Jun 16, 2020

Last month, the Cuban regime reportedly released over 6,500 prisoners to curb the spread of COVID-19. It was also reported that more than 300 people were imprisoned for “spreading an epidemic” by refusing to wear face masks.

It is unclear whether political prisoners were among those granted an “early release,” but pursuant to a petition signed by Cuban organizations operating in exile, political prisoners continue to be subjected to the most deplorable conditions during the pandemic.

The Cuban regime’s actions clearly demonstrate the implementation of repressive policies under the guise of “modernization” — further entrenching the government’s totalitarian dictatorship.

 

Introduction

Cuba is the largest island in the West Indies archipelago, positioned at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Roughly 90 miles north of the country is the United States’ Straits of Florida.

Cuba has been under authoritarian rule since 1952, when dictator Fulgencio Batista took power. As Batista made fortunes and built up his influence over the country, he developed a reputation as a corrupt and ruthless ruler. He controlled the press, suspended free and fair elections, and banned protests. Batista was overthrown in 1959 by a  coup d’état, or  “revolution” led by Fidel Castro, which resulted in Castro’s political domination, and condemned the island to continued isolation from the rest of the world, even today.

Castro imposed severe internet censorship and state-controlled media regulations, and the Cuban government continues to have the most repressive media conditions in the Americas. Reporters Without Borders ranked Cuba 171 out of 180 countries on its 2020 Press Freedom Index.

Behind Castro’s revolutionary image was a lethal intent: he used his influence as an oppressor to persecute and punish those who engaged in dissent and opposed his dictatorship. Fundamental freedoms — particularly civil and political rights — were abused, and thousands of Cubans were imprisoned, beaten, and executed.

In the 1960s, the regime even went as far as profiting off of these executions by harvesting the blood of political prisoners prior to their execution. Roughly seven pints of blood were harvested from each prisoner, resulting in their state of paralysis. They were then lifted on stretchers, executed by firing squad, and buried in common graves. The Cuban government proceeded to sell their blood at $50/pint to Communist Vietnam. 

Not even children were spared from the waves of arbitrary imprisonment and execution. According to Cuba Archives, at least 22 minors were killed by firing squad and 32 by extrajudicial killings under Castro’s regime. 

These horrific acts of exploitation and injustice are only glimpses into Castro’s dark legacy.

 

Political Regime Type

At the end of 1958, Fidel Castro and his rebel forces began the process of ousting Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Their efforts and preparation, however, had begun years earlier when Batista canceled the 1952 Cuban elections and seized power. Fidel Castro, who was running for a seat in congress, was thus deprived of his opportunity to be elected. He subsequently began leading a “Movement” to purportedly return the Caribbean island to a democratic nation. 

In January 1959, Fidel Castro and his rebel forces — including Raúl Castro, Ché Guevera, and Camilo Cienfuegos — finally entered Havana and began to centralize their power, unilaterally determining how the country would operate. Although Castro claimed to be a democratic nationalist, his consolidated power quickly led to the rounding up and execution of approximately 500 remaining Batista officials.

Fidel Castro became largely influenced by socialism and communism. After demolishing the remains of Batista’s era, he quickly allied with the Soviet Union, which provided Cuba with substantial agricultural support and subsidies. The two countries’ alignment provoked the United States during the Cold War era and brought about international events including the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition, the United States imposed a trade embargo in 1962.

Castro’s government formally proclaimed Cuba a socialist state in 1961. The announcement was made one month after the failed United States-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, which resulted in the imprisonment and execution of hundreds of anti-Castro rebels. Fidel Castro then declared the annulment of elections, which consolidated his power and was later enshrined in Cuba’s 1976 constitution. 

The 1976 constitution, which formally entrenched socialist domination, was inspired by the ideologies of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Criticism toward the constitution was rooted in how it was drafted, and the mechanism that determined its approval. Lack of citizen participation regarding the drafting of the constitution was a major deficit. The referendum was established by the Communist Party and the National Assembly — overseen by Fidel Castro — whose members were not elected publicly. The constitution, which controlled every aspect of citizens’ way of life, ultimately gave the regime the capacity to crush any and all dissent.

Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba entered into what was euphemistically called a Special Period, which included food rationing, gasoline shortages, and the proliferation of small-scale gardens for Cubans to meet basic nutritional needs, among other things. While spreading propaganda internationally about the implementation of universal health care and education, he left Cubans without economic opportunities and liberty, which was particularly devastating during the Special Period.  

