No freedom of speech in Cuba despite easier foreign travel-activist
Source: Reuters – Wed, 1 May 2013 04:59 PM
* Dissident among 19 Cubans allowed to leave so far
* Says Havana controls media
* Britain, Spain and U.S. call for freedom of association
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, May 1 (Reuters) – The Castro government’s easing of foreign
travel restrictions on Cubans has not led to greater freedoms on the
island, a leading dissident said on Wednesday.
Elizardo Sanchez said 19 opposition activists had been allowed to leave
since a new exit policy was introduced on January 14. Dozens more would
go in the next few weeks, he said.
But the Communist government, in power since 1959, was keeping strict
control on dissident voices at home, he said.
“They calculate it will be freedom of expression for people outside Cuba
but the voices will not be reproduced in Cuba. They control all
communications, radio, newspaper, local and international television,
and access to Internet,” Sanchez said.
A total of 92 political prisoners were currently held in Cuban jails,
which the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been allowed
visit since 1989, he said. A further 350 were held in short-term
detention on political grounds.
Sanchez is president of the Havana-based independent Cuban Commission of
Human Rights and for years has been one of the most prominent opposition
figures tolerated by the government.
President Raul Castro has introduced some economic and other reforms
since taking over Cuba’s leadership from his brother Fidel in 2008 but
they have stressed it will not stray from the revolutionary path.
Sanchez, who said he had spent nearly 12 years in jails and was on his
first foreign trip in more than a decade, said he worried he would face
reprisals when returned to Cuba in June.
But he said: “Every day there are more human rights activists in Cuba.
The good thing is that they are active inspite of fear of reprisals.”
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, addressing the U.N. Human Rights
Council, said the new travel laws had helped improve relations between
Cubans on the island and exiles. Interior Ministry official Marco
Rogelio said no arbitrary detentions or torture in its jails took place.
The debate and non-binding recommendations of the U.N. Human Rights
Council aim to train a spotlight on abuses and pressure governments to
Britain, Spain and France urged Cuba to allow freedom of expression and
U.N. rights investigators to visit. U.S. ambassador Eileen Chamberlain
Donahoe said that Cubans seeking multi-party elections and press freedom
Rodriguez accused the United States of making relentless attempts to get
rid of the Communist government.
He hit back at the United States for its own human rights record,
accusing it of “deaths and torture” at the military prison at the U.S.
Navy base at Guantanamo, southeastern Cuba.
“That prison and military base should be shut down and that territory
should be returned to Cuba,” he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)dissident, expression, France, freedom, freedom of speech, human rights, internet, president, prison, Raul Castro, Spain, train, travel