Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the Bureau
of Public Affairs
December 15, 2003
The Dream Deferred: Fear and Freedom in Fidel's Cuba
"We look forward to a world founded on four essential human freedoms. The
first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world. The
second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere
in the world. The third is freedom from want--everywhere in the world. The
fourth is freedom from fear--anywhere in the world."
-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941
A Cuban man runs desperately to reach a raft leaving Cuba. AP Photo
During the 1940s, democracy--and the economy--flourished in Cuba. In 1940,
Cuba had adopted a constitution considered one of the most democratic and
progressive in the region. Presidential elections almost universally
regarded as free and fair took place in 1940, 1944 and 1948. By the 1950s,
Cuban health care was the envy of the region, with infant mortality rates on
a par with the United States and Canada, and superior to such countries as
France and Belgium. Cuba's rate of 128 physicians and dentists per 100,000
people in 1957 placed the nation at the same health care level as the
Netherlands and ahead of the United Kingdom and Finland. The 1950 UN
Statistical Yearbook rated Cuba third among Latin American countries in per
capita daily caloric consumption.
Literacy rates were among the highest in Latin America, surpassed only by
Chile and Argentina. Cubans had a free public education system from
kindergarten to university. Cubans had an 8-hour workday, peasant farmers
received land rights under an advanced land reform program, and university
access was widely available. Women formed a significant percentage of the
Cuban judiciary, the diplomatic service, and municipal officers. The 1940
Constitution had extended social security, provided equal pay for equal
work, protected individual and social rights, and outlawed the "latifundia"
plantation system of land ownership. According to UN statistics, in 1958
Cuba ranked fifth in the region in per capita GDP, outpaced only by regional
powerhouses such as Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.
This promising advance toward the Cuban dream of freedom and material
well-being was suddenly halted in 1952 when former President Fulgencio
Batista found himself running third in the polls for the presidential
elections scheduled for that year and decided to take the matter out of the
hands of the voters. The Batista coup met with widespread opposition within
Cuba, including that of political parties, unions, businessmen and students.
Those opposed to Batista's dictatorship-which grew more brutal and
repressive as the 1950s progressed-called for a return to the 1940
Constitution, to assurances of civil liberties and free elections. Indeed,
this also was the platform of the July 26 Movement, headed by Fidel Castro
and a small band of guerrillas who became a symbol of the widespread
rejection of Batista's regime.
When Batista suddenly fled Cuba on New Year's Day 1959, a triumphant Cuban
population eagerly awaited the restoration of civil liberties and free
elections. The Cuban economy had weathered the political repression
surprisingly well, remaining the envy of Latin America. Fidel Castro,
capturing the sentiment of the moment, promised the eager population an
early return to democratic elections and the restoration of civil liberties,
forswearing any personal ambition to hold public office.
What the Cuban people instead got in Fidel Castro was a regime that
conducted the summary trials and executions of thousands; suppressed
political opposition; closed independent media outlets; ended independent
economic activity; and made itself an economic dependency and military agent
of the Soviet Union.
Today, Cuba, shorn of Soviet subsidies, is one of the poorest countries in
the hemisphere. The country ranks last among the countries examined in the
1950 UN report-its citizens have less access to critical cereals, tubers,
and meats than they had in the 1940s. And almost 44 years after Fidel Castro
assumed power, the Cuban people still dream of free elections, freedom of
expression, and the economic and political rights they once fought so hard
Castro's War on Freedom
Freedom of Expression and of Speech
"Ideas have a price, which you will now have to pay."
--Cuban Government interrogators, to one of the 78 men and women
arrested in a 2003 crackdown on human rights activists and journalists.
Ideological conformity in Cuba is imposed at the cost of an elaborate and
pervasive system of undercover agents, informers, and neighborhood
"committees" who detect and suppress dissent. Police and state security
officials regularly harass, threaten, and otherwise abuse human rights
advocates in public and private as a means of intimidation and control.
Freedom of expression and the press are protected only insofar as they
conform to the aims of socialist society. Independent voices can and have
been arrested on charges as vague as "dangerousness," defined in the Cuban
Penal Code as a "special proclivity of a person to commit crimes,
demonstrated by his conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized this as a
subjective criterion used to justify violations of individual freedoms and
due process for individuals whose sole crime was to hold a view different
from the official view.
