OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA
TO LIBERTY AND PERSONAL SECURITY
1. The American Declaration upholds the right to a fair trial,
liberty and personal security in the following articles:
Article I. Every human being has the right to life, liberty and of the security of his person.
IIV. No person may be deprived of
his liberty except in the cases and according to the procedures established by
person may be deprived of liberty for non-fulfillment of obligations of a purely
individual who has been deprived of his liberty has the right to have the
legality of his detention ascertained without delay by a court, and the right to
be tried without undue delay or, otherwise, to be released.
He also has the right to humane treatment during the time he is in
The problem of arbitrary detention and imprisonment for political
reasons, and of the harsh prison conditions imposed on detainees, has been one
of the chief concerns of the IACHR with respect to Cuba.
This explains why a large part of its previous reports concentrated on an
analysis of the situation of political prisoners, and why two of these reports
have addressed this matter exclusively.
3. Although, in general, the number of detentions has fallen and prison conditions have improved in comparison to the situation that prevailed during the period covered by those reports, serious problems persist with respect to personal liberty and security, which will be studied in this chapter. The first object of analysis will be the legal order governing personal liberty. Next, detention procedures will be presented; this is followed by a review of existing prison conditions for political prisoners; and lastly, some specific problems persist with respect to personal liberty and security, which will be studied in this chapter. The first object of analysis will be the legal order governing personal liberty. Next, detention procedures will be presented; this is followed by a review of existing prison conditions for political prisoners; and lastly, some specific problems are studied, such as that of “re-sentenced” political prisoners, post-imprisonment discrimination, and the situation of some political prisoners who were released as a result of the dialogue between the Government of Cuba and persons of the Cuban community in exile.
Throughout the period under consideration, changes have been made in the
Cuban legal system as it bears on personal liberty, although a large part of
previous legislation remained in force in the early years of the revolution.
After the fall of President Batista, the Constitution of Cuba of 1940
remained in force for a very short period.
It was almost immediately replaced by the Basic Law of February 7, 1959.
In essence, this law granted the highest legislative powers to the
Council of Ministers. On January
30, 1959, the Council amended articles 27, 29, 196 and 197 of the Constitution.
Amendment of these articles suspended a number of guarantees of personal
liberty for a period of 90 days, including the right to appear before a judge
within 72 hours of detention and recourse to habeas corpus.
In practice, the revolutionary courts were legalized.
These changes were made permanent through an amendment to the Basic Law
of November 2, 1959.
The Codigo de Defensa Social (Social Defense Code) of 1938 served
as the basic document for treatment of “political crimes” (Article 161).
Crimes against the security of the state were divided into those that
threaten the integrity and stability of the nation (Articles 128-140); crimes
that endanger peace (Articles 147-155). The
concept of “state of danger” provided the Government legal justification to
apply security measures prior to the potential commission of a crime, and
subsequent to it, restrictions that included detention in work camps and other
The first legislation of the revolution began in the period of the
guerrilla war itself; thus, Regulation 1 of the Penal Code of February 1, 1958,
stipulated that those who had been closely linked to the crimes committed by
former President Batista—military or civilian—would be tried by the military
tribunals of the Rebel Armed Forces. That
principle was subsequently enshrined in the Basic Law of February 7, 1959.
Law 425 of July 7, 1959, set forth the definition of
“counter-revolutionary crimes”, and specified those against the integrity
and stability of the nation and those against the powers of the State, thus
extending their application to sanction those who had been accomplices or who
had provided financial support to counter-revolutionary activities.
Dissemination of subversive propaganda was punishable by up to twenty
years imprisonment. Further laws
enacted in the period 1959 to 1963 dealt with confiscation of the property of
“counter-revolutionary criminals”, and instituted the death penalty for acts
of sabotage and terrorism, and imprisonment of conscientious objectors.
