What Next for Cuba after Castro?

Scovia Aweko

Fidel Castro

Since the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, there has been much speculation over how the issue of human rights in Cuba will change. Castro left behind a legacy of human rights abuses, ranging from limits on freedom of expression to the use of firing squads to silence opponents.

Amnesty International recorded a relentless campaign against those who dared to speak out against the Cuban government’s policies and practices. Over the years, the organization had documented hundreds of stories of so-called “prisoners of conscience”: people who were detained by the government solely because they peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

Repressive tactics used by the authorities changed in the last years of Castro’s regime with fewer people being sentenced to long-term prison for politically motivated reasons, but the control of the state over all aspects of Cuban life remains a reality. Repression has taken new forms in today’s Cuba to include the wide use of short-term arrests and continued harassment of people who dare to publish their opinions, defend human rights, or challenge the arbitrary arrest of a relative.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” As a member of the United Nations, Cuba is bound to all articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, Cuba has continuously abused and repressed those enumerated rights, stipulated in Article 18, by arresting political dissenters. Article 19 of the Declaration states, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

According to Human Rights Watch, “the repression was codified in law and enforced by security forces, groups of civilian sympathizers tied to the state, and a judiciary that lacked independence. Such abusive practices generated a pervasive climate of fear in Cuba, which hindered the exercise of fundamental rights, and pressured Cubans to show their allegiance to the state while discouraging criticism. Many of the abusive tactics developed during his time in power — including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation — are still used by the Cuban government.” All of these tactics violate freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech which are all considered core human and customary rights that should not be violated. These violations occurred under the leadership of Fidel Castro and have continued under his brother Raul Castro. However, the most prominent question right now is how different will Cuba’s future look after Fidel Castro’s death? It is important to keep in mind that Castro was succeeded in power by his brother, Raul Castro, in 2008. Although operating in the shadows, Castro has not been calling the shots for close to a decade now.

A report by the Seattle Times states that, under Raul Castro, Cuba has moved away from jailing political prisoners for extended sentences. Instead, the regime has been making thousands of short-term arrests each year. In response, Cuban dissidents claim that the arrests are designed to harass them and disrupt any attempt against political organizations. Moreover, Cubans today feel freer to criticize their government in public, but any attempt in protest or demonstration is swiftly squashed. Independent journalists operate inside the country, but they find it nearly impossible to distribute printed material, and they continue to report repeated harassment from authorities.

In 2014, however, relations between the United States and Cuba were reestablished. Nevertheless, the change did not decrease limits on freedoms in Cuba as some would have thought or hoped. While a few people still have access to the Internet; journalists and human rights activists are still regularly detained. Voice of America (VOA) quoted Brian Fonseca, the director of the Public Policy Institute at Florida International University saying “because people in power want to keep power, current political leaders might react to Castro’s death by limiting any opposition at least in the short term.”

The two stories presented by the two media sites represent the mixed reaction over how human rights will be treated in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s death. Although, as stated by Human Rights Watch, the repression of human rights is codified into Cuba’s legal system, many are hopeful that the ability to criticize the government in public as well as the reestablished relationship between the US and Cuba will lead to a push for reform of those laws that will lead to new policies that will grant Cubans their core rights. However, as Voice of America notes, “Power is corrupting and those in power want to keep that power, and based on the legacy of his brother that brought him to power, Raul Castro might even tighten the rules further for fear of a revolution against the Castro legacy.”

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