OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA
TO FREEDOM OF OPINION, EXPRESSION,
With respect to freedom of opinion, expression, dissemination and
investigation, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man
The Commission, for its part, has referred repeatedly to the exercise of
these freedoms and has condemned the measures by which governments have sought
to restrict them. Thus, denial of
freedom of expression has been considered as a factor which “contributes to
the violations of other human rights”.
The Commission has likewise condemned that use of methods of media
intimidation, as well as the methods that could place the press in a situation
of dependence on the Government with respect to the basic needs for it s
Similarly, the Commission has considered the communications media to be
legitimate “vehicles for political thought’ and has emphasized the need to
avoid any kind of legal text that creates “crimes of opinion”.
this respect, the Commission pointed out in its first report on the situation of
human rights in Chile (1974) that:
The Commission also affirmed:
It is inadmissible that, on the mere basis of upholding and disseminating a certain ideology, a man should become a kind of “untouchable”, whom it is considered legitimate to deprive of the possibility of working, deny him the free expression of his thought and even send him to jail.
This chapter will include an analysis of the freedom of oral and written
expression, as well as artistic expression, and will present aspects linked to
the freedom of investigation and academic endeavors.
As in the other chapters, a presentation will be made first of the
normative system that regulates activities linked to the exercise of the
above-mentioned rights; next, a description will be given of the practice of the
Government of Cuba with respect to the freedom of the press, freedom of artistic
expression and freedom of investigation, based on information available to the
The right to the freedom of expression, the limits within which it is
exercised, and the conditions for its effective observance, are established in
Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution:
law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.
The Cuban Constitution subordinates the exercise of the freedom of
expression “to the objectives of socialist society”.
These are not the limitations that are stipulated in other constitutions,
such as public order, morals and conduct, the rights of others or the
safeguarding of reputations, etc. Limitations
on the exercise of human rights are always essential; what is different—and
decisive—is the perspective from which such limitations are established.
On the one hand, they obey the need to harmonize the exercise of
different rights and thus to guarantee observance of all of them; the role of
the State is to bring about this harmonization in concrete situations,
restricting the exercise of rights only for that purpose.
In the case of the Constitution of Cuba the perspective is otherwise:
it is the exercise of rights which must adapt to the purposes of the
State. On the other hand, it is the
State which limits its actions in the face of the rights of individuals; in the
Cuban case it is the individual who must limit his rights in the face of the
objectives pursued by the State.
Article 52 also seeks to guarantee exercise of the right to the freedom
of expression, in establishing that the “material conditions for the exercise
of that right” arise from state ownership of the communications media, which
under no circumstances may be privately owned “which assures their use at the
exclusive service of the working people and in the interest of society”.
Here again, the Constitution resorts to a statement of doctrinal faith;
the State is the working people and the working people are the
State; State ownership of the communications media provides the basis for the
existence of freedom of expression and its use in the service of working people.
Regulations in the law on the exercise of the right to freedom of
expression obey two fundamental determinants:
on the one hand, the preservation and strengthening of the socialist
State; on the other, the need to suppress any possible criticism of the group in
power. In accordance with this,
Article 108 of the Penal Code establishes:
incitement against the social order, international solidarity or the
socialist State, through oral, written or any other form of propaganda;
drafting, distribution or possession of propaganda of the kind mentioned
in the preceding paragraph.
2. Spreading false news or malicious forecasts designed to cause alarm
or discontent among the population or public disorder shall be punishable by
deprivation of freedom for a period of from one to four years.
3. If the mass media are used to carry out the acts listed in the
preceding paragraphs, the punishment shall be a deprivation of freedom for a
period of from seven to fifteen years.
4. Allowing the use of mass media as referred to in the preceding
paragraph shall be punishable by deprivation of freedom for a period of from one
to four years.
For its part, Article 121 of the Penal Code provides that:
With respect to contempt, Article 160 of the Penal Code establishes:
1. Threats, calumny, defamation, insult, harm or any form of outrage or offense, spoken or written, against the dignity or decorum of a public authority, public employee, or his agents or assistants, in the exercise of his functions or in relation to them, shall be punishable by deprivation of freedom for a period of from three to nine months or a fine of one hundred to two hundred and seventy quotas, or both.
