Cuba

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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.

There were no confirmed reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities, but there were numerous reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were temporarily unknown because the government did not register these detentions.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners. There were reports, however, that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, political dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners also endured physical abuse by prison officials or by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards.

There were reports of police assaulting detainees or being complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators (see section 2.b.). Ivan Hernandez Carrillo of the Independent Union Association of Cuba reported police severely beat, kicked, and punched him during his arrest on March 25.

On October 31, Radio Marti reported two political prisoners were beaten while in police custody. Alberto Valle Perez was beaten by fellow inmates in the Holguin prison. Zacchaeus Baez, coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Havana, said Valle Perez told his family prison guards ordered other inmates to beat him. On October 27, officers of the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana beat Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez. According to Baez, guards sprayed pepper spray in Figueroa’s mouth while he was handcuffed and later took him to a solitary confinement cell.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions continued to be harsh. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports of prison officials assaulting prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The government provided no information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, including prisons, work camps, and other kinds of detention facilities.

Prison and detention cells reportedly lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the government provided some food and medical care, many prisoners relied on family for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.

Prisoners, family members, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported inadequate health care, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners also reported outbreaks of dengue, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. There were reports of prisoner deaths from heart attacks, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.

Political prisoners were held jointly with the general prison population. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms were denied certain privileges, such as access to prison libraries and reductions in the severity of their sentence (for example, being transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison). Political prisoners also reported fellow inmates, acting on orders from or with the permission of prison authorities, threatened, beat, intimidated, and harassed them.

Prisoners reported solitary confinement was a common punishment for failure to comply with prison regulations, and some prisoners were isolated for months at a time.

The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

Administration: Authorities did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners reported government officials refused to accept complaints or failed to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although several political prisoners’ relatives reported prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits or denied visits altogether. Some prisoners were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and family members.

Authorities allowed prisoners to practice their religion, but there were isolated reports authorities did not inform inmates of their right to access religious services, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits by religious groups to a maximum of two or three times per year.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Although the government pledged in previous years to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, no visit occurred during the year.

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.

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.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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.

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.

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