The government tightly controls distribution of information within Cuba,
including access to the Internet, and reinforcement of revolutionary
ideology and discipline is emphasized over any freedom of expression. All
print and electronic media are considered state property under the control
of the Communist Party, and independent journalists and librarians are
subjected to arbitrary and periodic detentions, harassment, and seizure of
equipment and books. Cuban citizens have no access to foreign magazines or
newspapers, since many such mainstream publications are outlawed as enemy
propaganda, as is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under the 1999
Law to Protect National Independence and the Economy, anyone possessing or
disseminating "subversive" literature faces possible prison terms as long as
...The government has detained, summarily judged, and sentenced more
than 70 human rights activists and independent journalists. These sentences
range from 6 to 28 years in prison. The vast majority of those sentenced are
promoters and organizers of the Varela Project, a citizens' initiative
supported by the constitution, which collected more than 11,000 signatures
from Cuban citizens. A year ago, we presented these signatures to the
National Assembly of Popular Power, asking for a referendum. In this way
Cubans could decide to make changes to the laws to guarantee fundamental
The majority of the peaceful opposition representing multiple
organizations and ideologies-Liberal, Socialist, and Christian
Democrat-support this initiative.... The day before the war in Iraq started,
the Cuban regime initiated a terrible campaign of repression creating total
uncertainty on the island. Peaceful activists were accused of conspiring
against the independence and territorial integrity of the nation. However,
none were found to possess arms, subversive plans, or secret information.
All their actions were public and consisted of writing their ideas,
defending human rights, and promoting the Varela Project.These are the
prisoners of the Cuban Spring. Their lives and ours are in danger....
They are trying to impose a false dilemma: continue the current
political system without rights or face intervention from the United
States.... We do not want or accept either of these alternatives. We do not
want intervention and we reject all violence. We want peaceful change toward
We Cubans also have rights to our rights. I appeal to you in the
name of spiritual unity of free men, that has as its north star the right to
life, liberty, justice and self-determination of the people. I appeal in the
name of those who support the peaceful struggle....
--Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas, Winner of the 2002 Andrei Sakharov
Prize for Freedom of Thought. Excerpt from "A Calling from Cuba," Havana,
May 1, 2003
"We know the risks we are taking. The risk is even in our homes. The
government knows what we do and it watches. They know our lives better than
--Omar Rodriguez Saludes, Photographer. Sentenced to 27 years in
prison for photographing "places that, because of the state they were in,
gave a distorted image of Cuban reality, and he sent them to be published in
the foreign, mainly counterrevolutionary, press." Sentence 8/2003, Tribunal
Provincial Popular, Havana, April 5, 2003
A Partial List of Charges Brought Against Cuban Dissidents
* Buying toys for disadvantaged children with money from a Miami
group; accepting the Hellman/Hammett Award from the non-governmental
organization Human Rights Watch. Victor Arroyo, 52, journalist, 26 years in
* Maintaining ties to the international non-governmental organization
Doctors Without Borders; visiting prisoners and their families. Marcelo Cano
Rodriguez, 38, medical doctor, 18 years in prison.
* Forming the "illegal" and independent Teachers College of Cuba and
criticizing the Cuban education system. Juan Roberto de Miranda Hernandez,
57, 20 years in prison.
* Speaking on a radio program about the Cuban economy. Oscar Espinosa
Chepe, 62, journalist, 20 years in prison.
* Being paid for articles on Cuba and the Cuban system. Ricardo
Severino Gonzalez Alfonso, 53, journalist and correspondent for Reporters
Without Borders, 20 years in prison.
* Associating with Amnesty International and other international human
rights organizations. Marcelo Manuel Lopez Banobre, 39, tugboat captain, 15
years in prison.
* Associating with the International University of Florida; having a
typewriter, fax, and books in his home. Hector Fernando Maseda Gutierrez,
60, engineer and physicist, 20 years in prison.
* Having "subversive" labor-related books and magazines in his home.
Nelson Molinet Espino, 38, independent trade unionist, 25 years in prison.
* Having "aggressive and corrosive" leaflets and literature in his
home, putting pro-democracy posters on the street, not paying dues to the
official union, having an issue of the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald at
his workplace. Felix Navarro Rodriguez, 49, journalist and educator, 25
years in prison.
"...he directs an opposition group of so-called 'human rights,'
carrying out activities and meetings, using our national flag and showing
posters asking for freedom for political prisoners and prisoners of
conscience, in a frank challenge to the judicial, political, and social
system." --Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, 51, farmer and activist, sentenced to 21
years in prison. Sentence 1/2003, Tribunal Provincial Popular, Pinar del
Rio, April 5, 2003
"Informing others objectively and professionally and writing my
opinions about the society in which I live cannot be a very serious
crime.... No one, no law will make me believe that I have become a gangster
or a delinquent just because I report the arrest of a dissident, or list the
prices of staple foods in Cuba...."
