Part 2: “The Legacy of Brutality”
(For part 1, click HERE)
Now comes the brutality and human rights violations that have become the enduring legacy of the Castro regime.
To begin with the current state of Cuba, Fidel Castro retired in 2006 and handed power over to his brother, Raul. Though this article is focused on determining the current government practices and intentions, under Raul’s leadership, understanding Raul’s and Fidel’s decades of horrible human atrocities is important. For that, Babalu blog does an good job of detailing the piles of bodies the Castro brothers have continued to build over decades of firing squads and other horrors. Canada Free Press outlines some of what Cuba Archive reveals about the current leader of Cuba:
“Cuba Archive has documented dozens of people, including many children, killed attempting to escape Cuba with Raúl in a leading role. His Air Force carried out the Canimar River Massacre of July 6, 1980, when dozens were murdered. Many more unarmed civilians are believed to have suffered similar fate at the hand of special Air Force units dedicated to spotting and sinking rafts. Like countless others, on January 19, 1994, two young men -Iskander Maleras and Luis Angel Valverde- were killed by Cuban border guards stationed around the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo operating under Raúl’s direct orders to shoot. He rewarded their deed with medals and promotions.”
After decades of oppression, firing squads and more, many hoped the change of power from the revolutionary leader to the follower brother would be the beginning of a new and more free Cuba. Human Rights Watch reports that Raul Castro is leading Cuba today just as the Castro’s have for decades: Many human rights violations and an iron grip on the population. The most recent US Government’s report on Cuba states:
” The principal human rights abuses included those involving the abridgement of the ability of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical assault, intimidation, violent government-organized counterprotests against peaceful dissent, and harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly. The following additional abuses continued: short-term, arbitrary unlawful detentions and arrests, harsh prison conditions, selective prosecution, denial of fair trial, and travel restrictions. Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, restricted internet access, maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained some restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights. Most human rights abuses were committed by officials at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread”
Over the years, thousands upon thousands have been executed simply for not believing in the Castro machine. Political prisoners executed simply for what they believe in. The actual numbers can vary, but some as many as 30,000-plus executed for their thoughts and words.
In 1986 there was a tribunal in Paris in front of an international panel. This gave free Cubans the ability tell of the atrocities they had witnessed while living under the Castros. From this were accounts of hard labor camps that conducted biological experiments on humans, similar to Nazi Germany camps, plus beatings, violent interrogations and very dismal living conditions.
Amnesty International has published reports that cite unwarranted hospitalization and mental treatment of political prisoners. The reports reveal how these awful treatments were given without anesthesia or anything to make the treatment less painful. These treatments were often given despite having nothing to do with the diagnosis of the patient and, in some cases, no diagnosis at all.
One report by Human Rights Watch(HRW) wrote of Raul Castro’s rule after he took over in 2006: “[T]he new head of state, Raúl Castro inherited a system of abusive laws and institutions, as well as responsibility for hundreds of political prisoners arrested during his brother’s rule. Rather than dismantle this repressive machinery, Raúl Castro has kept it firmly in place and fully active. Scores of political prisoners arrested under Fidel Castro continue to languish in Cuba’s prisons. And Raúl Castro’s government has used draconian laws and sham trials to incarcerate scores more who have dared to exercise their fundamental freedoms.”
The Freedom House organization ranks Cuba as “Not Free” and has been outspoken about 226 human rights activists, many of them women, recently arrested for peaceful protests.
“The Cuban government’s blatant disregard for its citizens was evident again in the arrest of Ladies in White and other activists, who did nothing more than march peacefully after mass on Sunday and call for the release of political prisoners,”
On the incarceration of women, the Castros’ horrific treatment of many women prisoners was detailed by cubanet.org.
“Day and night, the screams of tormented women in panic and desperation who cry for God’s mercy fall upon the deaf ears of prison authorities. They are confined to narrow cells with no sunlight called “drawers” that have cement beds, a hole on the ground for their bodily needs, and are infested with a multitude of rodents, roaches, and other insects.”
In addition, a HRW report reveals that in 1991 Cuba began two new groups for internal surveillance and manipulation. These groups closely monitor the activity of citizens and then quickly act to intimidate control dissidents.
In Cuba, everything is censored by the Castro’s regime. Newspapers, books, TV, radio and even music and movies are all given to the public only after anything the government does not want the Cuban people to know is removed. The country does have a constitution, but it very clearly outlaws words of political opposition by stating all speech must be “in keeping with the objectives of socialist society”. Free political speech was the most important component to most of those who founded our free country and is the most important building block for all free societies.
Reporters Without Borders‘ 2015 World Press Freedom Index lists Cuba as 169th out of 180 countries – just barely out of the worst ten. This puts countries like Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and even Rwanda as more free than Cuba.
Another international organization, Committee to Protect Journalists, lists Cuba as one of the “Ten Worst Places to be a Journalist”
One issue that Michael Moore and others have tried to claim is a smashing success of the Cuban socialist system is the free health care provided to every Cuban. The facilities are modern and seem to be decently run. Of course, the patient does not have the right to refuse treatment, there are no rights to privacy, or a any sort of a patient’s informed consent and Cubans can do nothing if someone is injured or killed due to malpractice. They can not sue, they can not bring it to any sort of advisory board, nothing.
The Cuban people are even under political oppression from their family doctor. These family doctors must record the patients political statements and leanings. Given the horrible treatment, imprisonment, torture and sometimes execution of those who do not agree with the Castro regime, the fear of what children might say or what a person might let slip out under medication is a horrible component to be a regular part of any healthcare system, whether free of charge or not.