Theft, fraud and embezzlement of public funds were defined as
The 1971 Law later provided that violators could be sentenced to up to
two years of forced labor. In 1973,
in the course of the reorganization of the judicial system, new procedural
legislation was enacted, and the additional legislation of 1974 (Law 1262)
amended Law 425, broadening the articles on illegal exit from the country and
establishing severe penalties for acts of violence, airplane hijacking, and
assassination. In addition,
restrictions on freedom of expression were tightened, including punishment of
oral and written propaganda against the socialist regime, as well as spreading
of rumors and false information that tended to “cause alarm or discontent
among the population”. Likewise,
severe penalties were established for illegal entry into places outside of Cuban
The relative stability achieved by the Cuban political process and the
broadening of the legal formulas drafted by it, made it possible to promulgate
the Constitution in 1976, which was soon followed by the above-mentioned entry
into force of the Penal Code and the Code of Penal procedure.
These two legal instruments set forth the rules that govern the exercise
of the rights analyzed in the Chapter.
Article 57 of the Constitution refers to the right to a fair trial, to
personal liberty and security under the following terms:
can be arrested except in the manner, with the guarantees and in the cases
prescribed by law.
person under arrest or in prison is inviolable in his personal integrity.
Other legal provisions elaborate on the Constitution in this matter.
With respect to illegal detention and the inviolability of personal
integrity, Article 241 and following, of the Law of Penal Procedure establish
the necessary procedures. For its
part, Article 245 provides that the police may not detain a person for more than
twenty-four hours without advising the Instructor de Sumarios (an
official who carries out judicial and police functions) and that the latter,
within seventy-two hours, shall release the detainee or turn him over to the
Within seventy-two hours of receipt of the report of the Instructor de
la Policia (Police Investigator), the Prosecutor must nullify the detention,
take a precautionary measure or decree provisional imprisonment of the detainee.
Among the precautionary measures are the setting of bail or house arrest.
In the following seventy-two hours, the Court that has jurisdiction over
the case must confirm or nullify the measure adopted by the Prosecutor.
It should be pointed out that in theory, the law allows for a detainee to
remain in prison for a week without appearing before a judge or court competent
to hear his case. In the opinion of
the Commission, this is an excessively prolonged period.
Preventive detention is permitted in cases of conduct contrary to
socialist principles, defined as “state of danger”, and including
“practice of sanctionable social vices” and “anti-social conduct”.
Pre-criminal security measures may, however, also therapeutic and
rehabitational treatments, sanctions which may again lead to internment for
forced psychiatric treatment or in labor camps.
The circulation of dangerous information is related to threats against
“international peace” (Article 121 of the Penal Code).
In addition, membership in unregistered organizations, meetings, and
illegal demonstrations is punishable by three years of imprisonment, and
perpetrators of these acts may be sentenced to up to 9 months imprisonment
(Article 23 of the Penal Code). Finally,
several crimes are punishable by the death penalty, not only in the case of the
criminal acts against another person but also if they “cause serious injury,
or homosexual acts using violence or the intimidation of minors (under 16 years
The system of detention that has been described in published testimony
and in that available to the Commission make it possible to establish a pattern.
Detentions are normally carried out individually; massive detentions took
place in periods of extreme repression but this is not currently the rule.
There were cases of massive detentions, e.g., following the Bay of Pigs
invasions, when authorities were obliged to requisition the baseball stadium of
Matanza, the Fort of la Havana, convents, public buildings and private
residences in Santiago and Havana.
There have been numerous denunciations of detentions carried out with
excessive forcefulness and threats, although, in general, without unlawful
brutality, or ransacking and looting. The
homes of several persons who testified before the Commission were searched and
in some cases personal effects were confiscated.
According to the oral and written statements received by the Commission
and written denunciations indicate that these persons have been interrogated by
security forces, without the presence of an attorney, for prolonged periods of
time or until they were ready to make a confession, and that
at no time were they informed of their rights, neither at the time of
detention or in the course of interrogation.
This problem will be analyzed in greater detail in the following chapter.
