20.             Since publication of the last Annual Report, for 2002, the IACHR has made an exhaustive evaluation of the human rights situation in Cuba.  The IACHR notes that the situation of civil and political rights in Cuba has deteriorated substantially as a consequence of the events transpired on March of 2003.


21.             On March 18, 2003, Cuban authorities began a week-long crackdown on human rights activists and independent journalists that culminated in the arrest of about 100 activists. They were all taken to the offices of the Department of State Security and subjected to long interrogations and other types of psychological torture.[15] After these interrogations, 73 of the 78 detained human rights activists were charged under Law 88 and Article 92 of the Cuban Penal Code. To these 73 cases were added two more involving two activists who had already been arrested several months earlier: Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and Jesús Muestafá Felipe. The Prosecutor General of the Republic of Cuba filed motions with the Court requesting sentences that ranged from 15 years in prison to the death penalty in some cases. Summary trials took place starting April 3, 2003, without allowing any time for the defendants’ families to mount a proper defense. Many of the activists were assigned counsel by the State itself. None of the accused was acquitted (although during the hasty trial it was not possible to demonstrate the guilt of any of them with the evidence presented by the prosecution). The 75 persons were sentenced to prison terms of between 6 and 28 years. At this time the 75 human rights activists remain confined in a “maximum lockdown” in punishment cells with limited family visitation (once every three months) and in many cases no access to medical or religious assistance. In addition, most of the prisoners were moved to facilities far removed from their homes.


22.             The IACHR was also told that the remaining five detainees were charged, and four of them were already tried. One of them is still awaiting trail, without having appeared before a judge. These cases are: a human rights activist in Matanzas, Miguel Sigler Amaya, sentenced to six months in prison on March 26, 2002 for contempt, and on April 2, 2003 to 20 months in prison for disobedience and recalcitrance; a human rights activist couple from Guantánamo, Jorge Rafael Benítez Chui and Migdalia Hernández Enamorado, sentenced on September 18, 2003 to four and two years in prison respectively for contempt and assault; an activist from the Varela Project in Las Tunas, Francisco Godar Meriño, sentenced to two years and six months in prison for contempt; and an activist from the Isle of Pines, Rafael Millet Leiva, awaiting trial.


23.             A large number of detainees, tried and sentenced during the wave of repression, were the Cuban citizens who promoted the Varela Project.[16] In 2002, citing Articles 63 and 88[17] of Cuba’s Constitution, a group of Cuban citizens called “Todos Unidos [All United],” representing more than 140 organizations and coordinated by Osvaldo Payá Sardiñas, presented a petition with 11,020 signatures to the General Assembly of the People’s Power asking for a constitutional referendum to introduce substantive changes in the law.  The Varela Project petitions the National Assembly for a referendum on the amendments needed in the laws, preserving the general welfare and respect for human rights.[18] The Cuban authorities’ initial response a few days after the “Varela Project” was presented was a nationwide mobilization in which 800,000 signatures were collected to declare the Cuban Constitution and the socialist system irrevocable.  The Commission was also told that prominent notables from the peaceful opposition who signed the Varela Project petition, like Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, Elizardo Sánchez, Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, Osvaldo Payá Sardiñas—coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement—,Héctor Palacios Ruiz, and Pedro Pablo Álvarez, were arbitrarily arrested. Cuban authorities confiscated their documents and personal belongings and temporarily prohibited them from leaving the country.


24.             Subsequently, several members of the Citizens’ Steering Committee for the Varela Project received a document from the National Assembly of the People’s Power, delivered to family members or neighbors, taking advantage of the absence of the activists to whom it was addressed. The document is a distortion of the proposal of the Varela Project, disguised as an official response to the demand for a referendum. Advocates of the Varela Project answered this document with a letter summoning authorities to publish the contents of the project so that Cuban citizens could form their own opinions. The letter also transmitted a report of repressive acts against the signers of the Varela Project.


25.             The Varela Project was followed by repressive acts by the Cuban State against its sponsors and the Cuban citizens who supported it. On February 18, 2003 the Provincial People’s Court of Santiago de Cuba sentenced two members of the Citizen’s Steering Committee of the Varela Project in the Contramaestre area to 18 months in prison. Jesús Mustafá Felipe, 58, and Roberto Montero, 32, were tried for alleged crimes of contempt and resisting arrest. The accusations and charges stemmed from heated clashes with the political police, acts of repudiation against the home of Jesús Mustafá Felipe, as repressive measures to halt the civic effort of these advocates of the Varela Project. Other members of the Christian Liberation Movement were arrested on the same day so they could not attend the trial. On February 13, 2003 a member of the Citizens’ Steering Committee of the Varela Project in the city of Santiago de Cuba, Vicente Díaz Espinosa, was threatened with application of Law 88 by agents of the political police, receiving an official citation from State security.


