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Cuba: Raul Castro Imprisons Critics, Crushes Dissent

Obama Should Replace Failed Embargo With Effective Multilateral Policy


Raul Castro's government has locked up scores of people for
exercising their fundamental freedoms and allowed scores more political
prisoners arrested during Fidel Castro's rule to languish in detention,
Human Rights Watch says in a report released today. Rather than dismantle Cuba's repressive machinery, Raul Castro has kept it firmly in place and fully active, the report says.

The 123-page report, "New Castro, Same Cuba,"
shows how the Raul Castro government has relied in particular on the
Criminal Code offense of "dangerousness," which allows authorities to
imprison individuals before they have committed any crime, on the
suspicion that they are likely to commit an offense in the future. This
"dangerousness" provision is overtly political, defining as "dangerous"
any behavior that contradicts Cuba's socialist norms.

"In his three years in power, Raul Castro has been just as brutal as
his brother," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human
Rights Watch. "Cubans who dare to criticize the government live in
perpetual fear, knowing they could wind up in prison for merely
expressing their views."

Based on a fact-finding mission to Cuba and more than 60 in-depth
interviews, Human Rights Watch documented more than 40 cases in which
the government has imprisoned individuals under the "dangerousness"
provision for exercising their basic rights.

Ramon Velasquez Toranzo, who set out on a peaceful march across Cuba
to call for respect for human rights and freedom for all political
prisoners, was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for
"dangerousness" in January 2007.

Raymundo Perdigon Brito, a journalist who wrote articles documenting
abuses by the government and published them on foreign websites, was
sentenced to four years in prison for "dangerousness" in December 2006.
He has endured repeated beatings by guards and solitary confinement
during his incarceration.

The Raul Castro government also uses a range of other draconian laws
to silence free speech, quash labor rights, and criminalize all forms
of dissent. Human rights defenders, journalists, and other civil
society members tried under these laws are subjected to systematic due
process violations, including abusive interrogations, the denial of
legal counsel, and sham trials.

Alexander Santos Hernandez, a political activist who was sentenced
to four years for "dangerousness" in 2006, told Human Rights Watch,
"[The police] picked me up at 5:50 a.m. while I was at home sleeping,
and by 8:30 that morning they were already reading me my sentence."
Santos was denied a lawyer, and the sentence he was given was dated two
days before his trial took place.

Political prisoners are subjected to widespread abuses, including
forced ideological re-education, extended solitary confinement, and the
denial of medical treatment for serious illnesses.

In addition to imprisoning dissenters, Raul Castro's government also
enforces political conformity using beatings, short-term detention,
public acts of repudiation, and the denial of work, among other
tactics. Taken together, these everyday forms of repression create a
climate of fear that has a profound chilling effect on the exercise of
fundamental freedoms in Cuban society.

As a human rights defender, Rodolfo Bartelemi Coba, told Human
Rights Watch in March 2009, "We live 24 hours a day ready to be
detained." Ten days after making that statement, Bartelemi was arrested
and taken to prison, where he remains.

Efforts by the US government to press for change by imposing a
sweeping embargo have proven to be a costly and misguided failure,
Human Rights Watch said. The embargo has inflicted severe hardship on
the Cuban population as a whole, while doing nothing to improve the
human rights situation in Cuba. Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy
has isolated the United States, alienating Washington's potential
allies on this issue.

"Despite new leadership in Havana and Washington, Cuba continues to
crush dissent, while the US pursues the same failed embargo policy,"
said Vivanco. "As always, it is the Cuban people who are paying the

"New Castro, Same Cuba" recommends that the Obama administration
secure commitments from the European Union, Canada, and Latin American
allies to unite to press Cuba to meet a single, concrete demand: the
immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners within
six months.

Those include the 53 prisoners who have been languishing in prison
since a 2003 crackdown by Fidel Castro, as well as all scores of
individuals incarcerated for "dangerousness" under Raul Castro.

Once this joint commitment is in place, the US government should end its failed embargo policy, Human Rights Watch said.

If the Raul Castro government does not meet this demand, members of
the multilateral coalition should impose targeted, punitive measures,
such as travel bans on government officials or withholding new forms of
foreign investment. These measures should be significant enough to bear
real consequences for the Cuban government, while being careful not to
impose suffering on the Cuban population as a whole, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.