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Cuba

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions continued to be a common government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. By law police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request identification, and carry out arrests and searches. Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failing to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees. The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed “act of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search, but this law was not always followed. Arbitrary stops and searches were most common in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints at the entrances to provinces and municipalities.

Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity or free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. The CCDHRN counted 9,940 detentions through the end of the year, compared with 8,616 in 2015. Members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign, which included Damas de Blanco, reported weekly detentions of members to prevent demonstrations. The largest opposition group, Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), also reported an increase in short-term detentions. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful government critics, while rare, sometimes occurred. In December UNPACU published a list of 46 political prisoners throughout the country serving more than one month in prison for reported peaceful protests or assemblies.

The law allows a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “potential dangerousness,” defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors, such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detention to silence peaceful political opponents. On March 14, authorities charged UNPACU activist Luis Bello Gonzalez with precriminal social dangerousness and sentenced him to three years in prison. UNPACU leaders alleged authorities arrested and charged Gonzalez because of his regular participation in protests alongside other UNPACU members.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior exercises control over police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The police supported state security agents by carrying out house searches, arresting persons of interest to the ministry, and providing interrogation facilities.

The police routinely violated procedural laws with impunity and at times failed or refused to provide citizens with legally required documentation, particularly during arbitrary detentions and searches. Security force members also committed civil rights and human rights abuses with impunity.

Although the law on criminal procedure prohibits the use of coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported that officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.

There were no official mechanisms readily available to investigate government abuses.

Undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents were often present and directed activities to disrupt efforts at peaceful assembly (see section 2.b.).

According to independent reports, state-orchestrated counter protests directed against independent civil society groups and individuals, including the Damas de Blanco and other organizations, were organized to prevent meetings or to shame participants publicly (see section 2.a.). The Damas de Blanco and other members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign experienced weekly government-sponsored counter protests at their usual gathering place in Havana from January until March, when the government shut down the demonstrations altogether. Government-sponsored counter protests continued for several months outside of the Damas de Blanco headquarters to prevent large demonstrations by activists.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under criminal procedures, police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. The investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.

Within the 168-hour detention period, detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security.

There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period.

Reports suggested bail was available, although typically not granted to those arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served, if convicted.

Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.

By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In that instance no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest, detaining suspects longer than 168 hours without informing them of the nature of the arrest or affording them legal counsel.

Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are able to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but these challenges were rarely successful, especially regarding detentions alleged to have been politically motivated. On December 6, the mother of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus after authorities detained her son on November 26; El Sexto had painted graffiti on an exterior wall of a Havana hotel. The court denied the petition, and his mother submitted a second petition on December 13, which remained pending at year’s end.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While a voting process to choose candidates exists, citizens do not have the ability to choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from outside the CP, and the government retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Government-run bodies prescreened all candidates in the April 2015 municipal elections, and once approved by the CP, candidates ran for office mostly uncontested. There were reports that the government altered the public biographies of non-CP candidates who attempted to run in the elections by labeling them as “counterrevolutionaries.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Government-run commissions preapproved all CP candidates for office and rejected independent candidacies without explanation or the right of appeal. Dissident candidates reported the government tampered with their candidate biographies and organized protests to besmirch their names. The government routinely used propaganda campaigns in the state-owned media to criticize its opponents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There were no official restrictions on women or minorities, and the government actively promoted participation of both in government. According to Granma, women constituted 30 percent of the Council of Ministers, 39 percent of the Council of State, 49 percent of the National Assembly, and more than half of the provincial presidents. Women remained underrepresented in the most powerful decision-making bodies; there were no women on the executive committee of the Council of Ministers, or in positions of military leadership.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, and the government was highly sensitive to corruption allegations and often conducted anticorruption crackdowns.

Corruption: The law provides for three to eight years’ imprisonment for “illegal enrichment” by authorities or government employees. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of law enforcement and other official corruption in enforcement of a myriad of economic restrictions and government services. There were widespread reports of police corruption. Multiple sources reported that when searching homes and vehicles, police sometimes took the owner’s belongings or sought bribes in place of fines or arrests.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require appointed and elected officials to disclose their assets.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but requests for information routinely were rejected. The government engaged in limited public outreach activities.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future