Repression of Dissidents
Cuban authorities continue to treat as criminal offenses nonviolent activities such as meeting to discuss the economy or elections, writing letters to the government, reporting on political or economic developments, speaking to international reporters, or advocating the release of political prisoners. While the number of political prosecutions has diminished in the past few years, Cuban courts continue to try and imprison human rights activists, independent journalists, economists, doctors, and others for the peaceful expression of their views, subjecting them to the Cuban prison system's extremely poor conditions. Even as Cuba released some political prisoners early in 1998—most of whom had completed most of their sentences—continuing trials replenished their numbers. Prison remained a plausible threat to any Cubans considering nonviolent opposition. In the case of four dissident leaders arrested in July 1997 and only tried—for inciting sedition—in March 1999, receiving sentences ranging fromthree and one-half to five years, the arbitrariness of Cuban repression was starkly on display.
In the past two years, Cuban prosecutors have relied heavily on criminal code provisions against enemy propaganda and contempt for authority (desacato) to silence dissent. During this period, prosecutors also have tried dissidents for defamation, resisting authority, association to commit criminal acts (asociación para delinquir), failure to comply with the duty to denounce (incumplimiento del deber de denunciar), and the catch-all charge "other acts against state security" (otras actas contra la seguridad del estado). Cuba's prisons also hold nonviolent political prisoners tried for crimes against state security, such as enemy propaganda, rebellion, sabotage, and revealing secrets concerning state security. Individuals convicted of state security crimes often are serving long sentences of ten to twenty years. In addition, Cuba continues to imprison, for "dangerousness," scores of citizens who have not committed a criminal act and also confines persons for "illegal exit" for attempting to exercise their right to leave Cuba.
Cuban Laws Restrict Human Rights
While Cuba's domestic legislation includes broad statements of fundamental rights, other provisions grant the state extraordinary authority to penalize individuals who attempt to enjoy their rights to free expression, opinion, press, association, and assembly. In recent years, rather than modify its laws to conform to international human rights standards, Cuba has approved legislation further restricting fundamental rights. A notable exception to this trend is the partial restoration of religious freedom. But Cuba has consistently refused to reform the most objectionable elements of its laws. Cuba's concurrent refusal to amnesty political prisoners and its continued prosecution of nonviolent activists highlight the critical role that Cuba's laws play in its machinery of repression.
The Cuban Criminal Code lies at the core of Cuba's repressive machinery, unabashedly prohibiting nonviolent dissent. With the Criminal Code in hand, Cuban officials have broad authority to repress peaceful government opponents at home. Cuban law tightly restricts the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, press, and movement. In an extraordinary June 1998 statement, Cuban Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo justified Cuba's restrictions on dissent by explaining that, as Spain had instituted laws to protect the monarch from criticism, Cuba was justified in protecting Fidel Castro from criticism, since he served a similar function as Cuba's "king."