The Commission on previous occasions has dealt with the situation of
political prisoners in Cuba. In the
six reports prepared to date, the Commission has pointed out the conditions to
which political prisoners in Cuba are subjected in violation of the American
Declaration; two of the reports addressed this matter exclusively, and one of
them included the treatment of women who are political prisoners.
Definition of “political prisoner”
It is difficult to define with precision the actions that Cuban
authorities have defined as “counter-revolutionary crimes”, since
interpretations thereof have undergone significant changes in the first two
decades of the Cuban revolution. In
general, different kinds of prisoners are included:
members of the Armed Forces and the Security Forces of the overthrown
President Batista, who were tried in the early months of 1959 by special
Revolutionary Tribunals, and who were given sentences that ranged from execution
to prolonged detention; members of political organizations, such as the July 26
Movement, who participated in the armed struggle against Batista and who later
actively opposed the approach of Fidel Castro to the Communist Party; leaders of
uprisings, including those planned by exiles abroad; leaders of the old
Communist Party and other veteran Marxixts who were often victims of purges as a
result of their opposition to the Government in various political situations.
In addition, the category of political prisoners includes journalists,
writers and artists imprisoned for acts considered to violate the freedom of
expression; priests, clergymen and members of religious congregations, due to
conflicts with the Catholic Church that began at the end of the first year of
the revolution. The Baptist Church was dealt a severe blow with detention of two
if its U.S. ministers and of 40 other preachers of that religious group, accused
of using religion as a front for carrying out activities against the regime.
Many members of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced for refusing to
comply with the requirement of obligatory military service or to accept national
symbols such as the flag and the national anthem, and it is believed that a
large number of them have served short prison terms.
Illegal migrants have also been imprisoned, since exit restrictions
resulted in the arrest of thousands of persons; and finally, persons of no
particular political profession who only stated disagreement with the regime,
for which they were deprived of their liberty.
The functions assigned to the Committees for the Defense of the
Revolution and the zeal with which those functions have been carried out has
already been described.
In accordance with the content of previous reports and the information
currently available to the Commission, prison conditions have varied in
different periods. Whereas a general improvement might be discerned in broad
terms, such improvement is accompanied by polarization and differentiation among
detainees who have accepted the rehabilitation plan and those who have not done
so (“plantados”), resulting in an extremely harsh fate for the latter.
From the triumph of the Cuban revolution until the middle of the nineteen
sixties, prison conditions were very deficient.
Even bearing in mind that the revolution inherited obsolete and wretched
prisons that date back to the period of Spanish demoniation, this in itself
cannot justify what has been denounced as deliberately severe and degrading
treatment. Denunciations concerning
prevailing conditions in the Fortaleza La Cabana, Castillo El Principe, the
model prison of the Isle of Pines and to a lesser extent those of Guanajay,
Guanabacoa and Baracoa describe serious violations of human rights. Testimony given to the Commission denounced the prohibition
of the receipt of any kind of medicine on the pretext of preventing “hoarding
and speculation”; books and other reading material were totally prohibited for
prolonged periods; severe restrictions were placed on family visits and personal
mail was intercepted for prolonged periods of up to five years; and both extreme
crowding and long periods of solitary confinement were reported.
More concretely, conditions in Fortaleza La Cabana were terrible:
the sleep of prisoners was often interrupted by violent inspections.
Some prisoners were kept in solitary cells for periods of over one year
for having shown defiance to their wardens.
The twelve underground cellblocks, with no natural light and poor
ventilation, lodged a population of detainees several times that held in the
past. It has also been pointed out
that at the beginning of the current regime mass executions by firing squads
were carried out at La Fortaleza; at times, 20 to 25 executions took place per
week, and up to 27 in a single night. The
conditions at Castillo El Principe have been described in similar terms and it
is estimated that of 8,000 prisoners, approximately 1,000 were political
prisoners. Unexpected night
inspections finally led the prisoners to riot.
The four circular prisons on the Isle of Pines together held 7,000
prisoners, (each originally had capacity for 870 detainees).
