University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Cuba, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61, Doc. 29 rev. 1 (1983).




In accordance with what has been set forth in the body of this Report, the Commission has reached the conclusions presented below:

1. With respect to the structure of the State and political rights, the Commission considers that the Communist Party plays an excessively preponderant role in the Cuban political system. This party, in reality, is a force above the State itself which impedes the emergence of healthy ideological and party pluralism that is one of the bases of the democratic system of government. The most important state organs are controlled by members of the Communist Party who wield decisive influence in the selection of candidates to hold elective office. All of this combines to impose an adherence to ideology that may be described as uncritical and dogmatic.

2. The above is reinforced by the Cuban Constitution’s use of terms and concepts taken from political-philosophical doctrines, which serve little to promote the observance of the rule of law, the guarantee that protects the rights of citizens against impairment by the State. A source of particular concern to the IACHR is the Cuban legislation which establishes limits on the exercise of the recognized rights and freedoms of its citizens. According to this formulation of the laws it is the citizen who must adapt to the purposes set by the State; whereas the concept of democracy envisions exactly the opposite: it is the State that must limit its action in the face of the inherent rights of man and may interfere only to bring about the full observance of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of those governed. The subordination of the individual to the State is further entrenched in Cuba by the nonexistence of a separation of governmental powers, which results in the dependence of the system for the administration of justice on the executive.

3. Thus, with respect to the right to a fair trial and to due process, the Commission considers that the subordination, in fact and in law, of the system for the administration of justice to the executive, affects one of the conditions it considers fundamental for the observance of that right. It creates an environment of uncertainty and fear among the populace, which has further deteriorated by the weakening of procedural guarantees. This is seen especially in those judicial decisions which refer to cases which may, directly or indirectly, affect the power structure that exists today in Cuba.

4. In the opinion of the Commission, the existence of political organs of a collective nature in Cuba is a positive feature, since they employ negotiating procedures designed to obtain a consensus for political action; in principle, the collective organs constitute a sound basis to facilitate broad citizen participation in the formulation of national policy. In practice, however, the principal organs of the State and the Communist Party have been dominated by a small group since the very beginning of the current Cuban political process. This situation was created and is sustained by a marked intolerance toward any form of political opposition, which consequently, has been virtually eliminated. The Commission considers the high level of participation of the people in matters of a sectoral and local nature, and the progressive conversion of municipal administrative position to elective offices, as positive developments of the Cuban political system.

5. With respect to freedom of expression, the IACHR considers noteworthy the campaign undertaken by the Government of Cuba to create the social conditions to allow for the effective exercise of the right to freedom of expression, in particular, the literacy campaign. It is senseless to postulate the observance of this right in a social context characterized by illiteracy. The strict control and subjugation of any political and ideological divergence from the dominant ideology of the Government and the Party however, has led to a situation where only those groups identified therewith may express themselves through the means of communication. Hence, the Commission considers that there is no freedom of the press in Cuba such as would allow political dissent which is fundamental in a democratic system of government. On the contrary, the oral, written and televised press is an instrument of the ideological struggle and, notwithstanding the self criticism that is transmitted by these channels, even that follows the dictates of the group in power and serves to transmit the messages of that group to the lower levels.

6. Furthermore, the Commission regards as reprehensible the limitations on the freedom of artistic expression imposed by the Government of Cuba, and the pressures and punishment applied to artists who do not share the official ideology or who dissent from the political practice of the authorities. At the same time, the Commission recognizes the efforts made by the Cuban Government to create the conditions that would allow the bulk of the population to express itself artistically; it emphasizes in this respect that although extending the benefits of culture to the entire population is an inherent element of democracy, also, the open exercise of the freedom of expression is another of its fundamental elements.

7. With respect to the right to life, the Commission considers that the range of crimes punishable by the death penalty is excessively broad. Although the appeals process, in terms of procedure, aims at guaranteeing a careful application of the death penalty, it is also true that the absence of an independent system for the administration of justice suggests that this remedy does not function as a true guarantee in the case of crimes committed against the security of the Cuban State. This means that the death penalty for political crimes is a latent threat. It should also be recognized however, that under the current legal system, the death penalty is always handed down with the alternative of incarceration, which represents and improvement over other Cuban laws in which death was the only penalty provided for certain kinds of crimes.

8. Also in relation to the right to life, the Commission is concerned that Cuba appears to have markedly regressed in so far as Courts continue to impose the death penalty for political crimes and it notes the numerous executions which may have occurred during 1981 and 1982. Furthermore, the IACHR considers that prison conditions with respect to political prisoners have improved in recent years, which would seem to explain why no recent cases of prison deaths have been reported.

