HAVANA, Jul 6 (IPS) - A decrease in the number of prisoners held for “political motives” in Cuba—down from 333 to 316 “documented” cases over the last six months—is “insignificant,” says a local opposition organisation that issues weekly reports on human rights.
Both figures differ from the tally published last week by another dissident group, the National Coordination of Political Prisoners. Aida Valdés, CNPP president, told a press conference that political detainees now number 347.
But Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) representatives played down these statistical differences Wednesday, pointing out that the fact remains that “more than 300 hundred people have been imprisoned or detained for reasons directly or indirectly related to their politics.”
The CCDHRN, headed by Elizardo Sánchez, did agree with Valdés’ assessment that police pressure is likely to heat up in the months leading up to the 14th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, to take place in Havana Sep. 11-16.
“The Commission believes this meeting is highly unlikely to have any positive impact on the human rights situation in Cuba,” reads one CCDHRN report.
Although no names are mentioned, the report includes some generalised finger pointing, claiming that “many” of the leaders who attend these meetings “have all but stamped out freedom and have committed (or turned a blind eye to) horrific crimes against their own people.”
The Non-Aligned Movement encompasses 116 countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America—the majority developing nations. To date, 60 heads of state have confirmed their participation in the Summit.
“Now we’re seeing signs that the government may be about to tighten the thumbscrews by stepping up ‘pre-emptive’ repression to prevent incidents and social unrest during the Summit,” said the text.
The CCDHRN warned that “barring a miracle, the international community should prepare, at least in the short term, to receive nothing but bad news in the areas of civil, political and economic rights in Cuba.”
The Fidel Castro administration does not usually react to this kind of report, which it considers part of the hostile campaigns “orchestrated and paid for” by the United States—the regime’s main ideological enemy. At the same time, the Cuban government maintains that it has one of the cleanest human rights records in the world.
The CCDHRN report, signed by Sánchez and Carlos Menéndez, notes that the organisation is asking London-based Amnesty International to add another imprisoned 20 dissidents to the non-governmental organisation’s list of 81 Cuban “prisoners of conscience.”
As in previous editions, the document includes a partial list of 316 detainees who are serving time or awaiting trial. The group says almost every case was confirmed by reliable sources.
The text also mentions the well-known cases of dissidents jailed between July 2005 and June 2006 on charges that range from disrespecting the head of state, disobedience and illegal departure from the country to dangerousness and resistance.
According to the report, authorities have “not done anything to effectively improve the harsh conditions in the imbalanced prison system, ” that includes “between 200 and 250 prisons and work camps.”
It also painted a picture of squalid, overcrowded prisons that, among other problems, expose inmates to malnutrition.
In contrast, a thick official report on human rights in the country, distributed in March by Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, states that some 40 percent of all prisoners are held in open facilities, free of fences and other security measures.
The official document also states that the prisoners are fed adequately (no fewer than 2,400 calories per day), consume potable water and can also receive food and other basic supplies in family visits.
In other issues, the CCDHRN noted that between 40 and 50 people are facing the death penalty, which has not been applied in this Caribbean island nation since the April 2003 execution by firing squad of three Cubans who hijacked a ferry carrying dozens of passengers in an attempt to reach the United States.
“It is obvious that the Cuban government justifies retaining the punishment of execution by firing squad as a way of teaching a lesson or deterring serious crimes, even though the civilised world have long recognised that it does not work,” it said.
The Commission has been seeking legal status in Cuba since 1987. In 1990 the organisation received the Inter American Press Association Freedom of the Press award, and in 1991 the International Award from the New York-based Human Rights Watch organisation.