CUBA: Fidel Castro’s human rights legacy: A tale of two worlds

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29 Nov 2016
[International Secretariat]
Region: CUBA

Fidel Castro’s achievements in improving access to public services for millions of Cubans were tempered by a systemic repression of basic freedoms during his time in power, Amnesty International said following the death of the former Cuban leader.

"There are few more polarizing political figures than Fidel Castro, a progressive but deeply flawed leader," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

After his accession to power following the 1959 revolution in Cuba, Castro oversaw dramatic improvements in access to human rights such as health and housing. This was accompanied by an unprecedented drive to improve literacy rates across the country.

"For this, his leadership must be applauded. However, Fidel Castro’s forty nine year reign was characterised by a ruthless suppression of freedom of expression,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Over the years, the organization has documented hundreds of stories of those who dare to speak out against the Cuban government’s policies and practices and who were detained by the government solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Repressive tactics used by the authorities have changed in the last years with fewer people sentenced to long-term prison for politically motivated reasons, but repression takes new forms in today’s Cuba, including the wide use of short-term arrests and ongoing harassment of people who dare to publish their opinions, defending human rights, or challenging the arbitrary arrest of a relative.

The government continues to limit access to the internet. Only 25% of the Cuban population is able to get online and only 5% of homes have internet access.

Upon establishing his provisional government in 1959, Castro organised trials of members of the previous government that resulted in hundreds of summary executions. In response to an international outcry and amid accusations that many of the trials were unfair, Castro responded:

"Revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction... we are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it."

Cuba retains the death penalty for serious crimes although its use declined over the course of his leadership.

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is a tale of two worlds. The question now is what human rights will look like in a future Cuba. The lives of many depend on it,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

26 November 2016

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