26.             Also in January 2003, a report by the Christian Liberation Movement confirmed that Agustín Cervantes García, José Alberto Castro Aguilar, and Yunier Santos de la Cruz were being held in Mar Verde Prison in Santiago de Cuba, and Raumel Vinajera Stivens was in custody in Boniato Prison in the same province. All were arrested without just cause and awaiting trial because they were members of the Christian Liberation Movement and advocates of the Varela Project. On January 15, 2003, Cuban Republican Party activist Roberto Oliveros Rodríguez was harassed by agents of the “Rapid Response Brigades” in front of his home in the city of Santiago de Cuba. Demonstrators screamed obscenities at him and warned him to leave the country. The activist was promoting the Varela Project among the people and a campaign urging his neighbors to abstain in the general election of January 19, and authorities wanted to muzzle his activism. That same month Yunier Santos de la Cruz, a member of the Christian Liberation Movement and activist on behalf of the signature campaign for the Varela Project, was arrested and taken to Mar Verde Prison in Santiago de Cuba to complete his compulsory military service, which he had decided to quit because of the cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment at the hands of the police, which he had denounced.


27.             The IACHR was also told that Roberto Valdivia Hernández, delegate of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and representative of the Citizens’ Steering Committee for the Varela Project in Ciego de Ávila, was visited on October 1, 2003 at his home by officials of Carlos González and Fernando, State security agents, who told him they would not permit any more meetings of the opposition group he led, and that he would be charged under Law 88 for the alleged crimes of subversion and illicit association, which would send him to prison for 10 years. The officers told the activist that the Varela Project is “a counterrevolutionary hotbed” and that all activists of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights would receive an official warning. In addition, officers visited the following activists: Guillermo Rodríguez Duarte, Sergio Aguiar Cruz, Magalys García, Ismael Borroto, and Emilio Martín Morales. On September 23, 2003 young Roger Rubio Lima, a second-year art student, was expelled from the Jose Martí Pedagogical Institute in the city of Camaguey for having signed the Varela Project.


28.             The IACHR must express its deep concern over the facts cited above, because Cuban authorities’ intolerance of any form of political opposition remains the main constraint on participation and it has become even more onerous because they have termed their present regime “irrevocable” following the presentation of the Varela Project. Several constitutional provisions that this Commission has indicated violate Cuba’s international obligations give a mantle of presumed legitimacy to the State’s repressive action against peaceful opponents, human rights activists, and independent journalists, who are punished with stiff sentences for attempting to exercise their rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association. The Constitution imposes a serious restriction on the rights and freedoms of persons under the State’s jurisdiction when it stipulates in Article 62 that:


No freedom given to the citizenry shall be exercised against the provisions of the Constitution and the laws, or against the existence and purposes of the Socialist State, or against the Cuban people’s decision to build socialism and communism.  Any violation of this principle shall be punishable.


29.             This Constitutional provision establishes legal grounds for censorship, since the State alone has the authority to determine whether the right to freedom of oral or written expression, the right of association, the right of assembly and the other rights recognized in the Constitution, have been exercised in a manner contrary to the existing political system. In addition to the right to freedom of expression, Cubans’ right to information is seriously limited because there are no independent media. A group of independent journalists has emerged in recent years. However, their work has seen daily restraints through temporary detentions, disciplinary confinement, harassment, searches, seizures of equipment, etc. That has severely limited and/or restricted their work. 


30.             Finally, the IACHR learned that in the early hours of April 11, 2003, the Cuban State executed Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, convicted of hijacking a launch in Havana Bay and taking its passengers hostage.


31.             The persons executed had reportedly been tried by the State Security Crimes Section of the People’s Court of the city of Havana. The Court applied the extremely summary proceedings envisioned in Articles 479 and 480 of the Penal Procedure Code. The trial began on April 5 and ended on April 8. The Court sentenced the three persons for the crimes of terrorism prescribed in Law 93 against Terrorist Acts, of December 24, 2001.  The three condemned men reportedly appealed to the Supreme People’s Court. According to the official information, the Supreme Court conducted a new trial at which the sentence was upheld. When the capital sentences were routinely referred to the Council of State, it said “the courts’ sentences were completely just and strictly pursuant to law.” According to the official note, the Council considered the seriousness of the crimes and the potential threat that the convicted men represented to the lives of innocent persons and to national security.


