Cuba 2019
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Cuba 2019

A year after President Díaz-Canel took office, the authorities continued to employ long-standing mechanisms of control to silence critical voices. The Cuban authorities continued to arbitrarily detain and imprison independent artists and journalists, and members of the political opposition. During the year, Amnesty International named six people prisoners of conscience, representing only a fraction of those likely to be detained solely because of the peaceful expression of their opinions or beliefs. The island remained mostly closed to independent human rights monitors.


Cuba’s new administration failed to ratify key international human rights treaties and refused to strengthen the independence of the judiciary or to bring Cuba’s criminal laws into line with international human rights law and standards.

In February, Cuba approved a new Constitution which, among other things, commits the country to confronting climate change. After initial text recognizing same-sex unions, the relevant provision was removed from the approved text following opposition from churches.

In May, the government cancelled the official annual parade against homophobia and arrested activists who participated in an alternative march, according to media reports.

The US government continued to revert to Cold War rhetoric and tighten the decades-old embargo, which undermines economic and social rights in Cuba.

International scrutiny

Cuba remained the only country in the Americas that Amnesty International and most other independent human rights monitors were not allowed to visit to carry out human rights monitoring.

Repression of dissent

Cuba’s new administration continued to use a range of different mechanisms of control to repress critical voices and dissent.[1]

In February, according to the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), the Cuban authorities blocked several independent media websites during the constitutional referendum and began to use more sophisticated online censorship techniques.

In September, according to news reports, Twitter temporarily suspended the accounts of several state officials, including that of former president Raúl Castro, and other state-run media outlets. While the Cuban authorities accused Twitter of censorship, Twitter pointed to its rules that prohibit the amplification or disruption of (online) conversations using multiple accounts. The move came amid ongoing reports by independent Cuban bloggers and media that the Cuban authorities utilize fake accounts and bots to control online debates.

While independent media projects continued to operate, those working at alternative online news sources were at risk of harassment and arbitrary detention. In October, over a dozen independent Cuban media sites issued a statement calling for an end to a “wave of repression” against the independent press.

Meanwhile, throughout the year, the authorities harassed and detained independent artists opposing Decree 349, a dystopian law approved in April 2018 that requires artists to seek prior approval to carry out their work.

In October, José Daniel Ferrer García, leader of the unofficial political opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) was detained and remained in prison at the end of the year, provoking international criticism.[2]

Prisoners of conscience

Just over a year after President Miguel Díaz-Canel assumed office, the NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders, which has connections to UNPACU, claimed that at least 71 people were imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

In August, after reviewing just a handful those cases, Amnesty International named five people prisoners of conscience detained solely for their participation in political opposition groups not recognized by the authorities. They were all charged with offences that are not internationally recognizable – such as “contempt” or “dangerousness” – or which have been used for decades in Cuba to silence critical voices.[3]

In September, Roberto Quiñones Haces, a journalist with the independent newspaper Cubanet, was convicted of resistance and disobedience and sentenced to one year in prison. He is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression[4]. The Committee to Protect Journalists and the human rights organization Article 19 also condemned his imprisonment.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Against this backdrop of repression, and in the context of the Trump administration’s renewed tightening of the US economic embargo, coupled with reduced financial aid from Cuba’s key ally Venezuela, economic hardship on the island intensified, according to media reports.

By the end of the year, Cubans were living with scarcity of food, medicines and fuel. Many commentators compared the situation to the economic crisis referred to as the “Special Period” of the 1990s, which coincided with the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

[1] ‘We are continuity’: What the president’s hashtag tells us about human rights in Cuba today (News story, 14 August 2019).

[2] Cuba: Opposition leader detained (AMR 25/1163/2019)

[3] Cuba: A snapshot of prisoners of conscience under the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel (AMR 25/0936/2019)

[4] Cuba: Independent Journalist Arrested (AMR 25/1047/2019)