Most American are aware of that the Cuban government does not allow the citizens to flee the country. In fact, talking about this carried a six-month prison sentence. Since 1959 1,200,000 Cubans fled Cuba by any means they could find. Make-shift rafts or anything that would float. They all came to American shores with their own set is horrors to recount during life under the Castro regime.
In 2013, however, The Cuban government finally began granting some visas and allowing more freedom of movement, but the US government’s human rights report on Cuba released after the travel restrictions were lifted reveals that this new freedom of movement depends on who you are or, more importantly, what the Castro regime thinks of you.
From the US report:
“In January the government largely dropped travel restrictions that prevented citizens from leaving the island, but these reforms were not universally applied, and authorities denied passport requests for certain opposition figures or harassed them upon their return to the country.”
HRW’s review of Cuba shines a bright light on the Castro’s clear international violations of human rights.
“Cubans who dare to criticize the government risk criminal charges – which is in clear contradiction with Cuba’s international human rights obligations – and will not enjoy due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, thus denying meaningful judicial protection. Political prisoners’ are routinely denied parole after completing the minimum required sentence as punishment for refusing to participate in ideological activities such as “reeducation” classes.”
The report goes on:
“In addition to political convictions, the Cuban government has increasingly relied on arbitrary detention since…2009 to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights”
The report lists that the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation(CCHDHRN)—an independent human rights group has reported 11,302 people were arrested in a single nine-month span in 2012. CCHDHRN writes that dissidents are subjected to beatings and threats as they are detained, even though they make no attempts at resistance.
So, where is Raul Castro intending to take Cuba moving forward? It would seem if the ruler was ready for a massive change of heart, today would at least be a step better than a few years ago. That, unfortunately, is not the situation in Cuba today. Amnesty International recently reported a disturbing recent example of the hammer this Cuban government still uses to silence the population. Of the long list of political prisoners, Ciro Pérez’s imprisonment is especially disturbing. This is detailed in a Newsweek article that both praises Raul Castro’s baby steps out of past isolation by attending a summit in Panama, but points to the continued iron stranglehold he continues to keep on the Cuban people:
“A dissident activist, Ciro [Pérez] was arrested in June 2014 while on his way to his father’s house to celebrate Father’s Day. Last December he was found guilty of “public disorder” and sentenced to a year in prison. His crime: holding a peaceful one-man demonstration against the Cuban government in the streets of his hometown, Placetas. He is now counting the days until his release in June.”
One man standing in public peacefully expressing his views gets him thrown in a jail cell for a year. No group. No threat of overthrow. No attack. No violence. Just, speaking.
We can all decide if increasingly warm relations with Raul Castro and Cuba is helpful or a hindrance to American interests, mainly human rights , but there should be no equivocation and definitely no political gamesmanship when discussing who the US is dealing with in Cuba: A murderous regime who came into power for good reasons, but has been a massive bloody nightmare just a very short trip off of American shores…and the regime still refuses to free its good people.
Author’s note: I gave this article a final read before posting while sitting on my deck with a cigar…a cigar I would love to be a Cuban cigar. This simple downside of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba is a very selfish and superficial one, of course. It is just a dumb luxury. It is the people that work the fields of Cuba, the skilled hands that roll the cigars and the regular people who work to package and transport the cigar, or any product, that suffer the most. Even if the U.S. embargo was lifted, the regular people still would not benefit from the massive rush of Americans to buy Cuban cigars or possibly sugar, rum and other products, or all of the vacations booked to enjoy Cuban beaches and nightlife for the first time. It is the Cuban government that would benefit the most – such is Communism. I don’t know if the embargo is the best thing, or even a good thing, that we can do as a country to help the Cuban people. The thought of sending a ton of American dollars to the Castro-run government, like our parents or grandparents did for the previous ruthless government under Fulgenecio Batista, sickens me. All of us spending money there does not stop the continuing horror of imprisoning political opponents, the censorship of all books and media, including the Internet, or do anything for the average person in Cuba. I imagine their allotment from the Cuban government may increase a bit, but they will never be able to see the fruits of their labor, harness their creativity or benefit from the risk and sweat they are willing to endure to start a business and eventually enjoy lucrative success for their business plan. Their dreams of providing a better and even elevated life for their kids that includes freedom of speech, perhaps amazingly fun luxuries and an overall existence of work, reward, love, fun and increase as much as they are willing to push for…this will never happen as long as the Castro regime, or any similar that might follow, are in control. What can we do as a country? They are as close to America as any state, more so than Alaska and Hawaii, and yet we are powerless. If the U.S. embargo is bad for Cubans and lifting the embargo is just as bad or worse, like he days of Batista, then what can we do. I truely want to know.
References & Further Reading
Amnesty International: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/americas/cuba
Human Rights Watch Cuba review: https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/18/universal-periodic-review-hrw-submission-cuba
Canada Free press – Raul Castro’s Crimes Against Humanity: http://canadafreepress.com/article/raul-castros-long-history-of-crimes-against-humanity
US Department of State (Secretary of State John Kerry) – Cuba human rights assesment: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/236892.pdf
Reporters without Borders – World Press Freedom Index: http://index.rsf.org/#!/
Committee to Protect Journalists: https://cpj.org/search.php?Cx=002635367788333464843%3a1kfp8mbluhy&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=ten+worst
Committee to Protect Journalists- “Ten worstplaces to be a Journalist”: https://www.cpj.org/enemies/worst_places_02/worst_places_02.html
Wikipedia’s Cuba page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Cuba
Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation
House Hearing, 108 Congress – “LIVING IN FEAR: THE CONTINUED HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN CASTRO’S CUBA”: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-108hhrg96090/html/CHRG-108hhrg96090.htm
Cuba Archive: http://cubaarchive.org/home/
Also published on Medium.