In response to:
Cuba: The Human Rights Show from the June 15, 1989 issue
To the Editors:
In recent articles you have published about Cuba, there have been references to the courageous work of Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, who founded and directed the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. We had been encouraged by the fact that non-governmental human rights monitoring was taking place in Cuba in recent years, until the authorities arrested Mr. Sánchez, Hiram Abí Cobas Núñez and Hubert Jerez Mariño early last August. Even before that the period of relative openness had dissipated. Lesser known monitors and independent activists were arrested last year and sentenced to up to one year in prison.
Sánchez and his co-defendants are charged with spreading false rumors, apparently on the basis of interviews they gave to foreign journalists in July, after the trial and execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa. One of those journalists has recently said that what Sánchez told her was verified by other sources (Julia Preston, “Castro’s Clamping Down Again,” The Washington Post, Sunday, October 22, 1989). A defense petition to call the journalists to the witness stand has been denied.
On behalf of Americas Watch, I expressed concern to the Cuban government about this arrest and, at the suggestion of the defendants’ families, I requested permission to travel to Cuba and observe the trial. After renewing my request several times, I received a letter dated October 13, from José Arbesú, Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, stating that his government considered my presence in Cuba “unnecessary.” He added that the defendants enjoy all procedural guarantees afforded by the Cuban judicial system and that their trial was a “strictly internal matter” of their country.
It is easy to see that my presence during the trial would be “unnecessary” for those who are going to punish Elizardo Sánchez for voicing his opinions and for monitoring human rights. His family and friends certainly think that my presence is necessary. It was “necessary,” from the Cuban government’s standpoint, to allow members of Americas Watch to visit their prisons in 1988, when we could tell the world—in the midst of a debate at the United Nations—that the exaggerations of the Reagan Administration were patently false; we become “unnecessary” when a close look could reveal that a gross, vindictive injustice is about to take place. In all of the Americas, Cuba is currently the only country that refuses me a visa.
For me and for my colleagues, this trial is no more a “strictly internal matter” than the injustices against leftist opponents of right-wing regimes. The human rights movement did not accept the Argentine military dictatorship’s claim of the “internal affairs” excuse when they kidnapped and murdered writer and journalist Rodolfo Walsh in 1977. Like Walsh, other friends of the Cuban Revolution in Latin America have been murdered, forced into exile or arbitrarily arrested by the thousands, and their oppressors said it was an “internal matter.” Respect for the right to life, to be free from torture and from arbitrary arrest are obligations that governments have by their very membership in the community of nations. So is respect for freedom of expression and association and the right to a fair trial, all of which Cuba is denying to Elizardo Sánchez.
Juan E. Méndez
December 7, 1989