9. With respect to the right to liberty and personal security, there is an absence of adequate guarantees against arbitrary detention, although denunciations of this kind have fallen. With respect to the conditions under which political prisoners serve their sentences, although a relative improvement in comparison with the initial period of the revolution can be noted, there continue to be serious violations of human rights, which have given rise to physical confrontations and hunger strikes. The deliberately severe and degrading conditions imposed on many political prisoners are exacerbated in the case of the “resentenced” prisoners, who deprivation of freedom is prolonged arbitrarily. This practice warrants the strongest condemnation by the IACHR.

10. With respect to the release of political prisoners begun in 1979, the Commission recognizes and values the efforts made and those being made, to continue this process, and urges that it be completed. The IACHR is also deeply concerned about the obstacles posed by the Cuban authorities to the emigration of several former political prisoners. Likewise, the Commission requests the governments of the countries affected to facilitate immigration of released Cuban prisoners and their families.

11. The IACHR is aware of the fact that former political prisoners are the victims of various kinds of discrimination. The Commission considers that the treatment given by the Cuban authorities to former political prisoners is in violation of their rights; in addition, it considers that this discriminatory treatment prolongs in time, under other forms, the punishment they suffered while deprived of their liberty. For that reason, the Commission urges the Government of Cuba to provide released prisoners with access to the same living conditions as is granted to other individuals with equivalent professional qualifications, without subjecting them to any kind of discrimination by virtue of having served a prison sentence for political reasons.

12. The Commission considers that freedom of religion and worship in Cuba is limited in two fundamental ways: in the use of the mass media and in education. The IACHR considers that both restrictions should be eliminated, since they undermine the exercise of the right to religious freedom and worship. The early antagonism between the Cuban Government and the churches has given way to ideological competition, in which the Government has—and uses—the vast resources at its command to actively promote the official Marxist-Leninist philosophy. In this respect, the Commission considers that it is the right of religious institutions to promote the application of social principles based on their ethical concepts when this leads to a greater observance of inalienable human rights. Likewise, the IACHR finds that there has been an evolution in the positions of the churches and the government, which has resulted in an environment of mutual tolerance. However, there continue to exist indirect restrictions which give rise to promote discrimination against religious groups affecting central aspects of life and politics in Cuban society. There is no religious persecution per se; the restrictions to which certain religious groups have been subjected—including imprisonment of some of their members—can be traced to the political impact of their action and not to the fact of professing a religious faith.

13. With respect to the right to residence and movement, the Commission considers that its exercise is extremely restricted in fact and in law. The restrictions are particularly severe in the case of those who wish to leave Cuba permanently, and especially in the case of political dissidents. At this time, some intellectuals are barred from leaving the country although they have been granted visas by countries willing to receive them. The Commission has learned that the mere fact of having emigrated has been grounds for the loss of Cuban nationality, a practice that the Commission considers unjust and incompatible with the observance of human rights. In order to regularize such situations, the Commission urges the Government of Cuba to adopt the pertinent measures in order to allow an unimpaired movement of people.

14. With respect to the right to property, it may be affirmed that the means of production are owned entirely by the State with the exception of one-fourth of the quasi-private agricultural sector, in which the farmers do not enjoy the right of alienation and are subject to serious limitations with respect to their right of alienation and are subject to serious limitation with respect to their rights of use and usufruct. This non-state sector has been gradually reduced in the last 25 years and its disappearance is foreseen through its integration into cooperatives and state farms. Personal ownership of housing also exists (although limited in terms of the rights of alienation, use and usufruct) as does ownership of the instruments of personal and family labor.

15. Analysis of the right to work in the Republic of Cuba makes it possible to state that significant progress has been made with respect to employment, both in absolute and comparative terms, through the organization of an economic system which strives for full employment; this is a worthy achievement and deserves to be highlighted. However, it should also be pointed out that unemployment still continues in limited sectors of the Cuban economy and that, in certain cases, this is the result of political discrimination against those opposed to the regime. Likewise, it should be noted that there is hidden unemployment, --how much is difficult to determine—which entails a high economic cost; an economic strategy that promotes activities capable of productively absorbing underemployed sectors is not compatible with the rigid and dogmatic practice of the Cuban government.

16. Labor mobility that allows individuals to follow their vocations is limited by an economy that still suffers from serious structural defects (preponderance of single-crop farming, meager industrial development, low productivity, etc.). labor options are also restricted by the various forms of governmental and social controls with the consequent chain of bureaucratic processes necessary to obtain the authorizations to change employment and the operations characteristic of a highly centralized economic system which consistently have discouraged private initiative.

