Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, with former president Raul Castro serving as the first secretary of the Communist Party (CP). Cuba has a one-party system in which the constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the highest political entity of the state. On March 11, citizens voted to ratify a preselected list of 605 candidates to the National Assembly. A CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates, and the government actively worked to block non-CP approved candidates from the ballot. On April 19, the National Assembly elected Diaz-Canel president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. Neither the legislative nor the national elections were considered to be free or fair.
The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of an unlawful and arbitrary killing by police; torture of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; holding of political prisoners; and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy. The government engaged in censorship, site blocking, and libel is criminalized. There were limitations on academic and cultural freedom; restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; and restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement and on political participation. There was official corruption, trafficking in persons, outlawing of independent trade unions, and compulsory labor.
Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses and failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed the abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that government agents committed an unlawful and arbitrary killing. There were credible reports that Alejandro Pupo Echemendia was severely beaten by local police and died in police custody in the town of Placetas on August 9. Reports indicated police officials beat him in a police precinct after he began suffering from a panic attack; he was pronounced dead after he was taken to a hospital.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Nevertheless, arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions continued to be a common government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. Challenges of arrests or detentions were rarely successful, especially regarding detentions alleged to be politically motivated.
By law police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request identification, and carry out search-and-seizure operations. Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failure to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees. The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed “report of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search, but the law was frequently not followed. Arbitrary stops and searches were most common in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints at the entrances to provinces and municipalities.
Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity or free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. The independent human rights NGO Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) counted more than 2,870 detentions through November, compared with more than 5,155 in all of 2017. Members of the Todos Marchamos (We All March) campaign, which included Damas de Blanco (Women in White), reported weekly detentions of members to prevent demonstrations. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful government critics, while rare, sometimes occurred.
The law allows a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “pre-criminal dangerousness,” defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors, such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detention to silence peaceful political opponents. Multiple domestic human rights organizations published lists of persons they considered political prisoners; individuals appearing on these lists remained imprisoned under the “pre-criminal dangerousness” provision of the law.
In August authorities detained Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU, the largest political opposition group, in Santiago de Cuba for 12 days and charged him with attempted murder following a car crash in which he hit and injured an official in Palmarito del Cauto. There were reports the official intentionally jumped in front of the vehicle Ferrer was driving, resulting in minor injuries. Despite reported coercion of witnesses, police could not obtain corroborating evidence against Ferrer, and the prosecution was forced to change his status from preventive detention to immediate release. As of November the prosecution had not yet issued a final decision regarding the status of the charges against him. In March, Ferrer was also detained and released after several hours while attempting to travel to Havana from Santiago de Cuba to participate in the ceremony for the 2017 Oswaldo Paya Freedom and Life Award.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Interior exercises control over the police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The police supported these units by carrying out search-and-seizure operations of homes and headquarters of human rights organizations, arresting persons of interest to the ministry, and providing interrogation facilities.
On August 14, authorities arrested UNPACU member Tomas Nunez Magdariaga on falsified charges and convicted him in a sham trial in which he was denied the opportunity to present witnesses in his favor. The arresting officer, Aldo Rosales Montoya, publicly admitted to fabricating the accusations against Nunez at the direction of a State Security official in a video recorded on September 14 and subsequently in a signed statement. Rosales admitted the purpose of Nunez’s arrest was to weaken the opposition organization. On October 15, the government released Nunez after a 62-day hunger strike protesting his imprisonment.
The police routinely violated procedural laws with impunity and at times failed or refused to provide citizens with legally required documentation, particularly during arbitrary detentions and searches. Security force members also committed abuses of civil rights and human rights with impunity.
Although the law on criminal procedure prohibits the use of coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child-custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.
No official mechanisms were readily available to investigate government abuses.
Undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents were often present and directed activities to disrupt efforts at peaceful assembly (see section 2.b.).
According to independent reports, state-orchestrated “acts of repudiation” directed against independent civil society groups and individuals, including the Damas de Blanco and other organizations, were organized to prevent meetings or to intimidate participants publicly (see section 2.a.).
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Under criminal procedures police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. The investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.
