On this American Independence Day (July 4th), many will celebrate with flag waving and backyard barbeques. However, many take for granted their basic, assumed rights, such as the freedom of expression, whether in favor of or contrary to the national government and regime.
Amnesty International (AI), a global non-governmental organization drawing attention to human rights abuses, has recently issued a report (Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Cuba) and called on the Cuban government to make changes to eliminate its “repressive machinery”. Any persons with opinions contrary to the government’s stance risk arbitrary arrest and harassment by officials—such as happened to Las Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) earlier this year.
“The laws are so vague that almost any act of dissent can be deemed criminal in some way, making it very difficult for activists to speak out against the government,” said Kerrie Howard, Deputy Americas Director at AI. Other restrictions on journalists by the Cuban government include requiring all journalists to join the national journalists’ association (in turn controlled by the Communist Party) and restricting island access to certain blogs openly criticizing the government, such as Yoani Sanchez’s blog (Generation Y), blocked since early 2008.
Even now, digging into its own ranks, the government has expelled a high level party official, Esteban Morales, for acting as a whistle blower to corruption and writing on a state website that “people in government and state positions are preparing a financial assault for when the revolution falls”.
AI recognizes at least 53 political prisoners on the island and has called for their release. The Independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights estimates about 190 political prisoners, including AI’s fifty-three.
The organization also addressed the United States embargo, claiming the government was using it as a scapegoat to justify inadequacies at guaranteeing human rights. “[The embargo] is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the Cuban people,” stated Ms. Howard. “The government needs to find solutions to end human rights violations, instead of excuses to perpetrate them.”
Amnesty International has demanded the government “revoke or amend legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression, end harassment of dissidents, release all prisoners of conscience, and allow free exchange of information through the internet and other media.”