Imag­in­ing Cuba’s hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion af­ter Fidel Cas­tro

Malta Independent - - FIDEL CASTRO -

He over­threw a strong­man, brought his coun­try free health care and ed­u­ca­tion, and en­listed Cubans in what he called fights for free­dom from Cen­tral Amer­ica to South Africa. Fidel Cas­tro also main­tained a steel grip at home, jail­ing dis­si­dents and gays, con­trol­ling free­dom of travel and ex­pres­sion and declar­ing vir­tu­ally any ac­tiv­ity out­side his con­trol to be il­le­git­i­mate.

In the wake of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary’s death Fri­day night, hu­man rights groups said they hoped that his brother and suc­ces­sor, Raul Cas­tro, would move faster to­ward al­low­ing Cubans more free­dom of speech, as­sem­bly and other ba­sic rights.

“The ques­tion now is what hu­man rights will look like in a fu­ture Cuba,” Erika Gue­vara-Rosas, the Amer­i­cas di­rec­tor for Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, said Satur­day. “The lives of many de­pend on it.”

Un­der Raul Cas­tro, Cuba has moved away from jail­ing po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers for ex­tended sen­tences, in­stead mak­ing thou­sands of short-term ar­rests each year that Cuban dis­si­dents say are de­signed to ha­rass them and dis­rupt any at­tempt at po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions. Cubans to­day feel freer to crit­i­cize their gov­ern­ment in pub­lic, but any at­tempt at protest or demon­stra­tion is swiftly quashed. In­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists op­er­ate in­side the coun­try but find it nearly im­pos­si­ble to dis­trib­ute printed ma­te­rial and they re­port re­peated ha­rass­ment from au­thor­i­ties.

Ge­off Thale, di­rec­tor of pro­grams at the Wash­ing­ton Of­fice on Latin Amer­ica, said Fidel Cas­tro’s death meant that hard­lin­ers op­posed to his younger brother’s mod­est re­forms would be weak­ened, and “we are hope­ful open po­lit­i­cal de­bate will pick up.”

When dis­cussing their coun­try’s hu­man rights record, Cuban of­fi­cials along with some rights ad­vo­cates point out that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment un­der Fidel Cas­tro ran a mas­sive lit­er­acy cam­paign, and dra­mat­i­cally im­proved the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple by pro­vid­ing bet­ter ac­cess to hous­ing and health care.

“For this, his lead­er­ship must be ap­plauded,” said Amnesty’s Gue­vara-Rosas.

But she noted that Cas­tro’s nearly half-cen­tury in power was also char­ac­ter­ized by what she termed “a ruth­less sup­pres­sion of free­dom of ex­pres­sion,” in­clud­ing some­times long pri­son terms for peo­ple who spoke out strongly against the Cuban gov­ern­ment.

In the early years af­ter the 1959 rev­o­lu­tion, hun­dreds of sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions were car­ried out as the na­tion’s new lead­ers called for what they de­scribed as rev­o­lu­tion­ary jus­tice.

“To the wall!” they chanted as mem­bers of de­posed Pres­i­dent Ful­gen­cio Batista’s gov­ern­ment were quickly tried and lined up be­fore fir­ing squads.

Cuba still re­tains the death penalty, with cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment car­ried out by fir­ing squad, although its use has de­clined over the years.

Among the last known cases of fir­ing squad ex­e­cu­tions in­cluded three men charged in the hi­jack­ing of a pas­sen­ger ferry in 2003. The ex­e­cu­tions co­in­cided with a crack­down and stiff pri­son sen­tences of up to 28 years for 75 of the gov­ern­ment’s most vo­cal crit­ics charged with re­ceiv­ing money from and col­lab­o­rat­ing with U.S. diplo­mats to un­der­mine Cuba’s lead­er­ship.

Un­der Raul Cas­tro, the years­long terms for non-vi­o­lent acts of dis­si­dence have grown rarer, re­placed by fre­quent ha­rass­ment and short-term ar­rests.

“The Or­wellian laws that al­lowed for their im­pris­on­ment — and the im­pris­on­ment of thou­sands be­fore them — re­main on the books, and the Cuban gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to re­press in­di­vid­u­als and groups who crit­i­cize the gov­ern­ment or call for hu­man rights,” said Jose Miguel Vi­vanco, Amer­i­cas di­rec­tor for Hu­man Rights Watch.

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