August 12, 2008 / 5:25 AM / 11 years ago

Cuba group paints grim picture on human rights

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban group painted a grim picture of the human rights situation in the island nation, saying in a report on Tuesday it was “very unfavorable” and not likely to get better soon.

A man attends a meeting next to a Cuban flag during the National Assembly in Havana July 11, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

The Cuban Commission on Human Rights said the number of known political prisoners had fallen by 15 to 219 in the first half of 2008, but that short-term detentions of dissidents had increased dramatically.

“At least 640 arbitrary detentions of political dissidents have taken place so far this year,” said the commission, which is illegal in Cuba but tolerated by authorities.

That compared to “at least 325 short-term detentions” in all of 2007, according to the report, signed by commission president and former political prisoner Elizardo Sanchez.

Government opponents recently have accused authorities of stepping up harassment by taking them into custody for short periods of time.

Cuban officials view dissidents as mercenaries working at the behest of the United States to subvert the island’s socialist government. They have previously accused Sanchez of exaggerating and manipulating the number of political prisoners.

The United States has had a 46-year-long trade embargo against Cuba and its diplomats in Havana work openly with government opponents.

According to the report, which comes out every six months and is the only one of its kind in Cuba, rights had not improved since Raul Castro took power when his brother and long-time leader, Fidel Castro, fell ill two years ago.

In February, Raul Castro, 77, was formally elected president by the National Assembly.

“Two years after certain rearrangements in the highest circles of government, the situation of civil, political and economic rights continues being very unfavorable,” the report said.

“Social repression is part of the daily life of the citizenry,” it said, citing arbitrary police searches and government scrutiny as part of the authorities’ “enormous capacity of social control.”

With “the incessant perfecting of the structures and methods of repression, it’s unlikely that the situation will improve ... at least in the short run,” it said.

The report described as positive a decision by Castro in February to commute the death penalty for undisclosed number of prisoners.

Castro also approved Cuba’s signing in February of two United Nations pacts on civil and political rights.

The commission report said it feared the actions would send “false signals of change” in Cuba.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

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