Within the initial 168-hour detention period, detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security.
There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period.
Reports suggested bail was available, although typically not granted to those arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served if convicted.
Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.
By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In that instance no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.
Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest, detaining suspects longer than 168 hours without informing them of the nature of the arrest, allowing them to contact family members, or affording them legal counsel.
Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is directly subordinate to the National Assembly and the CP, which may remove or appoint judges at any time. Political considerations thoroughly dominated the judiciary, and there was no separation of powers between the judicial system, the CP, and the Council of State.
Civilian courts exist at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Special tribunals convene behind closed doors for political (“counterrevolutionary”) cases and other cases deemed “sensitive to state security.” The government’s practice was to deny admission to observers to trial on an arbitrary basis. Military tribunals may also have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are active or former members of the military, police, or other law enforcement agency.
The law provides for the right to a public trial, but politically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving “state security” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Many cases concluded quickly and were closed to the press.
Due process rights apply equally to all citizens as well as foreigners, but courts regularly failed to protect or observe these rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence. The law provides criminal defendants the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense if necessary. Privately hired attorneys were often reluctant to defend individuals charged with political crimes or associated with human rights cases. Defendants’ attorneys may cross-examine government witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Only state attorneys are licensed to practice in criminal courts.
Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. According to reports, prosecutors routinely introduced irrelevant or unreliable evidence to prove intent or testimony about the revolutionary credentials of a defendant.
Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant, but not if the charges involve “crimes against the security of the state.” In these cases defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed. Many detainees, especially political detainees, reported their attorneys had difficulties accessing case files due to administrative obstacles. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials for non-Spanish speakers, but the government claimed limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.
In trials where defendants are charged with “pre-criminal dangerousness” (see section 1.d.), the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred. Penalties may be up to four years in prison. Authorities normally applied this provision to prostitutes, alcoholics, young persons who refused to report to work centers, repeat offenders of laws restricting change of domicile, and political activists who participated in public protests.
The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government continued to hold political prisoners but denied it did so and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.
The exact number of political prisoners was difficult to determine; the CCDHRN estimated there were 120 political prisoners, while other credible groups put the number slightly higher. On July 11, the CCDHRN published a documented list with the prisoners’ names and other details regarding their imprisonment. The lack of governmental transparency, along with systemic violations of due process rights, obfuscated the true nature of criminal charges, investigations, and prosecutions, allowing government authorities to prosecute and sentence peaceful human rights activists for criminal violations or “pre-criminal dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not publicize those numbers. The government closely monitored organizations tracking political prisoner populations, which often faced harassment from state police.
On May 3, authorities arrested Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, a biology researcher at the University of Havana and environmental activist, after visiting his farm to question him about his building permits. On May 8, a judge convicted Ruiz Urquiola of disrespect and sentenced him to the maximum penalty of one year in prison for verbally insulting forestry officials. Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience,” alleging he was jailed “only for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.” On July 3, after a hunger strike of more than two weeks, authorities released Ruiz Urquiola on medical grounds to serve the remainder of his sentence outside of prison.
Political prisoners reported the government held them in isolation for extended periods. They did not receive the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. The government also frequently denied political prisoners access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and, on occasion, family visits.
Eduardo Cardet, director of the human rights organization Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, continued to serve a three-year prison sentence for allegedly assaulting a police officer in 2017. Authorities denied Cardet visits for several months until September 13, when they allowed a visit by family members.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
It is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative determinations, but independent legal experts noted general procedural and bureaucratic inefficiencies often delayed or undermined the enforcement of administrative determinations and civil court orders. Civil courts, like all other courts in the country, lacked independence and impartiality as well as effective procedural guarantees. No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution protects citizens’ privacy rights in their homes and correspondence, and police must have a warrant signed by a prosecutor or magistrate before entering or conducting a search. Nevertheless, there were reports that government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity.
The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities. Agents from the ministry’s General Directorate for State Security subjected foreign journalists, visiting foreign officials and diplomats, academics, and businesspersons to frequent surveillance, including electronic surveillance.