--Raul Rivero Castaneda, Miami Herald, February 25, 1999. Sentenced
to 20 years in prison.
Mandatory exit permits restrict the travel of citizens; denial of such
permits is used to punish human rights and political activists, and even
ordinary citizens seeking lawful emigration. The government stifles possible
emigration or asylum claims from medical mission "volunteers" sent abroad by
holding their families hostage in Cuba.
"Amnesty International is particularly concerned at what
appears to be a deliberate policy...on the part of the authorities to force
dissidents into exile abroad, without the right of return, by threatening
them with imprisonment if they do not do so.... Amnesty International is
calling on the Cuban authorities to...guarantee to all Cuban citizens their
rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly; to cease to
imprison, confine, or force into exile those who attempt to peacefully
exercise such rights...."
--Excerpts, "Dissidents Imprisoned or Forced into Exile,"
Amnesty International, July 1, 1996
Journalist Jose Eduardo Barella: "Why are you still free?" Paya: "I could
be arrested at any time. The correct question should be, why were dozens of
people arrested and convicted, without bombs or subversive plans having been
found on them? Their crime was to have demanded their rights and expressed
their opinions." Barella: "Why have you not gone into exile?" Paya: "Here
in Cuba we do not ask why you left, but why you wanted to stay. The choice
to stay is in fact a danger and a suffering for my family. But this is where
God placed me, and my commitment is to stay in my country and with my
people." --Excerpts, telephone interview with Oswaldo Paya, published May
21, 2003, Sao Paulo Veja, Brazil
Freedom of Every Person To Worship God in His Own Way
Despite a constitutional separation of church and state and the right of
citizens in Cuba to profess and practice any religious belief, the Cuban
regime actively controls and monitors the country's religious institutions.
Churches and other religious groups must formally register and obtain
official recognition. In practice "new," denominations or faiths are refused
registration and subjected to harassment, official interference, and
repression. Construction of houses of worship is generally prohibited, and
"illegal" worship in private homes is punished by evictions.
The Ministry of Interior engages in active efforts to control and monitor
the country's religious institutions through surveillance, infiltration and
harassment of religious professionals and practitioners. Government
officials continued to prohibit church-affiliated education and the sale of
computers, fax machines, and photocopiers to unregistered churches.
Officials limit media access for religious leaders and deny prisoners access
to reading materials including Bibles.
"Many of our brothers turn to the church in Cuba asking for a word
of encouragement, because there is a vague but generalized fear regarding
the future among the Cuban people. The time has come to pass from an
avenging state that demands sacrifices and settles scores to a merciful one
that is willing to first extend a compassionate hand instead of imposing
controls and punishing infractions."
--Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, Pastoral
Letter of February 25, 2003
"October 24, 2002 - Provincial authorities in Sancti Spiritus
confiscated the home of a Cuban house church pastor, claiming it had been
purchased illegally. Despite a large, clamorous crowd of church members and
neighbors protesting the confiscation, police forced the pastor, his wife
and two children out of the home and all of their possessions were hauled
"March 5, 2002 - Baptist Christian Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva was
arrested in Ciego de Avila for protesting the treatment of a journalist who
was hospitalized after being attacked by police. A blind human rights
leader, Gonzalez also directed an independent Christian library, which was
raided by police March 10."
--International Christian Concern (ICC)
Freedom From Want
"There is an ethical problem regarding the distribution of wealth
[in Cuba].... Although school and health care are free, wages in general do
not cover the cost of living.... Professionals and workers who do not
receive economic assistance from relatives abroad are forced to engage in
some other type of legal or illegal activity besides their jobs. What
effort, but also what a great worry, how many fears and inquietude of
conscience....The faithful ask: Is it a sin to act thus when our expenses
surpass the possibilities of our family economy?"
--Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, February 25, 2003 Pastoral Letter
on the 150th Anniversary of the Death of Father Felix Varela
The absence of economic freedom has been as destructive to prosperity as the
absence of political freedom to human dignity. Amid the luxury of segregated
tourist resorts and markets where only those with dollars can shop, Cuban
families can find it difficult to even feed themselves. On an average salary
equivalent to less than $10 a month and with little on sale for pesos, the
average Cuban must scramble to survive, stealing from his or her workplace
or even resorting to prostitution. The underemployment of a creative and
educated population, coupled with almost total control of the "legal"
economy by the centralized state bureaucracy, fuels a massive "illegal"
economy. Buying and selling meat and produce, fish, milk, herbs, and baked
goods outside official markets is generally illegal, as are unofficial
repairs and professional services.