17. With respect to working conditions, the positive results brought about by efforts to achieve a more equitable distribution of income should be noted. This has been possible as a result of wage policy and the adoption of other measures such as the massive extension of social services. There are indications however, that practices that violate traditional labor gains such as the eight-hour work day and leisure time, have become widespread, through the extension of the work day by “voluntary” work, obtained to a large extent as a result of various forms of pressure brought to bear on the workers.

18. It is in the field of collective labor rights that the Commission finds the greatest contradiction between the ideological principles of the system and its operation in practice. The right to associate, in labor unions, is not recognized and is not observed in practice; rather, only the official unions are authorized. The very nature of unions has been distorted, their function having shifted from the protection of the workers’ interests to that of serving as conduits for government directives; the unions have become one more instrument of State control. In this context, a strike has become a punishable act, and collective bargaining is unknown. As concerns enterprises, a vertical structure has been set up in which there are no institutional channels to allow for worker participation even though, in theory, the workers are the owners of the means of production.

19. The IACHR notes that both in law and in practice, social security and welfare are rights available to the Cuban people. In the case of unemployment, disability, sickness, widowhood, advanced age, or for other reasons, Cubans receive assistance from the State. This is unquestionably progress. Those who receive social security and welfare benefits do not have to contribute directly to a national fund to be entitled to such assistance, because the system is financed by the State budget. The system is unified and is applied equally throughout the country. There is no evident discrimination on the basis of sex, race, place of residence, or any reason.

20. With respect to the right to food, the IACHR notes that although there is no legislation in Cuba that obliges the State to provide the population with a certain nutritional level, the widespread changes that have taken place have contributed to a very marked improvement in the nutritional levels of the Cuban people.

21. With respect to the right to health in Cuba, the Commission notes that health services, -- in the form of medical and dental care – are provided free of charge and under the responsibility of the State. Numerous positive measures have been undertaken to extend this right to all sectors of society, regardless of sex, age, color, belief, income or place of residence. In addition, the IACHR finds that considerable progress has been made in reducing the rate of stillbirths, infant mortality and in improving the healthy development of children. Prevention, treatment and control of epidemic diseases has progressed since the revolution, in particular in terms of mortality, although morbidity rates have risen for some diseases. Nevertheless, the increase in the suicide rate is a source of concern, and the Commission considers it important to investigate the reasons that may have led to this phenomenon.

22. With respect to the right to education, the IACHR considers that highly significant progress has been made in Cuba. Primary and secondary education is accessible to all, is free of charge at all levels and compulsory up to the ninth grade. Technical, vocational and university education is available to a larger segment of the population than previously. Adult education has been promoted and intensified and the positive results of that effort have been numerous. Furthermore, scholarships have opened up more opportunities and the material infrastructure for teaching has been improved. Neither social class, or race, nor sex appear to influence access to education. The rural population is still at a disadvantage, but the trend is toward greater equality between urban and rural areas. However, discrimination in education for political and even religious reasons is a fact that persists and that needs to be emphatically condemned. A further negative aspect of the educational material, which converts the system into an additional channel for political indoctrination. In this context, parents have been unjustly denied of their right to choose the type of education they consider most appropriate for their children.

23. In light of the above, the Commission considers that there are two characteristics of the Cuban political, economic, social and cultural system that permit one to interpret how it operates and to evaluate how it promotes and limits the observance of human rights. The first is the subordination of Cuban society to the political group in power; the second is its organization designed to satisfy the basic needs of the population. The first is manifested through the political practice of the regime and the legal and institutional order upon which that practice is based; features of the system are its exclusion of any dissident political views, the use of coercion—direct or indirect—to bring about adherence, and the absence of any effective guarantees which could render the State accountable to the people and protect them in the exercise of their rights. As a consequence, it is a totalitarian political system. That system however, has shown itself to be notably efficient in meeting the basic needs of the population, especially of those sectors that were the most disadvantaged prior to the revolution.

24. The Commission considers that there are elements of the Cuban political system which, if developed, would allow for the progressive evolution of a democratic order—today absent--, and which is the only way of consolidating the advances made in the social area and of overcoming the deeply-rooted distortions that affect its economy. The Commission hopes that the internal and international conditions will be created that will make it possible to bring about the effective and authentic participation of the citizens of Cuba in the political decisions that affect them, in a context of liberty and pluralism which is necessary to bring about the observance of all human rights.


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