Cuba. Crackdown on protests creates rights crisis


(New York, July 11, 2022) – The Cuban government has committed systematic human rights violations in response to massive protests against the government in July 2021 with the apparent aim of punishing protesters and deterring future protests, Human Rights said. Watch in a report released today. , the anniversary of the protests.

The 36-page report, “Prison or Exile: Cuba’s Systematic Repression of July 2021 Demonstrators,” documents a wide range of human rights violations committed in the context of the protests, including arbitrary detentions, abusive prosecutions and torture. Government repression and its apparent unwillingness to address the underlying issues that have driven Cubans to the streets, including limited access to food and medicine, have generated a human rights crisis that has dramatically increased the number of people leaving the country.

“A year ago today, thousands of Cubans demonstrated, demanding rights and freedoms, but the government gave many of them only two options: prison or exile,” he said. said Juan Pappier, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Latin American and European governments should urgently step up their human rights monitoring in Cuba and prioritize a concerted, multilateral response before this human rights crisis escalates further.

On July 11, 2021, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in the largest nationwide protests against the government since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. These peaceful protests were a response to longstanding restrictions on rights, food shortages and medicines, and the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 170 people in Cuba, including victims of abuse, their relatives, and lawyers. Human Rights Watch also reviewed records and verified photographs and videos sent directly to researchers and found on social media platforms. Members of the Independent Panel of Forensic Experts of the International Rehabilitation Council for Victims of Torture, an international group of eminent forensic experts, provided expert advice on certain evidence of abuse.

Shortly after the protests began, President Miguel Díaz-Canel urged government supporters and security forces to respond to the protests with force. “We call on all revolutionaries to take to the streets to defend the revolution,” he said. “The order to fight has been given.”

One protester, a 36-year-old singer named Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, died, apparently at the hands of police. Cuban human rights group Cubalex reports that more than 1,400 people have been arrested, with more than 700 still behind bars.

Officers have repeatedly detained peaceful protesters, arrested critics on their way to protests, or barred them from leaving their homes for days or weeks.

In most documented cases, detainees were held incommunicado for days, weeks, and sometimes months, without being able to telephone or receive visits from relatives or lawyers. Some have been beaten, forced to squat naked, or subjected to ill-treatment, including sleep deprivation and other abuses that in some cases amount to torture.

Cuban courts have upheld the convictions of more than 380 protesters and bystanders, including several children. Many trials have taken place before military courts, which is contrary to international law. Many have been prosecuted for “sedition” and sentenced to disproportionate prison terms of up to 25 years for allegedly taking part in violent incidents, such as throwing rocks during protests.

Prosecutors have characterized actions such as peacefully protesting or insulting the president or the police, the lawful exercise of freedom of expression and association, as criminal conduct. People have been convicted on the basis of unreliable or unsubstantiated evidence, such as statements only from security guards, or alleged “smell traces” of the defendants found on rocks.

Victims and their relatives said security forces repeatedly harassed them, in some cases forcing them to leave the country.

Orelvys Cabrera Sotolongo, a 36-year-old journalist with the Cubanet news site, was arrested in Cárdenas, Matanzas province, as he left the July 11 protests. Officers questioned him several times, telling him he would not see his family again. Cabrera was only allowed to make a phone call 10 days after his arrest. He spent part of his detention with eight other detainees in a two-by-one-and-a-half-meter cell, with little or no ventilation, light or access to water.

He was released on August 19, but officers told him repeatedly that he had to leave the country. In December, he and his partner fled and have since sought asylum in the United States.

Security agents arrested Elier Padrón Romero, a 26-year-old bricklayer’s helper, on July 21 in La Güinera, a working-class neighborhood in Havana province. His mother said officers beat him and other inmates, saying they would “disappear if they kept thinking”, as they did.

In December, a judge in Havana convicted Padrón Romero of “sedition” for allegedly inciting people to join a July 12 protest and “push” against a police barricade. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was reduced to 10 years on appeal.

Cuban authorities have also taken steps to dismantle the limited civic space that has allowed these protests to occur. In May 2022, lawmakers passed a new penal code that includes multiple overbroad offenses that could be used to criminalize peaceful dissent to government. The new code also provides for the death penalty for a range of crimes, including “sedition”, a charge brought against many July 11 protesters, and “acts against the independence of the Cuban state”.

The number of Cubans fleeing the country has increased dramatically. The U.S. Border Patrol arrested more than 118,000 Cubans between January and May 2022, compared to 17,000 in the same period of 2021. The U.S. Coast Guard has interdicted more than 2,900 Cubans at sea since October 2021, by far the highest number highest in five years. Many Cubans also fled to other countries.

Latin American governments, the United States, Canada and the European Union should take steps to ensure a multilateral and coordinated approach to Cuba that prioritizes human rights. They must unequivocally condemn the repression and draw attention to the situation in the relevant United Nations bodies, in particular the Human Rights Council.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who has rarely condemned abuses in Cuba, is expected to publicly condemn such systematic violations before leaving office at the end of August.

For decades, the Cuban government has benefited from a dysfunctional response from the international community that has failed to effectively promote human rights progress in the country, Human Rights Watch said.

The extensive economic embargo imposed by the US government isolated the United States rather than Cuba, allowing the Cuban government to generate sympathy abroad.

Many Latin American governments, including recently Mexico and Argentina, have been reluctant to criticize Cuba and have even praised the Cuban government, despite its dismal human rights record.

“The courageous protesters who took to the streets last year in Cuba have every reason to feel abandoned by much of the international community,” Pappier said.


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