According to testimony, inspections were also frequent, the physical
integrity of prisoners was violated, and they were insulted and severely
punished with beatings, solidarity confinement, and deprivation of food and
water. In general, food was
considered to be of very deficient quality and scarce, medical attention was
poor and letters were limited to one per month and visits to one or two per
In 1961 the Cuban Government introduced the principle of rehabilitation,
which included obligatory political indoctrination.
It is estimated that in the mid-sixties only 20% of prisoners of the
island accepted that program. This
led to introduction of the “Special Camilo Cienfuegos Plan” to break the
resistance of prisoners and force them to accept rehabilitation.
The plan consisted essentially of forced labor; those categorized as
“dangerous persons” were forced to labor long hours in the marble quarries.
Intense pressure to accept rehabilitation marked the second period,
during which the structure of the penal and educational system of the revolution
became more organized. The closing
of the isle of Pines prison in 1967 marked the gradual beginning of the process
of closing most of the former detention centers and construction of modern
prisons. This period is characterized by greater polarization in the
treatment of political prisoners; on the one hand, there were those who
persisted in opposing the process and, on the other, those who accepted
rehabilitation. Labor in the open
camps, practically unsupervised, would lead the latter to liberty through self
regeneration and re-adaptation to life in the new society.
Special agencies would be entrusted with their full return to society.
Although most political prisoners came to accept the so-called
“re-education”, to a large extent as the result of the coercion to which
they were subjected, a persevering minority continued to refuse it, and this
minority became the focus of attention of the IACHR.
The conditions endured by the so-called plantados (intransigent
prisoners) have been repeatedly denounced by the Commission.
In 1967, definition of the status of political prisoners became a major
issue when authorities ordered all detainees, without distinction, to wear the
blue uniform of common criminals, claiming that this measure was an integral
part of the “Plan for Reeducation”. Relatives
were not permitted to send clothes to those who refused to accept the new rule,
and their original yellow uniforms were forcibly taken from them.
Nevertheless, they preferred to remain in their underwear and were
subjected to reprisals and punishment by prison officials.
Faced with this deterioration in their situation, the “plantados”
reacted with prolonged hunger strikes that forced the Government, in 1968, to
re-issue the yellow uniforms. The
confrontation, however was to continue. The
maximum security prison of Boniato, which held many of the “plantados”,
became a symbol of severe and degrading treatment. In addition, that same year a group was transferred to the
“gavetas” (small lockers) of Tres Maceo and San Ramon, where three persons
were squeezed into each cell, where there was no room to move about, and this
small space also served as their toilet. In
1970, it was apparent that the overwhelming majority of prisoners accepted
rehabilitation. Even so, between
10% and 20% of the prisoners persisted in rejecting it; some of these were the
only ones that were not granted the governmental pardon of 1980 and they were
kept in prison after serving the entirety of their sentences.
With the introduction of the “Progressive Plan” in 1971, labor
without the indoctrination program was offered as an option, and this
alternative divided the “plantados” into two groups:
the most radical who opposed any compromise and remained in their
underwear (“plantados en calzoncillos”) and those who also refused to work,
but who wore the yellow uniform.
The alleged severe conditions and maltreatment have been extensively
denounced by the prisoners themselves and their families through information
smuggled out of the prison establishment, and following their release and exile.
There is a pattern to the treatment: interruption of mail and visits, in
some cases for years; deficient medical attention, especially since many of the
prisoners were weakened by frequent hunger strikes and became chronically ill or
invalids (in some cases this led to the death of prisoners, as was reported in
the cases of Luis Alvarez in 1967 and Pedro Luis Boitel in 1972); poor
ventilation and crowded cells; or alternatively, long term incomunicado
detention, at times in rat-infested places; deprivation of food as punishment,
and the withholding of medicine.
Women “plantadas” also complained of harsh treatment including
coercion, incomunicado detention and deficient medical attention.
Attention is drawn unparticular to the "tapiadas”, locked in
hermetically sealed cells with welded doors with a slat at the bottom to pass
through food; hard labor on farms, threats and beatings.
