Monday, April 30, 2012

Human Rights and Democracy -The 2011 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Quarterly update

Quarterly Updates: Cuba
Latest Update: 31 March 2012

The Cuban government announced the release of around 2,900 prisoners in
the framework of preparations for the Pope's visit in late March. Most
of those freed had completed over half of their sentences and only a
handful were considered by local human rights organisations to be
political cases, but this was nonetheless a very positive humanitarian
gesture from the Cuban authorities. The Pope's visit itself underlined
increasing religious freedom in Cuba and the growing role of the
Catholic Church in Cuban society as crowds turned out for mass in both
Havana and Santiago. Although the Pope faced criticism for not meeting
with regime opponents, he made important references to freedom, change
and reconciliation in his public appearances.

New economic policies continued to be implemented in the first three
months of the year. These included an expansion of the number of
authorised categories for self-employment which will allow Cubans to set
up businesses in a wider range of economic sectors, the introduction of
means-tested benefits and an easing of foreign currency controls,
further expanding private economic freedoms. The government also
continued to take tough action against high-level corruption. At the
Cuban Communist Party conference on 28 January, President Raúl Castro
reiterated the positive messages he had given on previous occasions
about the need for more open debate and an objective press, and called
for the promotion of greater democracy in society and the Party. But
despite these calls for greater democracy, President Castro's speech
defended Cuba's one-party system as necessary in the face of US embargo.
This was disappointing in view of the hopes raised via continuing
economic reforms, and previous talk of de-linking the Party from the
state apparatus.

Short term detentions of peaceful demonstrators, including the Damas de
Blanco (Ladies in White), continue to be a cause for concern. Illegal
but tolerated human rights monitoring groups published varying
statistics, with the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCHRNR) reporting around 1200 detentions over January
and February and Hablemos Press around 800 for the same period. Use of
these detentions rose sharply ahead of the Pope's visit, with the CCHRNR
reporting more than 1100 in March alone, greater than the number for the
whole of 2010. There were also a number of repudiation acts, in which
pro-government mobs publicly harass opposition groups to discredit them
and prevent them from marching. Both the acts and the spate of short
term detentions were mainly linked to protests around the anniversaries
of the 2003 Black Spring crackdown and the 2010 death of hunger striker
and European Parliament Sakharov Prize winner Orlando Zapata, as well as
the Pope's visit. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, over 300 opposition activists were
pre-emptively detained in connection with the Pope's visit in one of the
toughest crackdowns in recent years. Many were put under house arrest
while others were held in police cells to prevent them attending the
Pope's mass. Dissidents' communications were also targeted as the
authorities disconnected their phone lines.

In March, Amnesty International adopted as prisoners of conscience two
human rights activists detained since December 2010, one of whom is
suffering medical problems, and called for their immediate release. At
the same time, the organisation named another human rights activist and
her husband, arrested on 8 January, as prisoners of conscience. The
death of Wilman Villar, who had participated in opposition
demonstrations and died in prison following a hunger strike, again
highlighted concerns about judicial transparency and poor prison
conditions, although facts around the case remain unclear. Our Embassy
in Havana met with his widow to offer condolences, and we continue to
call on the Cuban government for improvements within the judicial system.

No comments: