The rights to freedom and equality in dignity, inherent in all humans, along with the duty of fraternal conduct (Article 1), are practically ignored as a result of the oppressive totalitarian structure that attempts to control every dimension of social life. Political and economic freedoms are obliterated and will be later examined. Great inequality is clearly present when looking at the leaders of the only political party wielding all power along with its perks but without the great shortcomings of the imposed dysfunctional system.
Likewise, the precept prohibiting discrimination against the individual (Article 2) is violated, institutionally, and in practice. In the former this occurs in an institutional basis when the prohibition of two potential forms of discrimination were left out of the Constitution: namely discrimination due to political ideas and place of birth of the person. Concerning political ideas this situation has created a sort of “apartheid,” permeating all levels of society along those two lines. It prevents and/or curtails opportunities for advancement, as well as the active participation in the direction and functioning of the political, educational, and occupational dimensions of the country, to those not considered politically reliable. Cubans are also discriminated in favor of foreigners, since the former are practically forbidden to use and enjoy what the latter can, in areas such as food, health care housing, transportation-mobility, and recreation.
It is important here to distinguish between Castro’s totalitarian system and the traditional authoritarian dictatorship. In the latter, the dictator mainly controls the military-repressive apparatus, the political structure, and marginally profiting from the economic activity, but it allows the individual a wide margin of neutrality. On the contrary, the totalitarian system goes beyond those categories, attempting complete control on all dimensions (the economic, educational, health, etc.). It also, in practice, penalizes or forbids the possibility of political neutrality. This neutrality will be considered “apathy towards the system.” or “ideological diversionism” It can entail various forms of a penalty such as discrimination in the economic and educational activity, in the long or short term. Among other forms of discrimination is the inability to freely participate in the country’s government (Article 21), since this will be limited to those “integrated to the revolution,’ in other words, to those politically trustworthy by the all-powerful Communist Party.
The Security of the Individual (Article 3) is in constant danger since the individual is completely helpless and defenseless, facing the overwhelming power of what is perceived to be an omnipotent and omnipresent State. The individual who perceives that it is legally impossible to oppose such a powerful entity is left with the alternatives of joining the oppressors, feigning allegiance to it, or trying to flee at any cost.
This omnipresent repressive situation also promotes a state of distrust and constant fear that often reaches the terror level. In practice, it can be said that Cuba is a terrorist state against its own people. This reality also helps explain the prevailing high rate of alcoholism, depression, and suicide, as a form of escapism from the totalitarian repression.
The general state of coercion suggests the presence of a new form of slavery (Article 4). In order to “domesticate” or “tame” those who show some form of actual or potentially rebellious leadership, can be subjected—depending on the circumstances—to all types of abusive treatment, from the traditional physical torture to the much more frequent refined and effective psychological torture. It is designed to break down the detainee, psychologically, and also to significantly hurt his family. Those measures can range from total isolation, losing all notion of time, to a faked execution. Some label this “white terror:” which practically everyone experienced.
For those that have rebelled or have tried to actively oppose the totalitarian trend, if they did not perish in the attempt or were not executed, there has been a long and harsh political imprisonment, unparalleled in the hemisphere. “Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment” (Article 5) has been used at various levels throughout the years in the Cuban “Gulag”. These range from forced labor, not used since colonial times, to confinement in the “drawers” (very small cells where several are locked in). Cuban political prisoners have suffered incredible cruelty, extensive to their families. There are some political prisoners who were imprisoned for over twenty years. Since the late 1960s political prisoners have also the aggravation of not being recognized as such by the regime, in sharp contrast with the past. They are housed with common criminals, thus making their lives more miserable.
There are basically two systems of repression in Cuba: the direct and the indirect. The first one is mostly exercised by the ministry of interior, by way of state security; the National Revolutionary Police (PNR); the Department of Technical Investigations (DTI), and the CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, present at the city block level), and is mostly centered on specific individuals. The indirect repression is not centered on anyone in particular, but applies like a Damocles sword to the population at-large. This is exercised by the repressive nature of the social institutions such as education, labor, the economy, and the media along with the CDRs and all of the ‘Mass Organizations” (MO). This type of control takes place within the totalitarian socio-economic context, bearing in mind that the government is the sole educational and health provider as well as employer, where about 90 percent has depended on the State to earn a living.
State Security takes care of controlling the political dimension, while the DTI and PNR are normally in charge of common crimes, which includes the “economic” type. These entities are, in practice, police and judge, since the detainees sentence has been determined before trial. The CDRs constitute the long arm of those repressive organizations, both for political and common crimes dimensions; spying on citizens’ lives at the city by street/block level. They can meddle in the most minute details of the neighborhood life, including the private lives of citizens, in Orwellian “Big Brother” style.
The MOs attempt to involve as many individuals as possible in an organization. Its ultimate purpose is to promote the complete control of the individual, according to some occupational categories. The MOs start with the pioneers at the elementary school level, followed by the student organization, the labor unions, the Women’s Federation, and the CDRs. Membership in these organizations constitutes a first level of “political-ideological integration,” a requirement for the legal advancement within that society. Also, said organizations constitute another avenue to control even the citizens’ free time. On top of this must be added the Territorial Militia Troops (MTT), which exercise further control over individuals of both sexes, who are coerced into joining his paramilitary structure which will overlap the other repressive mechanisms.
The control of the individual can be better visualized at the educational and occupational levels. The most noticeable indicator of this control effort is found in two instruments, not well known abroad: the Cumulative Academic Record (CAR) and the Labor Dossier (LD). An examination of the CAR (modified recently) shows what looks like a detailed regular academic report card (years 1-12), containing the grades for each subject. But what has made the CAR so sinister (Article 12) are the sections containing the annual evaluation of the “political-ideological integration” of the student and that of his or her parents. It uses a numerical code system as well as a written description. It also inquires on whether the family belongs to a religious group and, if so, to which one. In this evaluation the CAR also probes on whether the student belongs to any MO and his or her level of involvement, assessing this way their revolutionary militancy and ideological trustworthiness. This instrument follows the student through the twelfth grade. This degree of political supervision actually makes the teacher, de facto, an important instrument in the repressive apparatus.
Likewise, the LD evaluates the workers’ performance, emphasizing his/her political behavior, and will follow the worker until retirement or death. This LD also contains the individual’s “merits and demerits,” and “special notations.” Religious activity, failure to attend labor union meetings, and failure to perform “voluntary labor” are examples of “negative” behaviors or “demerits” that are recorded. In both dossiers, the political record is paramount. It may be used, in the CAR, to determine whether the person may continue to higher education and the career path. The LD has been used to determine whether the person may have the right to buy in the past an important item such as a refrigerator, at a lower price, as well as to determine the worker’s career advancement.
In addition to these dossiers there are other inquiries, popularly called “cuéntame tu vida” (“tell me your life”), used for work applications and other purposes. A great deal of information regarding an individual’s personal life, including his political views is probed here.
It can be deduced from the previously stated facts that freedom of conscience and religion (Article 18) have been severely trampled on in Cuba. At best, there is relative freedom of worship, but not religious freedom, due to the constraints imposed on the religious denominations in terms of their operation. Religious practice was confined to the churches, since public manifestations (processions) had been rigorously prohibited until recently, when this restriction was relaxed. There has been a systematic and indirect repression in which discrimination has been applied against laypersons who are publicly committed to the faith. This has been applied to priests that don’t “behave properly,” in terms of being critical of the system. Religious services have been undermined in many ways. No Catholic churches have been built since 1959, and the government has made difficult the repairs of the existing ones, particularly in the interior of the country. Suspiciously, theft or damage to churches used to take place with virtual impunity, and great hypocrisy. In this way temples have been deprived of vital materials, very difficult and costly to replace. These actions have also promoted great fear within the faithful.
Clergymen have been harassed in various ways. They have been defamed or harshly criticized through the media, in movies and newspapers, portraying them in the worst possible image. There has always been an effort to create internal strife among the faithful communities. Likewise, there have been efforts to entrap the priest/minister in some sexual or common crime issue, to be used for blackmailing at the right time. There have also been mass and forceful expulsions, like the 131priests and other religious clerics in 1961, along with systematic harassment designed to coerce other clerics (male and female) into leaving the country “voluntarily.” In the case of foreign ministers, according to their behavior, they could be denied a visa renewal. Governmental policy against religion can be summarized in Castro’s own words of the early 1960s when he said that his strategy with religion was to “create apostates, not martyrs.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have been particularly singled out, suffering actual persecution, having their Halls closed, imprisoning its members, and forcibly expelling many, like in the 1980 exodus.
Castro’s government has sabotaged the charitable work of the churches, preventing and making difficult the arrival of humanitarian donations from abroad. It is also known that donations in food and medications, coming mostly from Europe have been sold for hard currency stores to be used in hospitals geared to foreigners and the ruling elite.2 Likewise, a few years ago Caritas, the catholic international humanitarian agency, not legally recognized, tried to import directly powdered milk for free distribution. Not allowed to do so, the Church tried to buy it at wholesale prices, but were not permitted, having to buy it at retail prices at the government-owned “dollar stores.” Currently, they have been forced to give the government a percentage of the donations received. Churches are not allowed the free entrance of ministers and supplies, all subject to strict control by the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party. The Church has had to pay double the price charged to other entities on the special stores where they have to buy items. Churches had also been forbidden to give free medication received from abroad because “the Churches are not drug stores.” Some of these controls have been relaxed in recent time.
Given the nature of the totalitarian system, and what already has been presented, freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19) is nonexistent in Cuba. Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution proclaims absolute power control over the media by stating that “state or social property, can in no case, be private property, thus securing their services for the exclusive use of the working people.
. . .” In practice, and with a great dose of hypocrisy, all the media is an absolute monopoly of Castro and his party.
The right of freedom of education (Article 26) is flagrantly violated. Students can only receive the instruction provided by the Castro government. That instruction is ideologically tainted with political indoctrination in practically every course, besides the special courses in Marxism-Leninism that must be taken at certain levels. Although instructional opportunities (1-12 grades) have been extended throughout the island, this instruction is qualitatively limited by the poor preparation of the instructors.
Beyond high school, education has also been highly conditioned upon the individual’s “political-ideological integration.” This integration has determined whether the individual will be able to pursue the university level, since it is for revolutionaries. Those who are admitted, but lack the “political integration,” most likely will not be able to pursue studies with strong political or social relevance, thus hurting the vocational orientation of the individual. This restriction also occurs at lower levels due to Article 38 of the Constitution, which dogmatically establishes that the goal of education is “the communist formation of the new generations” based on the “scientific conception of the world, established and developed according to Marxism-Leninism. . . .” In practice, as indicated earlier, all children—as in the former Soviet Union—are members of the Pioneros, designed to further control and indoctrinate on Communist – Castroist ideas from an early age.
Furthermore, the notion of a “free” education is highly questionable since it is contradicted by the fact that students have been forced to perform agricultural work on a permanent or part-time basis. Parents do not have the right to “choose the type of education that best suits their children,” as established in Article 26 of the Human Rights Declaration. Due to the State’s complete monopoly of education, this institution has been a very effective means of indoctrination, control (physically and ideologically) of the student and his/her family. The factual evidence already presented clearly shows that freedom of assembly (Article 20) does not exist. On the other hand, it has been virtually compulsory to join one of the government-controlled “Mass Organizations” under the unwritten penalty of experiencing discrimination in one of the aforementioned forms.
Freedom of cultural activity (Article 27) is curtailed in many ways. This starts at the institutional level with Article 38 of the Constitution, which states that “artistic expression is free as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution.” In practice, since the government controls all media and print shops, this has reached dramatic and even laughable extremes when dissidents’ and exiles’ books and other “dangerous” literature have been withdrawn from circulation. All independent cultural activity is considered illegal. Access to books, films, and other cultural manifestations from other countries has been extremely limited, except to top members of the government elite.
The right of internal movement (Article 13) of Cuban citizens as well as that of free entrance and departure from the country has been systematically violated since 1959. In order for a national to leave the country or re-enter after living abroad, it is necessary to obtain a visa or government permit. Changing residence requires special permission, particularly if the moving is from the eastern provinces to Havana. This measure, in turn, also violates the constitution that guarantees the right to live anywhere in the country.
Article 16 promotes the integrity of the family. These realities seriously undermine family bonds and promote their breakdown. The absence of traditional moral values by the educational system also promotes promiscuity among the young, resulting in the widespread practice of abortion. The great scarcity and poor condition of housing created by the totalitarian policies also contributes to the family crisis, promoting the current very high divorce levels.