The CP is the only legally recognized political party, and the government actively suppressed attempts to form other parties (see section 3). The government encouraged mass political mobilization and favored citizens who actively participated (see section 2.b.).
Family members of government employees who left international work missions without official permission at times faced government harassment or loss of employment, access to education, or other public benefits. Family members of human rights defenders, including their minor children, reportedly suffered reprisals related to the activities of their relatives. These reprisals included reduced salaries and termination of employment, denial of acceptance into university, expulsion from university, and other forms of harassment.
On November 10, members of State Security in Mayari claiming to be following provincial orders forcefully entered the home of Osmel Ramirez Alvarez and seized documents, books, a laptop computer with accessories, and a cell phone. Authorities took him to a police station under the pretense that he needed to sign a document about the seizure of his property but then detained him for nearly four days.
On November 14, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, director of the independent press agency Palenque Vision, denounced that State Security agents broke into his home in broad daylight in the presence of his sons, sister, and brother-in-law, while he was away on travel. This was the fourth such break-in of his home within a year.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law, including related regulations and statutes, severely restricts worker rights by recognizing only the CP-controlled Central Union of Cuban Workers (CTC) as the paramount trade union confederation. To operate legally, all trade groups must belong to the CTC. The law does not provide for the right to strike. The law also does not provide for collective bargaining, instead setting up a complicated process for reaching collective agreements. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns regarding the trade union monopoly of the CTC, the prohibition on the right to strike, and restrictions to collective bargaining and agreements, including that government authorities and CTC officials have the final say on all such agreements.
The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. The CP chose the CTC’s leaders. The CTC’s principal responsibility is to manage government relations with the workforce. The CTC does not bargain collectively, promote worker rights, or advocate for the right to strike. The de facto prohibition on independent trade unions limited workers’ ability to organize independently and appeal against discriminatory dismissals. The executive’s strong influence over the judiciary and lawyers limited effective recourse through the courts.
During the year Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, general secretary of the Association of Independent Unions of Cuba, was harassed, beaten, detained, threatened, and fined. Authorities searched his house, and NGOs reported he was under constant threat of reimprisonment for failure to pay fines.
Several small, independent labor organizations operated without legal recognition, including the National Independent Workers’ Confederation of Cuba, the National Independent Laborer Confederation of Cuba, and the Unitarian Council of Workers of Cuba; together they constituted the Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba. These organizations worked to advance the rights of workers by offering an alternative to the state-sponsored CTC and purported to advocate for the rights of small-business owners and employees. Police reportedly harassed the independent unions, and government agents reportedly infiltrated them, limiting their capacity to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf. In late September authorities arrested an independent union member and sentenced him a week later to one year in prison for “disobeying the authorities.”
The government may determine that a worker is “unfit” to work, resulting in job loss and the denial of job opportunities. The government deemed persons unfit because of their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union, and for trying to depart the country illegally. The government also penalized professionals who expressed interest in emigrating by limiting job opportunities or firing them.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law does not prohibit forced labor explicitly. It prohibits unlawful imprisonment, coercion, and extortion, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment, but there was no evidence these provisions were used to prosecute cases of forced labor. The use of minors in forced labor, drug trafficking, prostitution, pornography, or the organ trade is punishable by seven- to 15-years’ incarceration. The government enforced the laws, and the penalties appeared sufficient to deter violations.
Compulsory military service of young men was occasionally fulfilled by assignment to an economic entity controlled by the military or by assignment to other government services. Allegations of forced or coerced labor in foreign medical missions persisted, although the government denied these allegations.
Prisoners were subject to forced labor. The government did not facilitate payment of decent wages to those incarcerated. The government continued to use high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products (also see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits workplace discrimination based on skin color, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, nationality, “or any other distinction harmful to human dignity,” but it does not explicitly protect political opinion, social origin, disability, age, language, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. No information was available on government enforcement of these provisions during the year.
The government continued to use politically motivated and discriminatory dismissals against those who criticized the government’s economic or political model. Workers forced out of employment in the public sector for freely expressing themselves were often further harassed after entering the emerging but highly regulated self-employment sector.
