Fidel Castro’s human rights legacy: A tale of two worlds

Fidel Castro’s achievements in improving access to public services for millions of Cubans were tempered by a systemic repression of basic freedoms during his time in power, Amnesty International said following the death of the former Cuban leader.

"There are few more polarizing political figures than Fidel Castro, a progressive but deeply flawed leader," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

After his accession to power following the 1959 revolution in Cuba, Castro oversaw dramatic improvements in access to human rights such as health and housing. This was accompanied by an unprecedented drive to improve literacy rates across the country.

There are few more polarizing political figures than Fidel Castro, a progressive but deeply flawed leader
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

"Access to public services such as health and education for Cubans were substantially improved by the Cuban revolution and for this, his leadership must be applauded. However, despite these achievements in areas of social policy, Fidel Castro’s forty nine year reign was characterised by a ruthless suppression of freedom of expression,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

“The state of freedom of expression in Cuba, where activists continue to face arrest and harassment for speaking out against the government, is Fidel Castro’s darkest legacy.”

Fidel Castro’s legacy is a tale of two worlds. The question now is what human rights will look like in a future Cuba. The lives of many depend on it
Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Over more than five decades documenting the state of human rights in Cuba, Amnesty International has recorded a relentless campaign against those who dare to speak out against the Cuban government’s policies and practices. Over the years, the organization has documented hundreds of stories of “prisoners of conscience”, people detained by the government solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Repressive tactics used by the authorities have changed in the last years with fewer people sentenced to long-term prison for politically motivated reasons, but the control of the state over all the aspects of Cubans’ life remain a reality. Repression takes new forms in today’s Cuba, including the wide use of short-term arrests and ongoing harassment of people who dare to publish their opinions, defending human rights, or challenging the arbitrary arrest of a relative.

The government continues to limit access to the internet as a key way of controlling both access to information and freedom of expression. Only 25% of the Cuban population is able to get online and only 5% of homes have internet access.

Upon establishing his provisional government in 1959, Castro organised trials of members of the previous government that resulted in hundreds of summary executions. In response to an international outcry and amid accusations that many of the trials were unfair, Castro responded:

"Revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction... we are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it."

Cuba retains the death penalty for serious crimes although its use declined over the course of his leadership. The death penalty is the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and should be abolished.

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is a tale of two worlds. The question now is what human rights will look like in a future Cuba. The lives of many depend on it,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.