Human rights group Amnesty International urged Cuba to release political
prisoners and take other measures to end what it called a "climate of
fear" for government opponents, in a report issued today.
The London-based organization said Cuban leaders used the longstanding
US trade embargo against the communist-led island as what it called a
"lame excuse" for repression.
"The release of all prisoners of conscience and the end of harassment of
dissidents are measures that the Cuban government must take immediately
and unconditionally," Kerrie Howard, the deputy director of Amnesty
International's America's programme, said in a statement that
accompanied the report on Cuba's limits to free expression.
"It is clear that the US embargo has had a negative impact on the
country, but it is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the
Cuban people," Ms Howard said.
Amnesty International says Cuba has 53 "prisoners of conscience." The
independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights says the island has about
190 political prisoners locked away, including the 53 cited by Amnesty.
Cuba views dissidents as mercenaries working for the United States and
other enemies to undermine the government.
It has said control of government opponents will end when the United
States stops promoting political change in Cuba.
The trade embargo was imposed 48 years ago after Fidel Castro took power
in Cuba in a 1959 revolution and remains in place, never having achieved
its aim of toppling the government.
Amnesty International said Cuban laws restrict freedom of speech and
stifle dissent, and are capriciously interpreted by courts serving the
desires of the state.
It said the government "has a virtual monopoly on media while demanding
that all journalists join the national journalists' association, which
is in turn controlled by the (ruling) Communist Party." The government
blocks access to opposition Internet sites, the group said.
Cuba must "dismantle the repressive machinery built up over decades and
implement the reforms needed to make human rights a reality for all
Cubans," she said.
Cuba came under international criticism after the February death of
dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo and in recent weeks has
slightly relaxed its policies toward dissidents.
One political prisoner was released earlier this month and 12 other
moved to jails closer to their families following a meeting between
President Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, head of the Cuban
Church officials have said they are hoping for the release of more