A damning new report says the repression of human rights in Cuba has worsened since Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2006. The claims come from the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch.
A Cuban protest group called Ladies in White, who all have husbands, brothers or sons in jail, supports the criticism. “We, the Ladies in White, say things are worse since Raul Castro came to power,” said Laura Pollan Toledo. “There was repression before, but things are far worse now.” In 2003, when Fidel Castro ruled Cuba, 75 dissidents were thrown in prison. 53 of them are still behind bars. Under Raul, 40 more have been arrested for being what’s called ‘a danger to the state’ – a somewhat fluid term which Human Rights Watch says allows Cuba to jail people with impunity. Human Rights Watch paints a picture of an island gripped by fear, where political protestors expect to be arrested at any moment. The dissident blogger Yoanni Sanchez is said to have been picked up last Friday and beaten for nearly half an hour in a car before being released. The report, called ‘New Castro, Same Cuba’, calls for greater international pressure on Castro to free political prisoners, rather than an embargo which it believes wouldn’t work. “Right now there is no effective international pressure on Cuba to improve its human rights situation,” said HRW report co-author Daniel Wilkinson. “What we have, primarily, is simply the US embargo on Cuba.” His criticism was aimed at the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who’s called for an end to the European Union’s Common Position on Cuba. That ties bi-lateral cooperation with Cuba to progress on human rights, and Moratinos believes dropping that link will move things forward. The embargo is supported only by America and two other states. Critics say it’s simply made life even harder for ordinary Cubans. And with his government running out of money, Raul Castro has made the situation worse: potatoes and peas have come off a list of subsidised foodstuffs, forcing people to pay market prices, often black market prices, for their most basic needs.