Half a decade later, Cuba’s economy began to stabilize as its human rights record continued to decline. In 2003, Cuba’s “Black Spring” drew international condemnation when 75 journalists were arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and detained. These journalists were held on spurious charges, subjected to show trials, barred from consulting with legal counsel outside of the courtroom, and denied medical care while in prison. Many of these political prisoners languished in prison for years. Among them was human rights activist Omar Rodriguez, who was arrested for his involvement in the Varela Project, a draft bill spearheaded by prodemocracy activist Oswaldo Payá that proposed a referendum in which Cubans would decide on reforms that would enable the effective respect of fundamental rights.

That same week, three men attempted to reach the United States by hijacking a ferry. Days later — after a show trial — they were executed by firing squad for what the government claimed to be acts of terrorism. Four other men who had aided in appropriating the boat were sentenced to life in prison. 

The Cuban regime’s systematic repression represents the widespread sense of injustice that permeates the island. For example, Cuba’s anti-expression law, Decree 349 — one of the first laws signed by Mr. Díaz-Canel — came into force in 2018 and requires artists, musicians, and writers to receive governmental approval prior to presenting their work publicly or even in the privacy of their homes. The decree allows the Ministry of Culture to suspend performances and advise on cancelling the authorization to engage in artistic work altogether. These judgments can only be appealed before the very same Ministry of Culture, as opposed to an independent and impartial body.

Decree 349 builds on an already existing system of laws and regulations that threaten freedom of expression. The Decree is wholly inconsistent with international human rights standards, jeopardizes free speech and liberty, and is ultimately intended to silence voices that criticize the government. The law’s language is extremely broad and prohibits, for example, the “use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation” and “anything that violates the legal provisions that regulate the normal development of our society in cultural matters.”

 

Cuba’s “New” Constitution

In February 2019, the 1976 constitution was replaced with a new constitution through an orchestrated referendum process. Approximately 86.9% of voters of the roughly 8 million who voted, supported the referendum.

While a voter turnout of nearly 87% would be considered very high for democracies around the world, in Cuba’s case, it’s the natural outcome of a tightly controlled process whose sole purpose is to secure a predetermined result.

Government officials go door-to-door coaxing citizens to go to the polls, and political dissident Antonio Rodiles notes that voter turnout is typically extremely high “because even though people know it’s theater, they also know that they keep track of who votes.” Michael Svetlik, vice-president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, confirms that elections are typically rigged in authoritarian regimes, and that citizens vote out of fear of punishment. The Cuban regime’s system is no exception; there are no political opposition parties or secret votes to challenge the constitution or regime, so referendums are not free or fair.

Dissidents, who deemed the political process fraudulent, reported that citizens were temporarily detained for either voting “no” or abstaining from voting altogether. The referendum triggered arbitrary arrests across the country and led to the detention of over 400 citizens, as well as a minimum of “48 acts of harassment and 12 physical attacks.” 

The police also raided homes of opposition activists and threatened dissidents, warning that “the next time they will end up in a jail cell,” when referring to activists who had given a workshop on voting observation. José Daniel Ferrer, for example, who promoted the “No” vote in a public park, was detained and, alongside 70 other members of his organization, went on hunger strike to protest the Cuban government’s monolithic state. 

The new constitution preserves Cuba’s one-party socialist system and is “committed to never returning to capitalism as a regime,” yet this time openly endorses foreign investment (Article 28). While in theory the new constitution reflects some of the proposed changes that were put forth by Cuban citizens, Cuba’s authoritarian regime continues to actively oppress Cuban citizens by withholding fundamental rights of expression.

For example, citizens campaigned for a constitution that would pave the way for same-sex marriage. However, the Drafting Commission removed gender-neutral descriptions of marriage and left members of the LGBTQ community without equal rights. In addition, Cuban citizens are able to “combat through any means, including armed combat when other means are not available, against any that intend to topple the political, social, and economic order.” The term “topple,” however, is not defined in the constitution and could be used broadly to target dissidents for political reasons. Furthermore, while the state now prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Article 42), protects women from gender violence, and safeguards their sexual and reproductive rights (Article 43), gender and sexual equality continue to be theoretical and abstract improvements. Women are consistently excluded as decision makers, and fall victim to horrific forms of domestic abuse that have only escalated during the COVID-19 quarantine. Yoani Sánchez, a celebrated Cuban blogger and prodemocracy activist, provides a list of resources that Cuban women so desperately need including, shelters for battered women, fair pay, and the opportunity to assume government positions.