Reference is also made to the inadequate transportation conditions
between various detention centers. The
policy itself, which requires the frequent transfer of prisoners from one prison
to another, was frequently interpreted as an attempt to prevent them from
establishing ties of friendship and developing an esprit de corps.
These transfers have also been considered additional punishment, not only
because of the deplorable conditions of the transfer itself, but also because of
the additional difficulties it entailed for the families of political prisoners
in visiting them.
Furthermore, there have been denunciations of physical confrontations
between prisoners in 1971, 1972, and 1975, which in 1975 resulted in
the death of some inmates.
Until the beginning of the nineteen eighties, there was continual
pressure on the plantados to wear the blue uniforms, even in the final
stage of their detention. According to the statements of one source, “the government
is giving them a choice: either
they wear the uniform as the last requirement before release, or they face the
possibility of being sentenced again to another prison term”.
In general, symptoms of violence reemerged during the prisoner’s final
period in prison.
“Resentences” political prisoners
In its Sixth Report on the Situation of Political Prisoners in Cuba, the
IACHR expressed its concern about a legal order which “permits a sentence to
be extended without due process¼” The Commission continues to receive such complaints and is
unaware of the revocation of such laws which permitted of political prisoners to
be re-sentenced on the grounds of their being in a “state of dangerousness”.
Testimony recently received by the Commission indicates that resentenced
political prisoners are submitted to particularly harsh conditions, especially
those in the Boniato prison. This
gave rise to a further hunger strike in October, 1982.
The Commission has received testimony in which it is stated that former
political prisoners are the victims of discriminatory treatment once they have
been released. In this regard, it
has been pointed out that their documents are stamped (a triangle with the
inscription CIRP) to identify them as former prisoners.
This causes problems in obtaining supplies by use of ration cards,
appropriate housing and, especially, employment. The Commission has been
apprised of the particularly harsh Conditions to which former women prisoners
were subjected in the period prior to their release.
The Commission considers that treatment of former political prisoners by
Cuban authorities violates their rights as human beings; it considers that this
discriminatory treatment prolongs in time, through other forms, the punishments
to which they may have been subjected while deprived of their liberty.
The Commission therefore urges the Government of Cuba to give released
persons, who have been detained for political misconduct, the same living
conditions as are granted to persons of equivalent professional standing, and
not to subject them to any form of discrimination by virtue of having served a
sentence for political reasons.
Political Prisoners released as a result of the Dialogue
In 1966 Fidel Castro stated that his Government stood ready to consider
the possibility of releasing the large majority of political prisoners if there
were a relaxation of tensions in the relations between Cuba and the united
States. Having obtained what the
Government of Cuba considered to be a positive change in that respect,
approximately 3,600 political prisoners were pardoned in 1979, in the framework
of a broader dialogue held between the Cuban Government and representatives of
the Cuban community in exile. Many
of the released prisoners left Cuba after obtaining exit permits from Cuban
authorities—a commitment undertaken by Cuba in the course of the dialogue—as
well as the corresponding authorization of the country where they wished to
relocate. The Government of the
United States, according to background information in the possession of the
Commission, also undertook to allow entry to the released political prisoners
who wished to relocate in its territory.
While former political prisoners and their immediate families were in the
process of relocating abroad, a number of events took place which led to the
suspension of the concession of emigration visas that had facilitated entry into
the United States of many released political prisoners.
According to reports in the hands of the commission, the number of former
prisoners affected reaches 1,500.
The Commission recognizes and values the efforts that led to the release
of political prisoners in the course of 1979, while also stating its profound
concern at the suspension of the process of relocation of
large number of these prisoners. In
this light, the Commission requests the Government of the countries involved to
adopt the pertinent measures to allow entry into their countries of the
political prisoners released as a result of the dialogue who wish to do so;
likewise, it also urges the Government of Cuba to prevent this group of former
prisoners from being subjected to official discrimination that prolongs, under
other forms, the punishment entailed in their previous deprivation of liberty.
International Commission of Jurists,
“Cuba and the Rule of Law”, Geneva, 1962, pp.78-112.
