HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA (PART II)
In the Freedom House report The Most Repressive Regimes of 1997, as presented to the UN, the only Western Hemisphere country listed was Cuba. And Amnesty International's annual report (unpublicized by the press) was, again, critical of Cuba.
In May 1996, Orson Vila, a pastor from the Assembly of God Church in Camagüey was apprehended for "disobedience," and conducting "illicit meetings." Pastor Vila had been conducting religious services in his home since 1991. Castro's regime ordered the closing of 85 of the 101 existing home churches in that province. (The 1976 Cuban Constitution, revised in 1992, guaranties freedom of worship, however, religious activities related to freedom of expression, association and proselytism are strongly restricted by the legislation.) Pastor Vila refused to close his home church and the same day a summary trial was held. He was sentenced to 23 months of incarceration (later reduced to 18). Amnesty International declared him as a "prisoner of conscience."
Jehovah's Witnesses (who have suffered dearly under Castro) and other Protestants are jailed for refusing to bend to Castro's demands. No matter how it appears on the surface and in the media, freedom of religion as we know it, doesn't exist in Cuba. The churches and religious gatherings tolerated are those manipulated by the regime. Religious groups and their services are monitored and infiltrated by secret police. Freedom to merely touch on social problems sensitive to the regime is forbidden. Liberation Theology, because its Marxist roots and sympathy toward Castro, is tolerated and encouraged since it posses no threat. Sources in Cuba have reported that the home churches with Marxist roots display Che Guevara-like images of Jesus.
On the Isle of Pines, Marcelo Rides and Amado Utria were sentenced to three years accused of "enemy propaganda" (which could be as simple as to possess an article critical of Castro's regime published abroad). Jesus Chamber has been in jail since 1991 on the same charge. These names were added to a list of about 600 "prisoners of conscience" compiled by Amnesty International. Thousands of other political prisoners have served for "enemy propaganda" over the years and still more for being "dangerous."
Cuba, with a population of 11 million, has 241 jails and concentration camps (however, a new compilation from sources inside Cuba puts the total at 514) with 289,000 prisoners (including women and children), almost the total jail population of Europe. For example, Spain, with a population of 40 million, is believed to have the largest jail population in Europe with about 40,000 inmates. How can we account for such an excessive difference?
Odilia Collazo, President of the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba, in a March 28 phone call from Havana to Geneva, informed the UN that in Cuban jails, "it is common to find cases of tuberculosis, hepatitis, ulcers, parasitic diseases and cases of lice, malnutrition, optical neuritis and other serious ailments. The prisons are overcrowded. The mattresses are filled with grains where insects live and many inmates are forced to sleep on the floor . . .." Marta Beatriz Roque, Director of the Cuban Institute of Independent Economists, in the same call stated, "all the members of my organization have been detained at least once, and have been harassed and threatened with reprisals to their families. The high level of corruption that now pervades Cuban life results in a penal population far in excess of normal, due largely to crimes generated by the system itself."
In the same call, Felix Antonio Bonne, the Coordinator of the Cuban Civic Movement, explained that "more than five years ago some 20 professors in Havana petitioned the government for democratization and amnesty for political prisoners. They were purged from the party and expelled from the university. Most of us have been constantly harassed by the political police." He has been detained seven times in the last five years.
Vladimiro Roca, President of the Cuban Social Democrat Party, in relation to a new propaganda campaign unleashed by Castro in an attempt demonstrate massive support for his regime said, "now it's the children's turn. On March 19 at the Adalberto Gómez Nuñez Primary School, they insisted that all the students sign a petition in support of the government. The name of the students who refused to sign were taken, and their parents summoned to the school where they were warned of the dire consequences of refusing to sign. Among the four children refusing to sign was Alejandro Haber, the sixth grade son of dissident Fidel Emilio Haber, a member of the Cuban Social Democrat Party."
Rene Gomez, President of an independent lawyer’s organization explained that in Cuba, "the universally recognized human rights are institutionally violated. In granting or withholding a self-employment license the government takes into account whether or not the individual expressly supports government policies and is a member of the so-called mass political organizations." Of course, to survive in Cuba most people pretend allegiance to Castro.
In this phone conversation, these Cuban activists discussed the detention of more than 20 dissidents in relation to the 1997 ramming of the boat El Yobi. The Cuban coast guard attacked this boat as they did the tugboat on July 13, 1994. The boat was full of people who wanted to escape. The incident took place in the port of Guayabal in the province of Las Tunas. The activists asked the UN to do "everything that was possible on behalf of the Cuban political prisoners, their families and other Cubans being oppressed by Castro's regime."
Because of space, all cannot be included or said about the atrocious violations of human rights in Cuba. For those unaccustomed to reading this kind of report: This is the 38-year reality hidden by the press. That's why Cuba has produced 3 million exiles worldwide. That's why people are willing to die at sea (about 60,000) trying to escape. If Castro's regime is as great as many claim, why are Cubans still voting with their feet?
End Of Part 2
Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums SuttonABIP 1957