Even those Cubans fortunate enough to work in the tourist industry or for a
foreign company are allowed to keep only 5 to 10 percent of their earnings.
The rest is appropriated by the government, in clear contravention of
international standards. Those who displease the authorities - perhaps
through voicing dissent, or through attempts at immigration, or by
publishing accurate economic statistics - face the loss of their jobs and
even access to food and basic services. Those who dare to organize
independent unions outside the government's control suffer retaliation. The
workers' paradise is a paradise lost.
Cubans expected more than just the overthrow of a bloodthirsty and
corrupt tyrant. They expected political democracy, freedom of expression,
freedom to gather, a mixed economy, a parallel strengthening of private
enterprise and the state, better education and health care. They got some of
these things. But they also got a repressive government that ignored basic
human rights.... It shouldn't have been this way. Castro seemed...poised to
deliver the free land his people desired. He had the support of the world's
artistic and intellectual communities.
... the persecution of dissidents might have been tolerated as an
outgrowth of the revolutionary rhetoric if only Castro had delivered on the
economy. But his economic revolution was disastrous. Cuba's enormous
strengths-its vast and intelligent human capital, its unexploited natural
resources and fertile lands-were sacrificed to stupid and exotic dogmas....
In the name of a crazed egalitarianism, the nation's cities were denied
products from the countryside. Without incentives, farmers stopped
producing.... On the wings of dogma, small businesses died.
...Cuba's economic woes extend beyond U.S. sanctions: the country
had come to rely heavily on multimillion dollar subsidies from the Soviet
Union... it has had to turn back toward the economic engines of the Batista
years: tourism and prostitution.
--Carlos Fuentes, Author, "Cuba's Paradise Lost," Los Angeles Times,
April 20, 2003
Freedom From Fear
The men and women of Cuba who dare to seek a better future and peaceful
democratic change--in a nation they still love and will not abandon--pay a
high cost for their courage. Human rights and political activists are
harassed by police or face staged "acts of repudiation" by neighborhood
Those who are imprisoned face further indignities. As reported by Human
Rights Watch in "Cuba's Repressive Machinery," many Cuban political
prisoners spend months in isolation cells. Cuban police or prison guards
often heighten the punitive nature of solitary confinement by blocking light
or ventilation from a cell, removing beds or mattresses, seizing the
clothing and belongings of prisoners, or further restricting already meager
rations of food and water.
Due to the lack of sanitation and medical services in prison, many inmates
have either developed serious health problems or experienced worsening of
preexisting ailments. While serving his sentence, economist Oscar Espinosa
Chepe lay on the verge of death after denial of medical treatment for liver
cirrhosis and hypertension. Only after intense international pressure did
Cuban authorities transfer him to a prison hospital.
Several inmates, including Victor Rolando Arroyo and Oscar Elias Biscet
Gonzalez, continue to protest human rights injustices from within prison
walls, despite retaliatory transfers to tiny punishment cells.
"State Security is isolating me. I am prohibited from sending
letters or communicating with some members of my family.... I am aware that
giving publicity to this document will create serious problems for my wife,
my family and myself. But no one, no man can change my opinion about
liberty, human rights and other beautiful things God gave us when He created
us.... I was a healthy man. Today I am a sick person, growing worse with
time.... The world must know of the numerous cells with cement beds
resembling tombs where men are placed for two or three months until they
become mentally insane. I have heard two or three of them, crying at night,
asking for help and psychotropic medication. The only answer given by prison
authorities - 'Why did you look for trouble?' "
--Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, Letter from Prison, Holguin, Cuba, May
On April 11, 2003, after a 3-year hiatus in executions, the government -
citing "serious provocations" and an alleged migration crisis - summarily
tried, convicted, and shot three young Cubans involved in an unsuccessful
and bloodless hijacking. The three, all Afro-Cuban, were arrested, tried,
and shot in the course of a week.
"The men were given a summary trial, and their appeals ... were
dealt with in a cursory and wholly inadequate manner. They were shot and
killed less than a week after their trial began."
--Amnesty International, "Cuba-Executions Mark An Unjustifiable
Erosion in Human Rights," April 14, 2003
"The recent executions and summary condemnations of Cuban dissidents
have shocked even some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Fidel Castro's
--Professor Demetrio Magnoli, University of Sao Paulo, April 30,
"The blindness, confusion, arrogance and-senility?-surfaced in the
Cuban leader, and Fidel Castro committed the most serious mistake of his
life: he ordered the execution of three citizens over the mere fact of
trying to flee the island to Miami.... At the end of the road, Fidel Castro
is destroying his legacy, trampling his own history, in what seems to be the
decline of Cuba's patriarch."