“State of danger” is defined in
article 76 of the Penal Code in the following terms:
“The special proclivity of a
person to commit crimes, demonstrated by observed conduct manifestly
contrary to the rules of socialist ethics is considered to be a state of
“Anti-social conduct”, for
its part, is defined in article 77, subparagraph 7:
“Persons who violate or
jeopardize the rules of socialist coexistence, or who violate the rights of
others or frequently disturb the order of the community, through acts of
violence, or speech, or acts, or through other provocative or threatening
means are considered to be in a state of danger by virtue of anti-social
See Chapter VI of this report.
On the other hand, conditions for those
who chose rehabilitation and for common criminals clearly improved.
They participated in various labor projects, particularly in
construction, and conditions changed to the point that the Cuban Government
pointed to them as exemplary models in comparison with the penal systems of
other countries. In 1974, with
the closing of the remaining old prison such as la Cabana and El Principe,
and with the termination of the Combinado del Este close to Havana in 1975,
a new cycle of environmental planning began. In order to understand the function of these new detention centers, mention should be made of the
nature of the “Progressive Plan.”
plan could work with respect to political prisoners, with the exception of
the elements of re-education and obligatory indoctrination.
Prisoners are remunerated monthly on a par with other laborers,
although apparently they work longer hours, and a small sum is discounted
from wages to cover the cost of their food, clothing, etc.
Depending on the category of the prisoner, they are allowed regular
visits from family members and the privilege of spending weekends in their
homes. Labor is performed in
specially equipped centers adjacent to the new “combinados” (combined
security centers), and in many cases these centers produce prefabricated
components for construction. Nevertheless,
many are lodged in open prison camps (open fronts), where security is
minimal and prisoners often work on construction projects.
The Commission has drawn up the following
list of resentenced political prisoners on the basis of denunciations and
testimony: Acosta Lozada, Julio
E. Artiles, José; Barco Gómez, José M.; Cabrera Torres, Héctor; Capote
Rodríguez, Eduardo; Crespo, Ezequiel; Chanes de Armas, Francisco; Dominguez
Luna, Julian; Duque Fabelo, Augusto; Farra Serrano, Angel D; Garcia Delgado,
Eugenio; García Fuentes, Rolando; García Rodríguez, Gilberto; González
Rodríguez, Pedro; González Ruiz, Juan de Dios; guzman Marrero, Basilio;
Hernandez Cruz, Manuel; Hernandez Padilla, Antonio; Hernandez Ruiz, Ismael;
Infante Jiménez, Servando; Lara Gallo, Luis; López Fernández, Pablo R; López
Rojas, Narciso; Martínez Carrala, José; Martínez (Montey) Hernandez,
Pedro; Montes de Oca Gil, Sergio; Moreno Melo, Magno; Martínez Peréz,
Gerardo; Mirrabal Rodríguez, Santos; Martínez Roque, Wilfredo; Napoles
Miranda, Rodolfo; Neyra García, Benigno; Noble Alexander, Humerto; Novo
Alvarez, Alejandro; Palomeque Bussier, Ernesto; Pérez Barrios, Cleto; Perez
Cruz Jesus; Pérez Montanez, Aristides; Pino González, Manuel del; Prado
Fernández, Alejandro G; Ramos González, Rene; Ramos Molina, Fabio; Riveros
Millares, Rolando; Rodríguez Barrientos, Silvino; Rodríguez Rodríguez,
Isidro; Ruiz Sanchez, Eladio; Santana Alvarez, Jesus; Santana Camejo, Pedro;
Sánchez Arango, Jesus; Sánchez Garcia, Abraham; Suarez Gonzalez, Rafael;
Trujillo Pacheco, Rafael; Valdes Camejo, juan F; Valle Pina, Juan; Valle
Vilardel, Raúl del; Vásquez Robles, Rafael; Vásquez Rosales, Enrique;
Young Martínez, Armando; Zamora Chirino, Remberto y Zayas de la Paz,