Cuba was singled out by Human Rights Watch in 2011 as being the only Latin American country that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. It is difficult to understand how such tyranny could get worse.
Both Reuters and the Miami Herald report that Cuban Security agents broke their previous records of government political repression in 2012 with 6,602 confirmed detentions of political dissidents. In 2011 there were 4,123 confirmed political arrests which was even higher than the 2,704 arrests from 2010. Both Reuters and the Miami Herald based their data on a 2012 year-end report from the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
To understand what Cuban political repression consists of, the Human Rights Watch 2012 World Report’s section on Cuba describes: “In 2011 Raúl Castro’s government continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, forced exile, and travel restrictions."
Illumination into Cuba’s political repression can be seen in the Miami Herald’s January 4, 2013 article titled Human Rights Activist Says Dissident Arrests Up In 2012, that quotes Cuban human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz as stating:
“...the number of political prisoners, which dropped to about 40 after ruler Raúl Castro freed more than 120 in 2010-2011, climbed again last year with the trials and convictions of about 30 Cubans on political charges.”
Those releases were due to an agreement with the Catholic church in 2010 pushing for an ease on US sanctions against the Castro regime. Other Latin American nations, political leaders like Senator Kerry and Congressman Collin Peterson, as well as a letter by 74 Cuban dissidents calling for ending the US travel ban on Cuba all supported easing sanctions. US sanctions have eased substantially, though still stringent in many regards. The pace of the sanctions’ easing increased substantially after then presidential candidate Barack Obama’s May 23, 2008 speech in Miami, Florida, in favor of rolling back Cuban American travel to Cuba.
Human Rights Watch stated in their 2012 World Report on Cuba that the US was a “Key International Actor” in the human rights abuses in Cuba and went further in blaming the US and Israel for preventing a decrease in human rights abuses in Cuba. The report states:
“The United States' economic embargo on Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on Cubans, and has failed to improve human rights in the country. At the United Nations General Assembly in October, 186 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo; only the US and Israel voted against it.”
After placing blame on the US and Israel for Fidel and Raul Castro’s decisions to abuse their citizens, Human Rights Watch reports that Barack Obama has taken actions to ease the sanctions, and thereby ease the suffering of the Cuban people. The report states:
“In January 2011 US President Barack Obama used his executive powers to ease “people-to- people” travel restrictions, allowing religious, educational, and cultural groups from the US to travel to Cuba, and permitting Americans to send remittances to assist Cuban citizens. In 2009 Obama eliminated limits on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, which had been instituted during George W. Bush’s administration.”
Unfortunately, the data presented by Human Rights Watch and the the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation seems to disprove the analysis of Human Rights Watch that the US was a major player in the human rights abuses in Cuba due.
Human Rights Watch was correct to identify that Barack Obama seriously reduced the bite of US sanctions in 2011. This would make 2012 the first complete year to benefit from the reductions in US sanctions. Regardless of 2012 being a complete year of eased sanctions, the human rights abuses have increased substantially.