Wednesday, March 7, 2007 · Last updated 8:11 p.m. PT
Cuban activists briefed on human rights
By WILL WEISSERT
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
HAVANA — U.S. authorities presented independent Cuban activists and
independent journalists with the State Department's annual human rights
report Wednesday, saying the situation has not changed since Fidel
Castro stepped aside seven months ago.
Jonathan D. Farrar, the State Department's principal deputy assistant
secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, spoke via video
conference from Washington, answering questions from a small group of
"They changed one for the other," Farrar said of the 80-year-old
Castro's decision in late July to temporarily cede power to his
75-year-old brother Raul while he recovered from intestinal surgery.
"But we really have not seen a change in the human rights situation,"
Farrar added in Spanish to the group gathered inside the U.S. Interests
Section, the American mission here.
The survey of human rights worldwide was released Tuesday in Washington
and was available on the Internet. But many attending the video
conference did not see it until they were handed copies in English
before the event began.
The report said that at the end of 2006, Cuba held at least 283
political prisoners. It found that the government did not commit any
politically motivated killings, and there were apparently no forcible
disappearances on the island.
It also stated that physical torture was rare, though government agents
sometimes beat, harassed and made death threats against dissidents and
independent journalists – including those behind bars.
Cuba's communist government regularly rejects charges of rights abuses,
especially those concerning physical abuse. Typically characterizing any
jailed dissidents as U.S. mercenaries, the government maintains it
respects human rights more than most nations by providing free health
care and other social services.
The State Department's report comes as Cuba and international
organizations question Washington's own commitment to human rights
following allegations of abuse of terror suspects at the U.S. prison at
Guantanamo Bay in easternmost Cuba.
Activists at the video conference were particularly interested in a
section of the report that dealt with the island's Internet restrictions.
The State Department said Cuba blocks access to Web sites it considers
objectionable and usually only provides Internet access through
government approved institutions.
"We do not have the right to buy a computer, even with money in our
pockets, unless it is through the black market," economist and
independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said. "There are situations
that are far more grave than the manipulation of access."
Cuba says it has to restrict access to the World Wide Web because of
severe bandwidth limitations it blames on the U.S. trade embargo.
The communist government controls the island's news media and all print,
broadcast and electronic outlets are state property. Still, a small
number of independent journalists such as Espinosa Chepe continue to
work, usually publishing their reports in newspapers or on Web pages
outside the country.
The U.S. report released Tuesday also said abuses in Brazil included
beatings, abuse and torture of detainees and inmates by police and
prison security forces; poor prison conditions; and discrimination
against indigenous people and minorities.
The report said human rights violators enjoyed impunity in most cases.
Brazil's foreign ministry on Wednesday rejected the report, saying that
its government "does not recognize the legitimacy of reports elaborated
unilaterally by countries that use domestic criteria that many times are