2. If an act listed in the preceding paragraph is committed against the
President of the State Council, the President of the National Assembly of the
People’s Power, members of the State Council or the Council of Ministers or
the Deputies to the National Assembly of the People’s Power, it shall be
punishable by deprivation of freedom for a period of from six months to three
With respect to artistic expression and scientific investigation, the
Cuban Constitution establishes;
State directs, foments and promotes education, culture and science in all their
educational and cultural policy is based on the following principles:
artistic investigation is free as long as its content is not contrary to
the Revolution. Forms of expression
in art are free;
creation and research in science is free.
The State encourages and facilitates investigation and gives priority to
that aimed at solving the problems related to the interests of society and the
well-being of the people.
Although the subparagraph on scientific research is unobjectionable,
since it is a State function to give priority to the development of endeavors in
the social interest, the provision artistic expression is a demonstration of
political intolerance and sets forth the juridical basis for censorship.
In effect, the condition that the content of artistic endeavor not
contradict “the Revolution”, imposes the prerequisite of prior analysis of
that content and a judgment of its compatibility with the current political
process. Therefore, it is a clear
violation of the right to freedom of artistic expression.
Freedom of the Press
The early years of the revolution were characterized by a number of
contradictory acts and statements with respect to its objectives and the means
to achieve them, in particular with reference to the freedom of the press.
In a televised interview on April 2, 1959, Fidel Castro stated:
To persecute Catholics because they are Catholics, to persecute
Protestants because they are Protestants, to persecute Masons because they are
masons, to persecute Rotarians because they are Rotarian, to persecute La
Marina (Diario de la Marina) because it is a newspaper with right-wing
leanings, or to persecute any other the extreme radical right and the other
because it is of the extreme left, is inconceivable to me, no will the
Revolution do so¼
democracy is what we ourselves are doing: respecting
all ideas. When one begins by
closing down a newspaper, no newspaper can feel secure; when one begins to
persecute a man for his political ideas, no one can feel secure.
Nevertheless, in one way or another, many independent newspapers had
already been closed or were threatened with closure, due to pressure from
officials, complaints by Government controlled unions, or attacks in the
official Government newspaper, Revolucion, or that of the Communist
In view of the resistance of the uncontrolled press, and taking advantage
of the influence of the Colegio Provincial de Periodistas de La Havana
(Provincial Association of journalists of Havana), on December 26, 1959, the
members of that body decided to impose on all periodicals the obligation to
include, in the form of clarifications or corrections, criticism of the
editorials or of the news that was not in keeping with the official line of the
The newspapers Informacion and
Diario de la Marina charging violation of the law, took the case to the
Supreme Court, but due to a formality, it was not accepted.
of the magistrates, Miguel Marquez y de la Cerra, in a separate opinion stated:
is my opinion that this measure, particularly in so far as it diverges from
information obtained by cable, limits the editorial judgement of the newspapers,
and constitutes moral injury which in any case would be irreparable, since it
constitutes or could constitute a limitation on the free expression of thought.
A month later, when the newspaper Avance refused to publish such
“clarifications,” claiming the freedom of the press set forth in the Basic
Law, and it was seized violently by a group of employees who sympathized with
the regime, while the public authorities made no effort to impede the takeover.
In fact, Fidel Castro approved what had happened to the newspaper Avance
in a speech, and attacked its director and two of its chief editors, who were
forced to leave the country.
On the allegation that they had had contact with the previous government,
other publications such has El Crisol, Excelsior and El Mundo
were closed, taken over or confiscated. Economic
strangulation was also used to control the press:
the newspaper El pais was forced to close when its clients,
industries and businesses, withdrew their advertising under pressure from
governmental authorities. In the
face of these campaigns instigated by official or semiofficial authorities, only
two large newspapers were able to survive, Prensa Libre and Diario de
la Marina, but on May 10, 1960, the day before the latter published a letter
signed by 300 workers and expressing their solidarity with the newspaper’s
management, an armed group occupied their offices while the police refused to
protect them. A few days later, a
group of communist workers and armed militia men broke into the offices of Prensa
Libre to prevent publication of an editorial which criticized the
Government; the director refused to accept the demand, was threatened and left
without the protection of the authorities, and was forced to seek asylum in the
Embassy of Panama. Forced by
similar events, Bohemia, the magazine with the highest circulation in
Latin America, soon also closed, and its director, who had distinguished himself
in fighting against the Government of Batista, was forced to take refuge in the
Embassy of Venezuela.
Radio and television stations suffered a similar fate.
Station CMQ, the most powerful in the country, was taken over by the
Ministry of Labor on grounds of a labor conflict.
In order to “consolidate the revolution and guide the people”, and
agency called Frente Independiente de Emisoras Libres (FIDEL)
(independent Front of Free Broadcasters) was created, and by various methods
succeeded in subduing the remaining radio and television stations.
The experience acquired by the Cuban leadership in this initial period
and in th years following, until 1975, is reflected in the Party Platform of the
First Congress of the Communist Party, which states in its Preamble that it, the
Platform, was to be “the guiding document for all of the work of the party ¼
its principals ideological instrument and its standard in combat”, and “to
serve as a basis for the work of the Central Committee”.
In the hands of the State, the press thus becomes an “arm for
ideological struggle”. With
respect to the mass communications media, paragraph 105 of that Platform states:
Party shall provide orientation and systematic attention to the mass
communications media and shall promote the enthusiastic and creative
participation of all media workers, relying on communists and the activity of
the union movement, and the unions of journalists and writers, so that radio,
television, the written press and cinema may exercise in an increasingly
effective way their function in the political, ideological, cultural,
scientific-technical and esthetic education of the people.
The functions carried out by the mass communications media in Cuba, and,
in particular, by the written press, can be better understood when linked to the
functions assigned to them by Marxist doctrine and specifically those set forth
by Leninism, which specifies the general postulates contain in that doctrine.
Newspapers are thereby assigned the functions of agitation, propaganda,
organization and self criticism.
These functions presuppose a shared and single conception of political
life, since they are directed at the elimination of sectors that might oppose
that basic conception. Thus,
agitation is part of the ideological struggle and does not necessarily coincide
with the objectivity and veracity at the root of information.
The propaganda function assigned to the press is also consistent with the
unifying vision on which Marxist-Leninist doctrine is based.
According to this doctrine, the press is a channel for educating the
people in this doctrine. Thus, Granma,
the principal newspaper in Cuba, is an agency of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party and a significant part of its content is dedicated to the task
of indoctrination. This newspaper
was conceived on the model of Pravda, organ of the Central Committee of
the Communist Party of the Soviet union, and resulted from the merger of two
preexisting newspapers: Hoy,
controlled by the Communist Party prior to the installation of the current
regime, and Revolucion, an arm of the groups of the Movement of July 26.
Frequent discrepancies between the two newspapers led to the decision to
merge them and adopt the format followed today by Granma.
The press also plays an important organizational role, since it transmits
general and specific viewpoints that facilitate execution of policies of the
Government and the Communist Party.
With respect to the above-mentioned function of self-criticism, concrete
criticism with respect to very specific aspects of daily life in Cuba has been
encouraged in certain periods. This
is a role assumed by the press in order to convey complaints from the base to
the pinnacle of power. Nevertheless,
under no circumstances can such criticism go beyond the limits set by the
requirements of ideological adherence, i.e, they cannot express opposition or
advocate a radical transformation of the regime in power or question higher
authorities with respect to substantive policy.
It should be pointed out that this function of self-criticism, vested in
the press, in general is exercised by high-ranking authorities of the
government, and has only recently begun to be used by the population at the base
of power. It can easily be noted
that the limits of self-criticism will respond at different times to the opinion
of the highest leadership.
Such concrete self-criticism within specific limits is easier to
implement in the written press than in the oral press or television.
In effect, radio and television are directly controlled by the
government, which manages all broadcasting stations in Cuba.
The written press, on the other hand, is more diversified since the mass
organizations, agencies of the state and organs of the Communist Party are
authorized to publish periodicals, with the result that there are now
approximately 100 publications of this kind.
Obviously, the basic standards of ideological conformity are also applied
to these publications, but in any case the limits within which disagreement may
be expressed are comparatively broader that those prevailing in the early stages
of consolidation of the present regime.
In light of the above, the Commission considers that Cuba does not permit
freedom of the press which allows political disagreement, and which is
fundamental to a democratic system of government.
On the contrary, radio, television and the written press are instruments
of ideological struggle, and the “self-criticism” obeys the dictates of the
group in power and serves to transmit messages of that group to eh bottom and
intermediate levels of power.
Freedom of Artistic Expression
It has already been pointed out that the Constitution establishes the
juridical basis to permit censorship in the field of artistic expression;
although in practice this area has also had its high and low points with respect
to government authorities, in general it has been kept under close control.
Statements on this issue have been most ambiguous and intentionally
disconcerting, as a means of maintaining close control while also providing a
wide margin for maneuver: “within
the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing” (Fidel Castro
1961); “It is an error to
identify art and politics; it is a more serious error to separate art from
politics” (Armando Hart, Minister
of Culture, 1982)
The marked dualism that characterizes other areas is also to be found in
this area of national life: on the
one hand, the Government of Cuba has made a concentrated effort to provide the
entire population with the means to allow them to express themselves
artistically; on the other hand, that government has demonstrated intense
intolerance of works of art that might raise questions as to the virtues of the
political system or the correctness of the ruling group.
With respect to the question of the materials made available to the
inhabitants of Cuba, it should be pointed out that a large part of the
corresponding analysis will be presented in connection with observance of social
rights, in particular, the right to education.
In effect, the IACHR considers that analysis of a right by itself,
without reference to the general social conditions that make possible effective
observance of that right in practice, may lead to negative distortions.
The relation between illiteracy and freedom of literary expression
handsomely illustrates the issue of artistic expression;
it is unrealistic to postulate the complete observance of freedom of
literary expression in a social context characterized by illiteracy.
In this respect, it should be pointed out that apart from efforts made by
the Government in literacy campaigns, Cuba has promoted the formation of circles
or “workshops” which facilitate artistic expression and are to be found in
factories, schools, neighborhoods, offices, etc. Nevertheless, the Commission recognizes that it is not in a
position to issue an opinion on how these circles function in fact, due to the
impossibility of visiting the island.
The second aspect mentioned above is the intolerance of the government
toward artistic expression which diverges from the principles of socialism or
denounces the system or its authorities. The
Commission has received testimony that indicate that ideological discrepancy has
been the reason for preventing the publication of some works of art.
This has been facilitated by the fact that all Cuban publishing houses
are in the hands of the State, so that only material approved by the authorities
may be published.
In addition, the Commission is aware that a number of artists have been
pressured in various ways, to prevent them from expressing their social and
political concerns through their art. In
many cases, this has included imprisonment, prohibition from leaving the
country, denial of permission to carry out certain kinds of work appropriate to
their skills and training, etc. These
various forms of pressure have led in some cases to the inhumane practice of
obtaining “confessions”, by which several artists have publicly rejected
past association with certain artistic trends that have been considered
antagonistic to the government in Cuba. On
some occasions, these “confessions” have been made simultaneously with
denunciations of other artists, friends and even spouses, which has been done in
exchange for physical liberty or permission to leave the country.
The result of these intolerant practices is the disappearance of any
trace of criticism of the government or the system from Cuban artists.
At the same time, through use of all of the channels that the government
controls, there has been marked promotion of all works of art that support the
government. Furthermore, this has
been official policy of the government and the Communist Party.
The Commission considers the limitations on freedom of artistic
expression imposed by the Government of Cuba, and the pressures and punishments
to which artists who do not share the official ideology or who disagree with the
political authorities are submitted, reprehensible.
At the same time, the Commission recognizes the efforts made by the
Government of Cuba to create the basic conditions to allow the bulk of the
population to express itself through art; it emphasizes in this respect that,
although extension of the benefits of culture to practically all of the
population is an integral part of the concept of democracy, broad freedom of
expression is also an essential element.
3. Freedom of
Exercise of the right to freedom of research in the sciences is also
closely linked to the situation which characterizes education, which will be
reviewed below. Suffice it to point
out at this point that economic, social and political conditions in Cuba
determines the State’s close control over academic activities in general, and
of research in particular.
The universities of Cuba have no autonomy, and depend directly on the
political decisions adopted by the central authorities.
There are no independent centers in Cuba capable of generating sufficient
economic resources to promote independent research, so that whatever private
centers exist, work in close association with the State or the Communist Party
and at their directions.
These circumstances make it easy for the State to control the content and
product of research, because it orients and assigns priorities as a function of
its concrete interests. This is
reflected in the notable development of “technical” disciplines, which are
directly linked to the political objectives set up by the Government; in
contrast, there has been a considerable decline in the importance attached to
the social sciences and to law within the range of established priorities.
Cit., p 325
Leovigildo, Diario de una traicion:
Cuba 1959, Miami, 1965, p.75
Adolfo G., Nacimiento de un estado vasallo, Mexico, 1966, pp.
de Plataforma Programatica del Partido Comunista de Cuba”, Bohemia,
year 7, No 43, October 1975, p. 28.