Cuba is a totalitarian state led by a president, General Raul Castro. In 2008 National Assembly elections that were neither free nor fair, the Communist Party won 98 percent of the vote. President Raul Castro was granted provisional control by his brother, Fidel Castro, in a proclamation issued in July 2006 after the latter underwent medical treatment. In February 2008 the National Assembly appointed Raul Castro president of the Council of State. The government systematically denied citizens freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and other basic human rights. The numerous human rights violations included: arbitrary detention and imprisonment; beatings of prodemocracy activists by police and state security forces; harsh and life‑threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; numerous political prisoners; severe restrictions on press and media freedom; and police harassment, especially of youth, Afro-Cubans, and homosexuals.
Although the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, it continues a multifaceted effort to support the Cuban people's aspirations for an accountable, transparent government that respects human rights. The U.S. government's strategy for promoting democratic principles and practices and human rights focuses on supporting the country's people to manage social, political, and economic transformation. This process requires public diplomacy efforts to support civil society to create the kind of society desired by the people.
To accomplish these aims, the United States promotes efforts to support independent civil society, particularly through providing information to groups encouraging political pluralism, the rule of law, and human rights. The strategy uses public actions, through U.S. government statements and media interviews, as well as multilateral initiatives, to raise awareness about the government's abuse of democratic values and human rights. U.S. officials consult regularly with civil society organizations on how to improve the country's poor human rights record.
To counter the regime's rigid restrictions on access to information, including its complete control and operation of the media, the U.S. government makes substantial efforts aimed at providing information to enable citizens to make their own informed decisions about their future. The United States operates the largest free, uncensored Internet facilities in the country.
U.S. officials interact regularly with civil society and prodemocracy activists and encourage other governments to do the same. U.S. officials invite prodemocracy advocates to a wide variety of mission functions and receptions, including the Fourth of July reception as well as events commemorating Human Rights day and African American History Month. U.S. officials invite representatives of foreign embassies and international organizations to these functions and encourage these missions to invite Cuban activists to their official events. The mission, in accordance with an October 2007 speech by President Bush, urges foreign embassies to provide Internet access to local civil society. The U.S. government continues to draw to the attention of the large international media presence, the diplomatic community, and the numerous visiting delegations the regime's dismal human rights record and advocates in its discussions with them a transition to a democracy. To raise international awareness about the treatment of political dissidents and other victims of the regime, U.S. officials meet regularly with representatives of various groups suffering human rights abuses, documenting incidents for dissemination to other governments and for inclusion in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
The U.S. government also encourages efforts to assist local civil society groups, including faith-based organizations, to hold courses in computer skills, English language education, critical thinking, and other topics. These programs are helping civil society develop essential skills for the successful, peaceful transition of the country to a form of government freely chosen by its people.