Maria Werlau, executive director of the Cuba Archive, addressing a United Nations press conference
organized by UN Watch, Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre.
October 6, 2016
Following are the prepared remarks of Maria Welau, cofounder of the Free Society Project and executive director of the Cuba Archive, delivered at the October 6, 2016 United Nations press conference organized by UN Watch, Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre, to oppose the election of dictatorships to the UN Human Rights Council.
Cuba and the United Nations Human Rights Council
By Maria C. Werlau
Executive Director of Cuba Archive
Cuba should not be part of the U. N. Human Rights Council, responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe, because it is a totalitarian state that violates —in its laws and practices— essentially all applicable articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to a comprehensive ranking by the Washington, DC based human rights’ organization Freedom House, Cuba is one of the “least free” countries in the world; it is the only one with that classification in the Western Hemisphere. In Cuba, the usurpation by the state of civil, political, and economic rights has few historic precedents. The all-mighty Cuban state is the embodiment of a one-party Communist system under the absolute rule of one family.
Repression in the Laws
Cuba’s laws embody the totalitarian nature of system only requires a cursory reading. Here are some highlights:
1. The Constitution
Rather than guaranteeing rights to the citizens vis-a-vis the state, which is what Constitutions do, Cuba’s Constitution does the opposite; with an inverted sovereignty, it concentrates power in the state and the Communist Party in the most extreme form. Article 5 states that the Communist Party is the ruling force of the society and the state, its efforts directed at the construction of socialism and communism. Citizens only have the right to agree with the Communist system. The people, moreover, have no right to amend the Constitution (Article 137 grants this to the legislative power, which is subordinated to the Executive) or to change the system, which is deemed irrevocable.
Article 62 limits the few rights conceded to the citizens, declaring that none of the constitutional rights of the citizens may be exercised against the goals and laws of the socialist state or of the construction of socialism and communism. Similarly, Article 53 recognizes freedom of speech and press only as long as they conform to the objectives of the socialist society. It also establishes that all press, radio, TV, movies and all means of mass communication must be property of the state and in no case privately held. Not surprisingly, internet access is extremely restricted and censored, as is access to all information from abroad.
Fundamental freedoms, such as the right to associate or assemble, labor rights including the right to strike or form independent unions, are not recognized. The citizens are also left legally powerless in practice, as there is no separation of powers or judicial independence (all power rests in the Executive branch, i.e. whoever controls the state and Communist Party, which is the Castro family).
2. The Penal Code
The Penal Code is a tool for the exercise of repression. Among its many aberrations, Article 72 criminalizes with of up to 4 years of prison the proclivity to commit crimes, i.e. acts that have not been committed, by penalizing conduct considered anti-social, which is defined as contrary to socialist morality and means anything perceived to threaten the system. The loose and generalized application of this law sends thousands of Cubans, especially young men, to prison, where horrible conditions lead to many deaths.
Two more examples from the Penal Code:
- Article 103 penalizes enemy propaganda, with prison of 8 to 20 years for inciting through any form of propaganda, verbal or written, against the social order, international solidarity, or the socialist state.
- Article 216 criminalizes leaving the country without prior government authorization, which turns the country into a gigantic prison.
3. Other Legal Aberrations
Most other laws and regulations restrict citizen rights. To choose just one example, Law No. 88 for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy, commonly known as the “gag law”, penalizes with prison up to 20 years anyone considered to in any way support or collaborate with the U.S. “blockade” or the “economic war” against Cuba. This includes having any written material considered subversive to the economic interests of the state. It was applied to 77 members of Cuba`s civil society in 2003, who received average sentences of 20-25 years of prison.
Repression in State Practices
The Castro military dictatorship, in power for over 57 years, has from the start systematically committed wide-ranging crimes against humanity and consistently demonstrated its contempt for human life. It started by imposing terror with mass executions absent due process of law, which lasted from 1959 until the late 1960s. After this initial phase, mass killings were not needed to guarantee submission (as in the other Soviet bloc countries), sporadic executions (currently suspended), assorted extrajudicial killings, and selective forced disappearances have been the norm. All the while, wide-ranging abuses have led to widespread and large numbers of deaths in dreadful prisons that international agencies are not allowed to monitor. Plus, Cuban authorities continue a longstanding practice to prevent exit attempts, considered illegal without prior government approval. For decades —today more sporadically than in the past— Cubans have been systematically murdered by Cuba’s Border Guard for attempting to flee the island by sea and through embassies or the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo.
