Reporting from Mexico City — Restrictions on civil liberties in Cuba are still harsh since President Raul Castro assumed power from his ailing brother, Fidel, three years ago, Human Rights Watch said today.
Authorities have jailed scores of dissidents, protesters and others, often through the use of a “dangerousness” provision that allows the detention of Cubans on suspicion that they might break the law in the future, the rights group said in a report.
Human Rights Watch said its 123-page report, “New Castro, Same Cuba,” is the first broad look at human rights conditions in Cuba since Fidel Castro handed power to his younger brother on a temporary basis in 2006. The older Castro formally stepped down as head of state in February 2008.
Human Rights Watch said liberties remain severely curtailed despite hopes among activists that new leadership in Cuba would end Cold War-era limits on dissent and the media. In particular, it said Raul Castro has made heavy use of the “dangerousness” law.
“Cubans who dare to criticize the government live under constant fear since they know they could end up in prison just for expressing their opinion,” Jose Angel Vivanco, the group’s Americas director, said in a statement issued with the report in Washington.
Nevertheless, the rights group said the United States should lift its 47-year-old embargo on travel and trade with Cuba, calling it a costly failure. It urged more targeted pressure to improve human rights conditions.
“No longer would Cuba be able to manipulate the embargo as a pretext for repressing its own people,” the report said.
President Obama has adopted a more conciliatory posture toward Cuba than his predecessor by easing rules restricting travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans. But Obama renewed the embargo as a way to pressure the Cuban government to enact political reforms.
There was no immediate reaction to the report from Cuba, which in the past has denied holding political prisoners and accused foes abroad of stirring discontent in order to topple the socialist regime.
Despite restrictions, bloggers manage to post critical reports from Cuba and some bands perform songs taking aim at the government, though they are kept off the airwaves.
A survey released this week by the International Republican Institute found pessimism rising among Cubans since Raul Castro officially became president. Fewer than one in five respondents said things were going well, and two-thirds said they didn’t believe their government would solve the worst problems, which include low wages and food shortages, according to the survey.