Perhaps most notably, the new constitution limits the president’s term to two consecutive periods of five years and highlights that, similar to parliamentary systems, the president will be selected by the National Assembly (Article 126), which may seem like a significant change from the previous era of Castro rule for nearly six decades. However, in practice, the Cuban regime remains a fully authoritarian regime without an independent judiciary or lawful administration of justice by which to hold the government accountable.

 

The Economy

Fidel Castro relinquished most of his power in 2008, and appointed his hand-picked successor, his brother, Raúl Castro, as Head of State. Raúl’s presidency supposedly resulted in the expansion of the economy, allowing for foreign investment, the buying and selling of property, and permitted entrepreneurs to open small businesses. In addition, Cubans gained access to cellphones, computers, and the internet

In 2014, Raúl Castro and then-President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced a prisoner exchange and the restoration of diplomatic relations, further presenting the façade of a modernizing Cuba. However, in the background of these developments, Raúl Castro continued to implement many of the abusive tactics that his brother had relied on. For example, a “dangerousness law,” gives the state permission to incarcerate citizens based on a suspicion that they might perpetrate crimes in the future, rather than on the basis of actually having committed a crime. The existence of such legislation allows for an overly broad application of the law, thus enabling the regime to crackdown on various forms of dissent. 

Critics of the Cuban regime assert that Raúl’s presidency did not result in the expansion of the economy, and that reforms have been slow and subject to several restrictions. Roughly 12 percent of the country’s G.D.P, generated through private businesses, is heavily controlled by the state. Ministries that operate on national, provincial, and municipal levels have the authority to oversee and report on private businesses under their jurisdictions. These ministries subject business owners to overwhelming requirements and permit government officials to enforce heavy fines, suspend licenses, and seize properties. Furthermore, Cuban citizens are only permitted to acquire one license for one business, blocking them from diversifying their trades.

Other regulations that have prevented the growth of the private sector or imposed restrictions on it include the demand that private taxi drivers document their fuel purchases from government gas stations, preventing them from purchasing fuel on the black market. The informal economy, however, provides a critical means for innovation, autonomy, and entrepreneurialism that is otherwise stifled by state control. In addition, restaurants and bars have set capacities at 50 customers. Furthermore, daycare centers must apportion a minimum of two square meters per child, with no more than six children per daycare aide. Perhaps most damaging, are the laws that enforce an upward-sloping wage scale. Wages increase as more employees are hired, becoming acutely expensive and inaccessible to the average business owner, who earns a salary of roughly $32 per month. Meanwhile, farmers are forced to sell their crops at prices set by the state and that are below market value, rather than being allowed to sell their crops at prices set by supply and demand. 

Amid a deepening economic crisis, the government imposed price controls that apply to state-run companies, as well as private sector cooperatives, farmers, small businesses, and self-employed citizens. Pork, for example, which was previously set at 65 pesos per pound is now set at 45 pesos per pound, illustrating the loss of income that farmers have to bear when their monthly wages are already so meager. “With the new prices we are super asphyxiated because the farmer who moves his pigs to Havana still charges 28 pesos a pound,” said Mr. Soler, who is a Cuban butcher. These measures of control indicate the government’s unwillingness to support the expansion of the economy, and, according to Paul Hare, the former British ambassador to Cuba, they also indicate that the Cuban regime is worried about the influence of self-employed and cooperative businesses in the agricultural sector. The government’s control over supply and demand creates an economy that does not conform to citizens’ needs, and effectively damages their standard of life.

The state’s control over the private sector confirms that the regime’s expansion of the economy is deeply superficial. Rather than promoting a capital-rich and diversified economy, the state suppresses any competition against its political interests.

In 2018, Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro as President of Cuba. He is the first person outside of the Castro family to take power since the Cuban Revolution over half a century ago. His election, however, did not take place in the context of a free and fair election. He was selected by the National Assembly as their sole candidate, which ensured his appointment and the continuation of Cuba’s one-party state.  

