No Improvement in Cuban Rights Situation Under Raul, Activists Say

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Paris, France ( - Although acting Cuban President Raul Castro has hinted at seeking warmer relations with the United States and a change in the communist country's economy, the human rights situation in Cuba has not improved for journalists and dissidents since he assumed the leadership, critics say.

According to human rights observers, harassment and intimidation have continued at high levels and even increased in the six months since Fidel Castro was hospitalized for intestinal surgery.

As of the beginning of 2007, there were 283 political prisoners in Cuban jails. While this number was slightly down since the younger Castro took over last July, the main change has been in the tactics of intimidation used by the government, they said.

"What has changed is that Raul Castro's methods are slightly different from Fidel's towards independent journalists," said Benoit Hervieu, chief of the Americas desk at Reporters Without Borders in Paris.

"Under Fidel, intimidation was carried out by means of lengthy detention without trial or by huge show trials that denounced dissidents as spies working for the United States," Hervieu said.

"Since Raul Castro has come to power, there is less of that and there is more harassment and a lot of police brutality," he added.

Instances of detention in police stations, house searches, confiscation of material such as radios and computers, and travel restrictions have increased, Hervieu said.

Some 40 journalists have been harassed, intimidated or detained since Raul assumed power, and two more journalists have been jailed, bringing the total to 25.

"Cuba remains the world's second biggest prison for journalists after China," Hervieu said.

Reports from Cuba indicate that Raul Castro is seeking to liberalize Cuba's economy, which is 90 percent state run.

"Raul is more pragmatic than Fidel Castro," said Hervieu. "He wants to open the economic area, but not the political one.

"To show that the regime is holding steady, he has had to increase repression. This way, he's making it clear to everybody, inside and outside Cuba, that there is no question of abandoning the Cuban model and the Cuban revolution," he added.

According to another human rights organization, the European Association for Cuba Libre, up to 100 people have been detained or intimidated for political reasons since Raul Castro took over the government.

"There has been no improvement for dissidents and some of the tactics of intimidation have gotten worse," said Laurent Muller, president of the organization.

Families of jailed dissidents are repeatedly being subjected to harassment and repudiation by neighbors and local groups who stand outside their homes shouting insults.

Dissidents in jail were threatened with execution when, upon Fidel's hospitalization, there were rumors of a U.S. invasion.

Muller said that with Raul taking the helm, the international community will finally see the true face of the Cuban regime.

"Fidel Castro has strong charisma," said Muller. "His personality hid the reality of the regime.

"Raul comes to power with his reputation as an assassin," Muller added.

Raul has been defense minister since Fidel came to power. In January 1959, the younger Castro ordered, without a trial, the execution of 72 people.

He has also been head of security and intelligence operations and is believed to be responsible for Cuba's harsh repression of political dissidents.

"The aura of the Cuban regime will certainly diminish considerably," said Muller.

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