International News

Human Rights Watch: Cuba More Repressive Than Ever

Cuba has been on a repressive kick since the beginning of a year. After well-known critic Zapata Tamayo died in February, other Cubans took to the streets in protest.

Another one, Guillermo Farinas, is said to be at death's door. The government, in turn, responded by beating some them -- the Ladies in White -- and branding others "mercenaries" of the United States.

The increased crackdown prompted a leading international NGO to go South earlier this year to determine just how intense it was. Surprise, surprise. In a new report, published in the New York Review of Books Sunday, Human Rights Watch says the government is more repressive now than it has been in years.

"More than one hundred political prisoners locked up under Fidel remained behind bars, and Raúl's government had used sham trials to lock away scores more," the report says. "These new prisoners included more than forty dissidents whom Raúl had imprisoned for "dangerousness." Human Rights' report unspools like a Harry Bosch mystery. Journalists Daniel Wilkinson and Nik Steinberg, who actually traveled to Cuba, called it the "most difficult research mission" the NGO has undertaken in years. They traveled the entire island by car and never stayed in a town more than one night.

"The fear we had sensed over the phone was even more palpable on the ground," the report says. But six political dissidents, including several of the writers on our Top Ten Cuban bloggers list, talked to them. One of them, Eduardo Pacheco Ortiz, a former political prisoner, says that despite increased visibility because of the recent protests, most Cubans are still afraid of even talking to dissidents. "These people--for fear of losing their jobs, for fear that [the authorities] will take it out on someone in their family--simply stop talking to me."

It's easy to see why. As the report points out, the Cuban government often jails critics for things as innocent as receiving fax machines -- "used systematically in sending information to counterrevolutionary cells located in Miami" - or medicines -"with the explicit purpose of winning over addicts to their cause."

But it was this part that caught our attention: some dissidents were jailed simply for having access to "websites of enemy publications...[and] counterrevolutionary dailies like the Nuevo Herald, the Miami Herald, Agence France-Press, Reuters, and the American television channel CNN." What gives Cuba, our muckraking stories on Kardashian poop don't get us the counterrevolutionary label? We promise to try harder, lest we be branded CIA spooks.

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Erik Maza