While cell phones, computers, and the internet exist within Cuba’s economy, President Miguel Díaz-Canel continues to restrict Cuban citizens’ access to the mobile internet through prohibitively high pricing; four gigabytes of data, for example, cost roughly $30 per month, which is equivalent to the average monthly salary of most citizens. The internet also continues to be heavily censored by the state. The Cuban regime actively blocks independent news, as well as websites that oppose the government and advocate for fundamental reform. 

 

Healthcare and Education

The Cuban Revolution may be seen by some as having transformed the country, in terms of both challenging foreign interests and policy and how Cubans structure their daily lives, inspiring many who have stayed in the country, as the state has claimed to make improvements to healthcare, education, and literacy, and initiated international humanitarian missions.

However, the Cuban Revolution has also pushed millions of people to leave the country. Sixty-one years after Fidel Castro’s coup d’état, the revolution’s darker legacy continues to pervade Cuban society. The state’s revered social system is simultaneously a system of near-universal poverty. Universal healthcare and education mean little if medical products are depleted, if machinery is outdated, and if buildings are crumbling. Sources convey that medicines are missing, and that entire shelves at pharmacies are bare. Those who fall ill are often expected to bring their own sheets, food, and water to the hospital. 

Hilda Molina, the former chief neurosurgeon in Cuba, has lamented over the state of Cuba’s health sector and described the politicization of the health system by the Cuban regime, where control is exerted over medical and scientific institutions, universities, and professionals. Within this context, medical statistics are managed — and often falsified — by the state, as opposed to independent experts. Dr. Molina also revealed that sewage and garbage are often strewn along streets, contaminating the country’s drinking water supply and further entrenching deficient and dangerous health conditions.

The Cuban regime hinders doctors’ capabilities under a highly controlled system that stifles medical progress. The country’s closed society bars health care professionals from traveling, consulting, and engaging with other medical experts in the international community, which affects their ability to receive up-to-date information and collaborate with others in innovative ways.

While Cuba’s “esteemed” medical missions are often doted on by the media and host governments around the world — including a recent COVID-19 mission to Italy — they are unjust as they represent a modern form of slavery. Cuban doctors commonly share stories of their forced participation into Cuba’s medical missions and describe strict regulations enforced by the Cuban regime in order to prevent them from defecting while they are overseas. They report being surveilled by Cuban authorities while abroad, having their passports confiscated, and being subjected to horrific forms of intimidation, including sexual harassment and abuse. Some doctors have revealed that they were stationed in areas infiltrated by criminal gangs, and were threatened at gunpoint. Despite their perseverance through these dangerous conditions, doctors are only paid a fraction of what they are owed, while the rest of their remuneration is funneled back to the Cuban regime. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons even noted that, “forced labor constitutes a contemporary form of slavery,” in their letter to the Cuban regime in 2019.

In addition, Cuban doctors have noted that they are often coerced into falsifying statistics and political propagandizing. Doctors are forced to falsify statistics while they are overseas — inventing patients and clinic visits — because amplifying their medical missions’ efficacy permits Cuban officials to demand more payment from various host countries. Thaymi Rodríguez, a dentist who was stationed in Venezuela, confesses that she was obligated to see 18 patients a day, but might only see five. As a result, she would have to throw away leftover medicine, “because we simply had to,” expressing how painful it was to throw away medicine in countries where it is so greatly needed. 

These abuses revealed by Cuban doctors, coerced into participating in the state’s medical missions, highlight the Cuban regime’s exportation of corruption and exploitation abroad.

As for the education system, sources contend that Fidel Castro did not help Cuban citizens achieve literacy. Cuba already had near-universal education and high literacy rates prior to the revolution in 1959. In addition, according to data collected by Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus of Pittsburgh University and expert on Cuba, the economic crisis of the 1990s — which caused the economy to plummet by 35% — resulted in the deterioration of the education system. Cuba’s education system has yet to recover, and education indicators remain below 1989 levels. 

In addition, low wages and lack of incentives prompt teachers to emigrate or abandon their professions for more lucrative opportunities. Educators’ salaries are insufficient to maintain an adequate quality of life, and serve to reinforce an educational system that is deeply flawed and unjust. The Cuban regime controls the education sector to promote a revolutionary psychology that in turn sustains the socialist state. As Fidel Castro once said: “The universities are only available to those who share my revolutionary beliefs.” 

 

Case Studies

As has been made clear, Cuba is not a democratic country where there is independence and separation of powers. Under this type of regime, there is no guarantee of independence in the administration of justice which will be highlighted through the following case studies.

