Human rights in Cuba have changed but not improved

By: Anna Radinsky/Assistant News Director

 

Human rights conditions in Cuba have not improved with the succession of Raúl Castro from Fidel Castro, even with new U.S. policy changes.

Dania Susini, a junior majoring in Art, lived in Cuba from 2004-2008, when she was between six and ten years old.

“Living there while being so young was great in that I wasn’t really aware of the s**t that was going down around me,” Susini said to Student Media. “I got to enjoy the good parts of Cuba without being aware of the concerns of finding food to eat or being harassed by government officials for every single thing you do.”

Susini’s grandfather was imprisoned for two years for being caught mid-swim to a boat that would have allowed him to escape Cuba.

When Susini would return to Cuba from France, where she lived most of the time, government officials would often show up at her home because her neighbors would accuse her family of trafficking or illegally housing tourists.

Castro was the  longest-serving non-royal head of state in the 20th and 21st centuries. During his reign, he led a typical totalitarian state, according to Sebastián Arcos, the associate director of the University’s Cuban Research Institute.

Castro held power for 52 years and 101 days as Prime Minister, President, and the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, the most powerful position in the socialist state before dying on Friday. Nov. 25, 2016.

Opposition to Fidel’s government in the 1960s and 1970s meant that thousands shot to death, more than 20,000 people imprisoned with sentences lasting between 20-30 years, and extensive torture and inhumane conditions within prisons, according to Arcos.

Forms of torture used in Cuban prisons involved hitting and usually stabbing prisoners with garand bayonets, which are 16-inch blades.

Arcos was a political prisoner in the 1980s. He shared with Student Media that even though conditions were bad, and continue to remain bad today, the level of torture and systematic beautings within jails and prisons disappeared compared to the levels of the 1960s and 70s.

Since Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, became president in 2008 and the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in 2011, there has been a difference in the level and types of harassment and imprisonment of Cuban people.  

“[Human rights conditions] have changed but that doesn’t mean that it has improved. What changed was the method,” Arcos said.

What was typical of Fidel’s method of mass arrests and long-term sentences changed to Raúl’s methods of daily harassments of oppositioners with short-term detention sentences.

There is a high turnover rate of dissidents of the government going in and out of jail in a cycle of being arrested, held for a few days, released, and then returning to detentions again.

“The smart thing that Raúl did is that he eliminated the isolated cases of where you could point to someone who was sentenced to 26 years in jail for writing for an opposition paper, which actually happened in 2003 [with Fidel.]” Arcos said. “Raúl got rid of that kind of complaint against the repression in Cuba.”

The number of detentions dropped by 50 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 4,537 reports of politically-motivated detentions from January through October, according to to the World Report 2018 by the Human Rights Watch.

2017 also had the lowest amount of arrests of political opponents since 2011, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a nongovernmental organization.

However, the decreasing amounts of arrests do not mean that the well-being of citizens within the country is improving.

Cuba ranks 14 out of 100 in the aggregate score of freedom in the world with 100 meaning the most free, according to Freedom in the World, Freedom house’s annual report on the conditions of political rights and civil liberties around the world.

Finland, Norway and Sweden each have scores of 100. The U.S. has a score of 86. Syria has an aggregate score of -1.

Daily life for Cubans represents how little the government respects fundamental rights found in the U.S. the Bill of Rights or the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights have not changed for Cubans with the policy changes between former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, Arcos said.

In 2016, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in almost a century, where he changed the policy between the countries from being hostile to “open handed.”

Obama’s policies on Cuba focused on relying on private sectors in Cuba as the agents of change within the country as traveling to U.S. citizens became easier in 2015.

These policy changes sparked an increase in the number of opposition movements within Cuba to bring attention to the international community on the nature of the regime.

Castro responded with a sharp increase in persecutions and harassments to the movements, according to Arcos.

Trump’s rhetoric reverted back to opposition as being the agent of change instead of openness.

“Trump said here in Miami that he was going to revert the Obama policy. He didn’t,” said Arcos.

Traveling to Cuba as an American tourist has become easier because of the current policy of encouraging groups, instead of individuals, to visit Cuba.

“The problem with groups is that they are handled by the Cuban official state industries. If you go as a group, you have a handler that works for the Cuban government. He gets you on a bus operated by the Cuban government. And they take you to the places that the Cuban government want you to see. And the tourist guy works for the government and he will tell you the things that the government want you to hear,” Arcos said.

Trump’s policy also emphasizes that American citizens are not to purchase items or stay in hotels run by the Cuban military.

However, cruise lines dock in a port that is controlled by the Cuban government, where every shop and area of Havana is controlled by companies that Trump wanted to avoid giving money to, according to Arcos.

“Even though a part of the money will always go to the government, I can appreciate that tourism helps the small independent businesses,” Susini said. “I appreciate the visibility that it is giving Cubans globally. I don’t think tourism is a bad thing at all.”

Arcos argues that money saved while on a cruise also means that less is spent on independent businesses that gain more in terms of welfare from tourism. However, all money circles back to the government because “the entire Cuban economy is like a vacuum cleaner. It sucks every dollar that goes into the country.”

“I recommend not to travel to Cuba in the same way that I don’t go to North Korea because it’s morally wrong,” Arcos said. “I think it does not make any sense to as a free person to visit a slave nation because it has all American cars and it looks nice in the pictures. It’s not right. It’s morally not right.”

 

Featured image retreived from Unsplash

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