Cuba: Job sector, a tool of repression as perceived critics face jobless life

Ordinary Cubans perceived to be even subtly critical of life in the country face a future of harassment at work, or unemployment as authorities use their control over the job market as an additional tool of repression, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

Your mind is in prison explores how decades of arbitrary use of criminal laws and other unlawful practices -- including discriminatory and wrongful dismissals from state-employment and further harassment in the emerging self-employed sector -- translate into a system where even Cubans who are not politically active have to avoid criticizing the government if they want to hold a job.

Many Cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives. Part of that control is: if you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

“Many Cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives. Part of that control is: if you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“As Raúl Castro prepares to step down in February 2018, Cuba has an opportunity to open a meaningful dialogue on human rights. It is imperative that the country starts making the necessary changes for freedom of expression to become a reality for people.”

The Cuban government is the largest employer in the country - approximately 70% of the jobs available are in the public sector. The government also controls the small and emerging, but highly regulated, private sector.

Sven Creutzmann/Getty Images Sven Creutzmann/Getty Images
Sven Creutzmann/Getty Images

Cuba remains the only country in the Americas where Amnesty International is not allowed to officially visit. The organization’s researchers spoke to more than 60 Cuban migrants in various cities in Mexico to document their testimonies about daily life in a country where freedom of expression has been historically restricted.

Most of the people interviewed had never been overtly critical of Cuba’s political or economic system and were not involved in any form of activism or political opposition. Still, approximately half said they were arrested and imprisoned at least once, mostly accused of crimes that are inconsistent with international law.

Sergio Ortiz Borbolla/Amnesty International Sergio Ortiz Borbolla/Amnesty International
Sergio Ortiz/Amnesty International

For example, one woman, a former shop assistant, told Amnesty International that she had spent eight months in prison in 2011 for “illegally buying beef”, before a judge acquitted her after finding there was insufficient evidence for her detention.

Cuba’s Penal Code also provides for a range of sanctions based on the proclivity of an individual to commit a crime, and the perceived likelihood of potential future actions that could be considered “anti-social”. It also punishes those who have relations with people considered by the authorities as “potentially dangerous for society” or who “pose a threat to the social, economic or political order of the socialist state”.

Everything is illegal in Cuba
Former State Security Agent

“Everything is illegal in Cuba”, said a former state security agent, whose job was to infiltrate job places to report on workers in the country.

Those who even delicately disapprove of the Cuban government’s policies are either arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs or harassed by the state until they feel they have no option but to resign or leave the country. Once dismissed from state employment for expressing a critical view, it is nearly impossible for people to find other state employment.

Most people who spoke to Amnesty International said that when they approached new potential state employers, after being dismissed from a previous job, they were rejected and simply told “you aren’t trustworthy” (no eres confiable). The phrase – explicitly used to mean an individual is not politically trustworthy in terms of state ideology – was frequently the only explanation the individual was given by potential employers for not getting a job.

Jorge Luis, a champion sportsman, said that after saying the Cuban government didn’t finance sport during an interview on state television, he began to be progressively excluded from his sport and was fired from his job with the state. He was simply told he no longer met the requirements to work.

He said he was given 20 days to find another job, because otherwise the police said they would charge him with “dangerousness” for not working. He found it impossible to find another job, as everywhere he went potential employers told him he was a “counter-revolutionary”. Unable to support his family he decided to leave Cuba.

Those pushed out of work because of their views, have nowhere to challenge their dismissal. Most said Cuba’s only official trade union didn’t represent them and that they didn’t have the option to join an independent union. None interviewed had appealed their dismissal through the courts, as they considered them to be fully under the control of the government.

Amnesty International Amnesty International
Amnesty International

“Why would you hire a lawyer if the lawyer is from the same government?,” said a 31-year-old man who had tried to leave Cuba six times by boat and was then denied access to employment and harassed by the police.

Despite recent changes in Cuba’s migration laws, trying to leave the country by boat is still considered a crime. Those who leave the country are labeled as “deserters”, “traitors” and “counter-revolutionaries” – detained and excluded from access to state employment in the same way as others who peacefully exercise their right to freedom expression.

“The failure of the authorities to respect people’s human rights has had an impact far beyond those directly targeted for their activism and seeps into the everyday experiences and hopes of people from all walks of life.”

“If authorities in Cuba want to claim they are really committed to change, they must review all criminal laws that are inconsistent with international standards and end the discriminatory and wrongful dismissals and harassment of workers as a way to silence even the most subtle criticism. Until that is done, the country will continue to be a prison for their people’s minds,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

The failure of the authorities to respect people’s human rights has had an impact far beyond those directly targeted for their activism and seeps into the everyday experiences and hopes of people from all walks of life
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International