 

Oswaldo Payá and Ángel Carromero

On July 22, 2012, Oswaldo Payá and his young associate, Harold Cepero, died in a car crash in eastern Cuba. The circumstances of the crash are still in dispute and cannot be determined without an independent investigation. 

Mr. Payá was one of Cuba’s most celebrated human rights activists and dissidents, championing peace and civil liberties, and was a recipient of the 2002 Sakharov Prize, which is awarded to an individual who fights for human rights and fundamental freedoms. He was the founder and leader of the Varela Project, a petition drive calling for a referendum in which Cubans would decide on legal reforms to guarantee freedom of speech and assembly, among other fundamental rights. Formally, the Cuban constitution allows citizens to introduce legislative reform if they collect 10,000 citizen signatures, and Oswaldo Payá successfully collected over 11,000.

Despite his peaceful efforts, Mr. Payá endured continuous harassment and intimidation by the regime. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has denounced the Cuban government’s harassment and persecution against civil society groups and human rights defenders since 1962, and noted that “for decades the Cuban State has organized the institutional machinery to silence voices outside the regime, and to repress independent journalists, as well as artists or citizens who try to organize themselves to articulate their demands.”

The government has alleged that the car crash that killed Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero transpired when the driver, Ángel Carromero, a former youth leader of Spain’s ruling party, lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree. They determined that the crash happened because of the speed at which Mr. Carromero was driving, and because of his abrupt braking when the car was on a slippery surface. Mr. Carromero was subsequently convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. He has since been released to Spain to serve out the remainder of his term.

Cuban dissidents and Mr. Carromero, however, have a different account of those same events that unfolded in 2012. In an interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Carromero asserted that government officials followed his car and rammed into it, resulting in the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero, and in his own loss of consciousness. Once taken to the hospital, Mr. Carromero was surrounded by government officials who ruthlessly dismissed his details of the accident. He was drugged and coerced into signing statements with fabricated, self-incriminating evidence. According to Mr. Carromero, the officers warned him that “depending on what [he] said things could go very well or very badly for [him].” 

In addition, his false confession was broadcasted on television under deplorable conditions. He was held incommunicado among cockroaches and other insects, with a toilet that lacked a tank, while water streamed from the roof. These forms of cruel and degrading treatment may amount to torture, and are in standing violation of Articles 18, 25, and 26 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (“American Declaration”), and Articles 5, 8, 9, 10, and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), to which Cuba is bound. The UDHR expressly states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The Human Rights Foundation’s legal report on the state-sanctioned and premeditated murder of Mr. Payá extensively documents the cruelty of Cuba’s totalitarian regime to which Mr. Carromero also fell victim. 

The Cuban regime systematically violates the due process rights of activists, particularly through trials that are purely symbolic and held to strengthen the regime, as opposed to finding the truth and administering justice. After his arrest, Mr. Carromero did not have access to legal counsel for many weeks, and later, had all of his conversations with his attorney overseen by a Cuban official. According to international human rights law, the right to defense counsel shall not be delayed, and opportunities to consult with a lawyer shall not be intercepted or censored.

In addition, during Mr. Carromero’s trial, his lawyers were prevented from accessing his case file or evidence on which his accusations were grounded. Mr. Payá’s family was never included in the investigation and was barred from attending Mr. Carromero’s trial.

Human Rights Watch has reported that political prisoner trials in Cuba are virtually-closed hearings that last less than an hour. The organization was unable to document a single case under Raúl Castro’s regime wherein a court had acquitted a political detainee. Mr. Carromero’s trial was no exception — the authorities barred the public from attending his trial and only permitted members of the Communist Party of Cuba into the courtroom. The openness of hearings, however, is imperative to assuring public confidence in the integrity of the legal system, as well as in the administration of justice. 

Almost eight years later, justice has yet to be secured for Mr. Payá’s family and for Mr. Carromero. While the UDHR guarantees equality before the law, including the right to a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal, the Cuban regime continues to abuse its power for political purposes, and, ultimately, to act with impunity.

 

Ramón Velásquez Toranzo

At a press conference in 2016 with then-President of the United States Barack Obama, Raúl Castro unequivocally denied the presence of any political prisoners in Cuba. Human rights groups, however, continue to document the cases of Cuban dissidents who continue to be persecuted under the Cuban regime. 

