January 21, 2007 / 11:11 AM / 11 years ago

Cuban rights group sees no change under Raul Castro

HAVANA (Reuters) - Respect for human rights has not improved in Cuba under interim leader Raul Castro, though the number of Cubans jailed for political reasons has fallen to 283, the country’s main rights watchdog said on Tuesday.

Cuba remains the Western hemispheric nation with the most political prisoners in proportion to its population, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said in its year-end report.

The group, illegal but tolerated by Cuba’s communist government, expects the civil liberties situation, from freedom of association and information to the right to travel and self-employment, to remain unchanged or deteriorate further because no reforms are in sight.

“The provisional team designated by Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro has done nothing to improve fundamental rights,” said the commission, led by veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez. “Cuba’s government continues to violate each and every civil, political and economic right,” it said.

Castro, 80, was forced to hand over the reins of government to this brother Raul, 75, after emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding in late July. He has not appeared in public since. Castro’s one-party state has long faced international criticism for suppressing dissent and locking up critics.

Barring a “political miracle” short-term prospects for human rights are negative and there is little internal pressure on the ruling bureaucracy to change its policies, the commission’s report said.

“Due to the oppressive and repressive nature of the totalitarian regime and its enormous capability for social control, we cannot see any factors or components that are able to exert effective pressure on the government from inside Cuban society to begin a process of modernizing reforms,” it said.

Cuba freed dissident sociologist Hector Palacios in December because he was very sick. The state appears to be resorting to intimidation rather than prison to silence its opponents, including hostile protests outside the homes of dissidents, the commission said.

It is also handing out shorter jail sentences compared to the prison terms of up to 28 years given to 75 dissidents arrested in a political crackdown in March 2003, of which only 16 have been freed, on medical grounds, the report said.

Selective releases during 2006 reduced by 50 the number of political detainees in Cuba’s 200 jails and work camps where living conditions are “inhumane and degrading,” it said.

The International Red Cross, which has been denied access to Cuban prisons since 1989, recently said it would urge Havana to resume the visits.

The rights commission called on the international community to press Cuba’s government, in power since a 1959 revolution, to begin reforms.

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