The Cuban dissident movement is a political movement in Cuba whose aim is “to replace the current regime with a more democratic form of government”. According to Human Rights Watch, the Cuban government represses nearly all forms of political dissent.
1959- the Cuban Revolution
Fidel Castro came to power with the Cuban revolution of 1959. By the end of 1960, according to Paul H. Lewis in Authoritarian Regimes in Latin America, all opposition newspaper had been closed down and all radio and television stations were in state control. Lewis states that moderate teachers and professors were purged, about 20,000 dissidents were held and tortured in prisons.
Homosexuals as well as other “deviant” groups who were barred from military conscription, were forced to conduct their compulsory military service in camps called “Military Units to Aid Production” in the 1960s and were subjected to political “reeducation“. Castro’s military commanders brutalized the inmates.
One estimate from The Black Book of Communism is that throughout Cuba 15,000-17,000 people were executed. Meanwhile, in nearly all areas of government, loyalty to the regime became the primary criterion for all appointments.
- The media is operated under the Cuban Communist Party’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which “develops and coordinates propaganda strategies”.
- A Human Rights Watch 1999 report on Cuba notes that Cuba has penalties for anyone who “threatens, libels or slanders, defames, affronts (injuria) or in any other way insults (ultraje) or offends, with the spoken word or in writing, the dignity or decorum of an authority, public functionary, or his agents or auxiliaries”. There are even harsher penalties for those who show contempt for the President of the Council of the State, the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, the members of the Council of the State or the Council of Ministers, or the Deputies of the National Assembly of the Popular Power.
- There is a three-month to one-year sentence for anyone who “publicly defames, denigrates, or scorns the Republic’s institutions, the political, mass, or social organizations of the country, or the heroes or martyrs of the nation”. This appears designed solely to preserve the current government’s power.
- Cubans are not allowed to produce, distribute or store publications without telling to authorities.
- Social dangerousness, defined as violations of socialist morality, can warrant “pre-criminal measures” and “therapeutic measures”.
- Regarding institutions, the Human Rights Watch report notes that the Interior Ministry has principal responsibility for monitoring the Cuban population for signs of dissent.
- In 1991 two new mechanisms for internal surveillance and control emerged. Communist Party leaders organized the Singular Systems of Vigilance and Protection (Sistema Unico de Vigilancia y Protección, SUVP). Rapid Action Brigades (Brigadas de Acción Rapida, also referred to as Rapid Response Brigades, or Brigadas de Respuesta Rápida) observe and control dissidents. The regime also “maintains academic and labor files (expedientes escolares y laborales) for each citizen, in which officials record actions or statements that may bear on the person’s loyalty to the regime. Before advancing to a new school or position, the individual’s record must first be deemed acceptable”.
1989: Communism ends in Europe, but not in Cuba
While the communist governments in Europe fell, Cuba continued communism.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who had unsuccessfully tried to replace hardline communists in Eastern Europe with reformers, might have supported Arnaldo Ochoa, a general who was executed on charges of drug trafficking. Cuba banned Soviet publications Sputnik and Moscow News in August 1989 because they were accused of “justifying bourgeois democracy”.
In 1991 Castro stated that Cuba should “forget [the] world’s criteria” for democracy. Castro alleged that Western “bourgeois democracy” has nothing to do with democracy and is “complete garbage”.
Thousands of Cubans protested in Havana and chanted “Libertad!” (“Freedom”) during the Maleconazo uprising on August 5, 1994. The uprising lasted a few hours before it was dispersed by the government’s security forces, and an intervention by Fidel Castro himself. A paper published in the Journal of Democracy states that this was the closest that the Cuban opposition could come to asserting itself decisively.
Cuban dissidents formed the Concilio Cubano in late 1995. The Concilio planned to hold a meeting on February 24, 1996, a plan which was blocked by the government. The government arrested many of the leading activists and labeled them as “counterrevolutionary grouplets”.
The Varela Project started in 1998.
In 2010, Cuba was deemed the only “authoritarian regime” in the Americas by The Economist‘s 2010 Democracy Index. The island was the second largest prison in the world for journalists in 2008, second only to the People’s Republic of China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international press organization. The military of Cuba is a central organization; it controls 60 percent of the economy and is Raúl Castro‘s base.
According to a paper published in the Harvard International Review, dissident groups are weak and infiltrated by Cuban state security. Media is totally state-controlled. Dissidents find it difficult to organize and “Many of their leaders have shown enormous courage in defying the regime. Yet, time and again, the security apparatus has discredited or destroyed them. They do not represent a major threat to the regime.”
The paper Can Cuba Change? in the National Endowment for Democracy‘ Journal of Democracy states that about nine-tenths of the populace forms an economically and politically oppressed underclass and “Using the principles of democracy and human rights to unite and mobilize this vast, dispossessed majority in the face of a highly repressive regime is the key to peaceful change”. Working people are a critical source of discontent. The only legal trade union is controlled by the government and strikes are banned. Afro-Cuban dissidents have also risen, fueled by racism in Cuba.
In 2012, Amnesty International warned that repression of Cuban dissidents was on the rise over the past two years, citing the Wilmar Villar hunger strike death, as well as the arrests of prisoners of conscience Yasmin Conyedo Riveron, Yusmani Rafael Alvarez Esmori, and Antonio Michel and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz.