Certain facts are clear about human rights in Cuba. Since Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Cuba has confined large numbers of political prisoners for longer periods than any other country in the world. No one outside Cuba knows how many, but Fidel Castro himself has said publicly that at one time there were as many as fifteen thousand, and he reportedly told one of his biographers that the number was twenty thousand. Many of the political prisoners were confined for long periods under degrading and cruel circumstances, and some were prohibited visitors for years at a time. They were denied anything resembling fair trials.
During Castro’s first decade in power, several thousand prisoners were executed; even today, many years after Castro consolidated control and suppressed all violent attempts to overthrow his government, more than a hundred men now in middle age or elderly remain incarcerated from the early days of the Cuban revolution, many of them for defying Castro or for breaking with him over the direction of the revolution. In more recent years, many dissenters have been sentenced to long prison terms for such offenses as drawing defamatory caricatures of government leaders, writing letters to foreign dignitaries criticizing the revolution, and possessing “enemy propaganda,” which consists of a writer’s own manuscript.
By the customary standards of human rights, the prolonged imprisonment of many persons for peaceful dissent, and the execution of thousands after trials wholly lacking fairness, are gross abuses of internationally recognized human rights. That is, they are abuses that violate all of the civilized norms on which the nations of the world have agreed since the end of World War II. By every criterion that has been established and accepted internationally during the past four decades, Cuba warrants severe condemnation for its abuses of human rights.
In addition, Cuba systematically denies civil liberties. Freedom of expression and association are unknown; there are no opposition newspapers, magazines, or radio broadcasts; no independent unions, professional associations, or political groups; the churches are not a forum for dissent. No organization is able to work in Cuba, either openly or clandestinely, to defend or even to monitor human rights; Cubans do not have the right to leave and those who have left do not have the right to return; there is no independent judiciary; and there is no other institution in Cuba that is able to restrain the arbitrary exercise of power by the government and its leader, Fidel Castro.
Despite its terrible record, Cuba has never figured prominently in the concerns of most organizations and people who actively promote human rights. That is not to say that it has been ignored. The largest and most important organization in the field, Amnesty International, has monitored developments in Cuba using the same criteria that it uses in dealing with other countries, and it has organized campaigns on behalf of individual prisoners of conscience in Cuba. An inter-governmental body, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.