--Hoy of Quito, Op-Ed "The Decline of Cuba's Patriarch," April 17,
The World Speaks Out
"The peoples of the United Nations have...reaffirmed their faith in
fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person...."
--Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
"Democracy is a condition for the full and effective enjoyment of
human rights and fundamental freedoms."
--Article 7, Inter-American Democratic Charter
Since 1945, the United Nations and regional organizations have worked to
create a world where fundamental freedoms and human dignity were respected.
The Organization of American States (OAS) upheld those principles in the
2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, setting out the hemisphere's shared
values and the mechanisms to strengthen and defend values such as respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms, rule of law, and the democratic
order. For over 40 years, however, Cuba has moved against that current,
manipulating international fora to justify its open defiance of
international law and rejection of even the mildest and most constructive
criticism. But the world is silent no longer.
"The EU, deeply concerned about the continuing flagrant violation of
human rights and of fundamental freedoms of members of the Cuban opposition
and of independent journalists, being deprived of their freedom for having
expressed freely their opinion, calls once again on the Cuban authorities to
release immediately all political prisoners."
--Statement from the Greek Presidency of the EU, June 6, 2003
"France deplores the Cuban Supreme Court's confirmation of the
sentences of dozens of dissidents, which is the culmination of a procedure
in which the rights of the defense failed to be respected from the very
--French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Herve Ladsous, June 24, 2003
"[Cuba's actions] concern us deeply from the point of view of our
human rights position, and they will clearly have an effect on any decisions
that our country makes."
--Mexican Foreign Minister Derbez, Reforma, April 3, 2003
"...We cannot allow our deep connection with everything that comes
from Cuba to cloud our vision and prevent us from seeing the true
--Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacios, EFE, Madrid, July 1, 2003,
"Spanish Minister Condemns 'Very Serious' Rights Violations in Cuba"
"We must say that we hoped for change, we hoped that El Maximo would
have had the courage to open Cuba to democracy...and we were wrong. The
closed fist of Fidel, full of the flies of rhetorical populism whose buzzing
filled the gulags with cadavers, continues to strike defenseless people."
--Fides News Service, the Vatican, April 26, 2003
"Cuba won no heroic battle by shooting these men, but lost my trust,
destroyed my hopes, cheated me of illusions...from now on, Cuba can follow
its own course, and leave me out."
--Jose Saramago, 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, Excerpt from "Ate
Aqui Chegue," May 1, 2003
"During the past month, Castro's regime has orchestrated the biggest
wave of repression Cuba has seen in the past 10 years.... All of this
repression is taking place while the country is in the grasp of one of the
most severe economic crises...thousands of people are living in misery. It
is only natural that they ask for changes and improvements. But once more,
Castro uses force to repress them."
--Fernando Madrinha, Associate Editor, Le Devoir, Ottawa, April 18,
"For over 40 years, the situation in Cuba has been one of a
systematic violation of basic human rights... Castro's regime deserves to be
clearly condemned, as has been done repeatedly in the past with less extreme
cases. The [UN High Commission on Human Rights] resolution passed... would
make sense if the accused government had any intention of cooperation with
the UN... But Cuba did not allow an observer last year and will not allow
one this year either, which renders the resolution ineffective."
--Miguel Guerrero, Journalist and Former Press Minister. El
Mercurio, Santiago de Chile Editorial "Not Enough in Geneva", April 24, 2003
"The Czech Republic should exploit all possibilities to express its
disapproval of human rights violations in Cuba, and together with the U.S.
Congress and European Union countries, support the use of appropriate
measures to influence the Cuban Government."
--Czech President Vaclav Klaus, April 22, 2003
Denied or Deferred?
"What happens to a dream deferred?" --Poet Langston Hughes
The dream of a free and prosperous Cuba--the island paradise of Cuban
national hero Jose Marti's hopes--is far from dead. The voices of freedom
cannot be drowned out by the threats of a frightened regime. The machinery
of repression has tried to quiet those voices, but in vain. Years of
deception cannot hide the truth, either from the people or the international
The United States salutes the people of Cuba in their continuing struggle
for simple freedoms and human rights. This nation pledges support for a
peaceful transition to the democratic dream and a new age in which every
Cuban has true freedom and can at last enjoy the dream-deferred but not