Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013: Cuba - Country of Concern update

Published 10 April 2014


Internationally recognised prisoner of conscience, Rafael Matos Montes de Oca, was freed on 14 January. He was sentenced in 2012 to two-and-a-half years for “social dangerousness”. However, the other five prisoners of conscience (Emilio Planas Robert; Alexeis, Diango, and Vianco Vargas Martín; and Iván Fernández Depestre) remain in detention, and the overall human rights situation in the first three months of 2014 remains a concern.

Human rights monitoring groups reported an increase in political repression against activists, including short-term detentions and harassment by the authorities. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported around 2,900 such incidents during this reporting period. These figures are, however, impossible to verify.

Over 100 activists were reportedly detained or threatened in the run-up to and during the 2nd Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which took place in Havana on 28-29 January. As a result of the arrests and intimidation, activities planned by opposition and human rights groups were prevented from taking place, including the “Democracy Forum”, organised by Centre for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL). The head of CADAL, an Argentina-based human rights NGO, travelled to Cuba to attend the Forum, but was not allowed into the country, and was sent back to Argentina. Cuban activists also faced detention and harassment, including Manuel Cuesta Morua, who was detained for “distributing false information against world peace”, and Daniel Ferrer García, President of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). Both were subsequently released. A British embassy official attempted to monitor the Democracy Forum event with representatives from other diplomatic missions.

Another prominent activist, Jorge Luis Garcia, “Antunez”, was frequently intimidated, including through short-term detentions and confiscation of his possessions. He initiated a hunger strike to try to get his belongings back. Damaris Moya Portieles, a member of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights, spoke at the UN Summit on Human Rights and Democracy in Geneva on 5 March about state abuses and violence against women in Cuba.

Implementation of the government’s economic reform programme, which is generating some new economic freedoms, continued. The new Mariel Special Development Zone was formally inaugurated, a new foreign investment law passed, and the process to unify Cuba’s dual currency begun. These reforms should strengthen the economy and make Cuba a more attractive location for investment. The government is trying to eliminate some of the obstacles faced by the “cuentapropistas”, self-employed entrepreneurs who form Cuban’s incipient private sector. The authorities also enacted a measure allowing ordinary Cubans to buy and sell vehicles without special authorisation, although astronomical prices and low wages mean most Cubans will need to save for over a lifetime to afford a vehicle.   ####This publication is part of the 2013 Human Rights and Democracy Report.