http://www.elsalvadorperspectives.com/2017/11/a-strong-rebuke-for-el-salvador-on.html). As noted in a previous post to dwkcommentaries, we learned on November 15, 2017, that Spain’s criminal case over the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador will be proceeding against at least one of the former Salvadoran military officers who soon will be extradited from the U.S. to Spain, and the Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, where the murdered priests lived and worked and were murdered, will be asking for Salvadoran prosecutors to do the same for the 15 other former officers who have been charged with that crime and who are living in El Salvador.