The Cuban regime’s crimes against defenseless people fleeing, including children, have no precedent even among the bloodiest Latin American dictatorships. What´s more, while the infamous Berlin Wall fell 26 years ago, a deadlier replica more than twice in age remains in Communist Cuba. The U.S. base at Guantánamo is surrounded by an active mine field and Cuban guards with orders to shoot. Countless hundreds, perhaps thousands have paid with their lives, limbs, eyes, or years of prison for attempting the crossing.
A huge and entrenched repressive apparatus exerts totalitarian domination to keep the population in check. Since Raúl became Cuba’s president, it has greatly intensified —both in scope and viciousness—repression and persecution particularly against human rights’ defenders. Regime agents routinely attack human rights defenders. The Ladies in White group is subjected to weekly brutal beatings for attempting to walk together and gather in a park in Havana. Members of the outlawed civil society are often prevented from meeting and have their personal property, included computers, confiscated. Most are under constant surveillance, frequently harassed, and threatened with death.
The Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports that for 2016 until the end of September, it had documented at least 8,505 arbitrary detentions of peaceful opponents inside Cuba this year until September 30th.
Killing and disappearing inconvenient individuals is selectively part of the methodology of control. In the last ten years of Raúl Castro’s tenure as head dictator, twelve human rights’ defenders have been killed or disappeared, some quite evidently at the hands of authorities, state agents, others in circumstances that suggest an extrajudicial killing by state agents. In this same timeframe, two more have died of protest hunger strikes in prison and six non-political prisoners have also chosen this form of protest to its tragic final consequence.
Many dissidents are threatened with death, others have been victims of suspicious “accidents” or timely food poisonings. In 2015, Sirley Avila, a former regime proponent turned human rights activist was almost killed in a brutal machete attack, her hand was severed and she suffered grave injuries to the legs.
Cuba’s bloody reach has extended all over the globe from armed interventions and subversion in several continents to steady and consistent participation and support for global terrorist groups. Since its earliest days it initiated, supported, financed, and/or abetted armed subversion in most countries of Latin America (in all countries but one, as Fidel Castro publicly acknowledged), with a toll of countless victims. Cuba’s unacceptable behavior at the international level has taken many forms. To point to just thee examples, in 1980, Cuba’s Air Force planes shot at and sunk a Royal Bahamian Navy vessel that was towing a Cuban fishing boat caught illegally fishing in Bahamian waters; four sailors were killed. In 1996, Cuban Air Force MIGs shot down in international airspace two unarmed U.S.-based civilian airplanes with four passengers belonging to a humanitarian group —three were U.S. citizens. In 2013, it was caught smuggling a huge shipment of armament to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.
Internationally, Cuba has strong political and economic alliances with totalitarian/autocratic and rogue regimes with shared anti-U.S. agendas –North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, Syria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, etc., as well as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the Latin American countries on the path to the neo-communist “Bolivarian alternative” they call “21st century socialism.” The latter, with Cuban tutelage and participation, have seen a gradual loss of freedoms and a growing authoritarianism, as the new radical model (the brain child of Fidel Castro after the fall of Soviet Communism) calls for dismantling democracies from within instead of through armed struggle. No doubt, these countries will vote for Cuba’s membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council, however, what legitimate justification could the others have?
Cuba is a gigantic manufacturer of perceptions with a huge and well-oiled propaganda machinery of worldwide reach. It has a first-class intelligence service dedicated to influencing the international community and advancing Cuba’s goals by all means and respecting no ethical boundaries. This helps explains why most countries, including the world’s largest democracies, have engaged the Cuban criminal regime unconditionally and afforded it impunity, legitimacy, and assistance. Regrettably, this has helped Cuba’s military business conglomerate expand and tighten its grip on capital and other resources. Despite a quarter century of capitalist reinsertion by Cuba into the world economy after the end of massive Soviet assistance and almost a full decade of so-called “reforms” under Raúl Castro, Cuba’s citizens have not been empowered in any significant ways. To the contrary the totalitarian model that tramples on the rights of Cubans and erodes global freedom and security has been reinforced. It is obvious that Cuba does not belong in the U.N. Human Rights Council.