Cuba’s human rights record improved slightly in the past year as the government tried to polish its international image, but Havana adopted no structural reforms and continues systematic violations, a human rights group reported Monday.
The report by Human Rights Watch/America also urges Canada and the European Union to demand human rights improvement as they expand commercial contacts with Cuba, and brands the U.S. travel ban as a violation of the rights of American citizens.
“Despite some limited improvements this year, the Cuban government has failed to make the fundamental changes necessary to protect human rights,” wrote the New York-based group. Its executive director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, made a fact-finding visit to Cuba this summer.
“As a matter of policy, the Cuban government continues to violate the rights of freedom of expression, association, assembly, privacy and due process of law, and the country’s repressive legal structure remains intact,” the group said in announcing its report.
“In the absence of real reform, this year’s positive developments may be fleeting,” said the 34-page report.
Titled Improvements without Reform, the report offered little new from past years although its language at times seemed more pointed. Havana’s “justification for repression can be largely encapsulated in three words: The United States,” it said.
Among the improvements, the report noted the release of more than 25 political prisoners, including Sebastian Arcos, and the declining number of prosecutions of human rights activists and anti-government dissidents.
Cuba also allowed two relatively rare visits by independent foreign human rights monitors and signed an international treaty against torture, the report added. Independent organizations of economists, lawyers and journalists have surfaced.
On the negative side, Cuba authorities during the year cracked down on members of the Cuban Human Rights Party, shut down scores of evangelical meeting places known as casas culto and jailed two Baptist church activists in eastern Camaguey province.
A Cuban court sentenced human rights activist Francisco Chaviano to 15 years in prison after an “odd” incident - denounced by his family as a frame-up - and the government continues to deny some dissidents permission to travel abroad, the report added.
Government agents also rounded up or harassed many activists in advance of the “flotilla” staged by Cuban exiles July 13 to mark the one-year anniversary of the sinking of a refugee-laden boat, rammed by a government ship, in which about 40 people drowned.
Officials also continued to arbitrarily detain and harass activists and dissidents, sometimes by repeatedly summoning them to police offices for questioning, sometimes through “attacks by anonymous thugs or collisions with vehicles in suspicious circumstances,” it said.
While written before President Clinton announced new measures on Friday to increase cultural, academic and news exchanges between the United States and Cuba, the report endorsed such openings as being in line with the right to freedom of expression.