Discrimination in employment occurred with respect to members of the Afro-Cuban population. Leaders within the Afro-Cuban community noted some Afro-Cubans could not get jobs in better-paying sectors such as tourism and hospitality because they were “too dark.” Afro-Cubans more frequently obtained lower-paying jobs, including cleaning and garbage disposal, which had no interaction with tourists, a major source of hard currency.
There were no statistics stating whether the government effectively enforced applicable laws.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Authorities set a national minimum wage at 225 CUP ($9) per month. The government supplemented the minimum wage with free education, subsidized medical care (daily wages are reduced by 40 percent after the third day of a hospital stay), housing, and some food. Even with subsidies, the government acknowledged that the average wage of 767 CUP ($31) per month did not provide a reasonable standard of living.
The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workweeks in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The law provides workers with a weekly minimum 24-hour rest period and one month of paid annual vacation per 11 months of effective work. These standards apply to state workers as well as to workers in the nonstate sector, but they were seldom enforced in the nonstate sector. The law does not prohibit obligatory overtime, but it generally caps the number of overtime hours at 16 hours per week and 160 per year. The law provides few grounds for a worker to refuse to work overtime below these caps. Compensation for overtime is paid in cash at the regular hourly rate or in additional rest time.
The government set workplace safety standards and received technical assistance from the International Labor Organization to implement them. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security enforced the minimum wage and working-hours standards through offices at the national, provincial, and municipal levels, but the government lacked mechanisms to enforce occupational safety and health standards adequately. No information was available about the number of labor inspectors. Reports from recent years suggested there were very few inspectors and that health and safety standards frequently were ignored or weakened by corrupt practices.
According to government statistics, more than 593,000 workers (34 percent of whom were women) were self-employed through August, a 9.7 percent increase from 2016. The percentage of the total workforce in the private sector increased from approximately 25 percent in 2012 to 31 percent at the end of 2017. In August 2017 the government suspended the issuance of new licenses for certain activities in the lucrative hospitality sector. On December 7, the government enacted new regulations for the private sector that significantly increased state control and red tape, imposed harsher penalties, and increased the tax burden on private business. Businesses operating under the license of “facilitator of home swaps and home sales-purchases” are no longer allowed to operate as real estate or dwelling management companies or to hire employees. This is also the case for music, art, or language teachers, other teachers, and sport trainers. The new rules also forbid the creation of schools or academies. They are particularly restrictive for the cultural sector, forbidding artists from dealing directly with the private sector, i.e., avoiding the intermediation and supervision of state-run agencies. The number of economic activities allowed to self-employees and small private businesses decreased, mostly by merging and regrouping activities.
Despite criminal penalties for doing so, a significant number of workers participated in the informal economy, including individuals who actively traded on the black market or performed professional activities not officially permitted by the government. There were no reliable reports or statistics about the informal economy.
Foreign companies operated in a limited number of sectors, such as hotels, tourism, and mining. Such companies operated via a joint venture in which the government contracted and paid company workers in pesos an amount that was a small fraction of what the company remitted to the state for labor costs. Most formal employment took place only through government employment agencies. Employers, including international businesses and organizations, were generally prohibited from contracting or paying workers directly, although many reportedly made supplemental payments under the table. The Ministry of Labor enforces labor laws on any business, organization, or foreign governmental agency based in the country, including wholly owned foreign companies operating in the country, joint-stock companies involving foreign investors operating in the country, the United Nations, international NGOs, and embassies. Cuban workers employed by these entities are subject to labor regulations common to most state and nonstate workers and to some regulations specific to these kinds of entities. Government bodies, including the tax collection agency and the Ministry of Finance and Prices, enforced regulations. There were no reports about protections for migrant workers’ rights.
Official government reports cited 3,576 workplace accidents in 2016 (an increase of 92 compared with 2015) and 89 workplace deaths (an increase of 18 compared with 2015). The government reported in April that, although statistics showed a decrease in labor-related incidents every year, deaths related to roadside work and the agricultural and industrial sectors had increased. The CTC provided only limited information to workers about their rights and at times did not respond to or assist workers who complained about hazardous workplace conditions. It was generally understood that workers could not remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect workers facing this dilemma.