The Cuba Archives documented at least 500,000 people who have fallen victim to arbitrary detention since January 1, 1959; Ramón Velásquez Toranzo is one of them. On International Human Rights Day in 2006, Mr. Toranzo set out on a “march of dignity” with his wife Bárbara and their daughter, Rufina. While marching, they held signs that read, “respect for human rights,” “freedom for political prisoners,” and “no more repression against the peaceful opposition.” They called for the respect of their civil liberties, which are guaranteed under the UDHR, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and formally in the Cuban Constitution, but are ignored by the Cuban regime.

They marched silently, and, at night, slept on curbsides, at bus stops, and in the homes of those who offered shelter. They started in Santiago de Cuba and hoped to walk the entire length of the country, but were stopped and arrested on the outskirts of Holguín. The Cuban government’s rapid response brigade intimidated them with metal rods and threatened to rape Bárbara and Rufina. Four days later, when Mr. Toranzo was released from prison, they continued marching. State forces, however, continued to torment them by trying to run them over with cars.

They reached Camagüey — over 185 miles from where they began their march — on January 19, 2006, and were arrested again. After being detained for four more days, Mr. Toranzo was taken to a municipal court, where he was charged with “dangerousness,” subjected to a closed trial, and sentenced to three years in prison. Cuba’s “dangerousness” law permits Cuban authorities to incarcerate citizens prior to having committed any crime. Their imprisonment is based on suspicion that they might commit crimes in the future.

A former high-ranking judge revealed that legal cases against dissidents are managed by state security forces, and that judges often acquiesce to fabricated evidence. In Mr. Toranzo’s case, the regime’s evidence against him entailed “official warnings” for being unemployed; these warnings were presented while Mr. Toranzo was marching, and as a result, had never been seen by him. Furthermore, during Mr. Toranzo’s trial — which lasted less than an hour — the presiding judge called a recess to confront Mr. Toranzo’s legal counsel. Upon returning, Mr. Toranzo’s legal counsel stopped defending him and remained silent for the remainder of the trial. 

The American Declaration expressly states that every person has the right to a fair trial, the right to protection from arbitrary arrest, and the right to due process of law. No one can be subjected to “cruel, infamous or unusual punishment.” After Mr. Toranzo’s sentencing, and in flagrant violation of his rights, he was stripped down to his underwear and detained in solitary confinement without a bed and in a cell that was flooded with water.

The Cuban regime not only torments political prisoners, but also preys on their family members. After Mr. Toranzo’s arrest, “Death to the worms of house 58” (his address) was spray-painted on a bus stop close to his home. This dehumanizing terminology, targeting political prisoners and their families, is common practice.
The regime also assigned a man near Mr. Toranzo’s home to follow the family. Cuban officials demanded that Rufina’s friends report on her activities, and the constant surveillance eventually led her to flee to the United States. Likewise, her brother René, reported monitoring by the state and noted that Cuban officials questioned everyone he interacted with.

The case of Mr. Toranzo is a looking glass into Cuba’s repressive government — a regime that is unrelenting in its abuse of power and denial of fundamental rights and freedoms.

 

Conclusion

Although Cuba’s constitutional referendum might have been propagandized as progress toward a more open society, President Díaz-Canel continues to implement the Castros’ dangerous, and sometimes deadly, tactics. The cases of Oswaldo Payá and Ramón Velásquez Toranzo are only two examples of the Cuban regime’s exploitation of justice.

In 2019, Cuban opposition members were consistently arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. There were reports of several cases of prisoners of conscience who were targeted for their peaceful beliefs, and the NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders reported a minimum of 71 people who were incarcerated on political charges. 

The real figures are likely to be higher, but the Cuban government prevents independent groups from entering the country to report on the human rights situation. In addition, the government’s censorship and state-controlled media silence Cubans who oppose the regime, continuing to cover up the government’s corruption and criminality. The state’s lack of transparency further entrenches the government’s totalitarian dictatorship, where even the most peaceful protesters are punished for calling for what they are owed: civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.

At the same time, Cuban artists, journalists, lawyers, and members of the opposition continue to languish in the Cuban gulags. We must speak up on their behalf and continue to echo their calls for freedom and the rule of law. While the Cuban regime continues to avoid accountability for its heinous crimes, we must end its culture of impunity by standing up for human rights and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Cuba’s courageous human rights defenders.