32.             On April 16, 2003, the IACHR issued a press release condemning the executions carried out by the Cuban State, noting inter alia that “[i]n its recent report on Terrorism and Human Rights, the Commission showed that the imposition of the death penalty is only valid pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court and in accordance with a law establishing such punishment, enacted prior to the commission of the crime. The imposition of this penalty is subject to strict procedural requirements and a rigorous control of the minimum guarantees of the right to a fair trial, which are fundamental. These requirements include, among others, the presumption of innocence, the right not to be convicted of an offense except on the basis of individual penal responsibility and the right to be judged by a competent, independent and impartial court in accordance with applicable international law previously established by law. They also include the following procedural guarantees for the accused of crimes that carry the death penalty: the right of prior notification in detail of the charges against them; the right to adequate time and means for the preparation of their defense; the right to examine witnesses who testify against them; the right to obtain the appearance and examine their witnesses under the same conditions as those witnesses against them; the right to counsel, after the conviction, about the legal proceedings, or other matters including filing deadlines and the right to an appeal before a superior court. In the opinion of the IACHR, the summary character that followed the judgment against the persons and which concluded with the imposition of the death penalty did not guarantee any of the above-mentioned requirements of due process. As a result, their execution is converted into the arbitrary deprivation of life.”



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[15] Testimony of the Cuban Democratic Directorate to the IACHR at the 118th regular session.

[16] This event is one of the most serious suffered by human rights activists and independent journalists since the days of the plantados históricos [detainees who refused to accept the prison regime].

[17] Article 63. Every citizen has the right to file complaints and petitions with the authorities and to receive the pertinent attention or response within the legally prescribed time period. Article 88(g) Citizens may propose laws. If so, the legislative initiative must have the support of at least ten thousand citizens, all of whom shall be voters.

[18] Mareclino Miyares PhD, The Varela Project and Political Rights of Cubans, testimony before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Washington, D.C., October 17, 2002. Those who signed the Varela Project are petitioning for citizens to be guaranteed “The right to associate freely, in keeping with one’s interests and ideas, so that persons, either individually or in groups, are able to express their ideas, beliefs and opinions by means of the spoken and written word and by any means of dissemination and expression;

The laws that guarantee these rights shall enter into force within no more than sixty days after this referendum is held;

That an amnesty be declared for all those detained, sentenced and incarcerated for political reasons and who have not participated in acts that constituted direct assaults against the lives of other persons. The amnesty law would take effective within thirty days of this referendum;

That amendments be introduced in the law in order to guarantee citizens their right to form private businesses, both individual and cooperative, their right to engage in business activity, which may be either a productive business or service business in which contracts can be made between the workers and the businesses for their operation, under conditions that are just, where no one can profit by exploiting the work of another. These new laws should also guarantee respect for the rights of workers and citizens and the interests of society, and should take effect within sixty days of this referendum;

That the Election Law be rewritten and its new provisions guarantee:

That election districts be determined for elections of delegates to the municipal assemblies, delegates to the provincial assemblies, and deputies to the National Assembly of the People’s Power;

That the voters in each election district carved out for the municipal elections shall themselves elect one delegate to the municipal assembly. A voter may vote for only one candidate for delegate;

That the voters in each election district carved out for the provincial elections shall themselves elect one delegate to the provincial assembly. A voter may vote for only one candidate for delegate;

That a citizen shall be nominated as candidate for the office of delegate to the municipal assemblies, or candidate for the office of delegate to the provincial assemblies, or as candidate to serve as deputy in the National Assembly of the People’s Power, only after he/she gathers signatures in support of his/her candidacy directly from the voters in his/her municipal, provincial or national election district, as appropriate, in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in points 4.A.4, 4.A.4.1, 4.A.4.2  and 4.A.4.3 of this petition;

That the necessary and sufficient conditions that must be met for a  citizen to be nominated as a candidate shall be as follows:

The citizen satisfies the conditions stipulated in Articles 131, 132 and 133 of the Constitution for a citizen to have the right to vote and to be elected to office;

The signatures in support of the citizen’s candidacy are presented to the appropriate authorities no later than thirty days before election day; these signatures must represent no fewer than 5% of the number of voters in the district the prospective candidate aspires to represent. A voter can give this kind of support to only one person aspiring to be nominated for the office of Delegate to the municipal assembly, only one person aspiring to be nominated for the office of delegate  to the provincial assembly, and only one person aspiring to be nominated for the office of deputy in the National Assembly of People’s Power;

The citizen must live in the election district he/she aspires to represent in the municipal assembly; must live in the province he/she aspires to represent in the Provincial Assembly, and in the country if he/she seeks to be nominated a candidate for the office of National Assembly deputy. To be nominated, a citizen must have lived in the country for at least one year prior to the elections;

Voters, those seeking to be nominated, and the nominees have the right to meet in assemblies, provided they respect law and order, to explain their platforms and ideas. Every candidate shall be entitled to equitable use of the mass media;

The new election law, with the terms herein expressed, is to take effect no later than 60 days after this referendum.