Republic of Cuba
1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: A new Cuban constitution was approved by referendum in February. While a public consultation process preceded the poll, proponents of a ‘no vote’ or abstention were kept out of the public debate or official media and discredited by the government. The new constitution contains some noteworthy changes, including the principles of habeas corpus and presumption of innocence, but many of the changes still require secondary legislation. The new Constitution retains the current socialist one-party system and describes the role of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) as ‘the leading force of society and of the State’.
In 2019, freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be subject to important restrictions with reports of numerous arbitrary arrests, as well as the jailing of a number of Amnesty International-designated prisoners of conscience, including prominent dissident leader José Daniel Ferrer. Political activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists continue to face restrictions on domestic and foreign travel. In recent months, there has been a trend to put political activists and human rights defenders under house arrest or prevented them from leaving their homes. The approval of decree 370/2018 ‘on the digitalisation of Cuban society’ has raised the concern that it could be used to restrict independent media.
Cuba maintains a broadly positive track record on economic and social rights, particularly in health and education, but universal coverage is steadily eroded by financial shortages, economic inefficiencies and the impact of the US embargo, which has been further strengthened under the current US administration. 3G internet services became operational in Cuba from December 2018, thereby fostering citizens' access to information and leading to an explosion of ‘citizens’ reporting’ on social media. Traditionally Cuba has a strong policy focus on non-discrimination and gender equality, but the government recently admitted that racist attitudes, as well as gender violence continue to be serious issues.
2. EU action - key focus areas:
3. EU bilateral political engagement: On 3 October 2019, the EU and Cuba held the second formal high-level human rights dialogue established under the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA). The talks reconfirmed the wish of the EU and Cuba to deepen dialogue and understanding in the area of human rights, with a view to developing concrete cooperation to attain the objectives of the EU-Cuba partnership. Discussions concentrated on issues such as freedom of expression and access to information offline and online; citizen's right to participate in the conduct of public affairs, freedom of association, expressing their views and participating in public life; the rights of vulnerable groups, the promotion of gender equality and respective policies to fight against gender-based violence. The dialogue was preceded by a civil society seminar, where representatives of Cuban and European civil society organisations exchanged views on the combat against gender-based violence. In 2019, the EU drafted a Gender Action Plan for Cuba, which is now being implemented. The EU and its Member States also organised a number of activities around the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the International Women’s Day, and finance various projects or initiatives that promote equal opportunities including in the area of gender equality. The EU and its Member States were in regular contact with human rights defenders and other representatives of independent civil society, and continued supporting independent journalism and alternative online media in the country.
4. EU financial engagement: All cooperation in Cuba follows, as the European Consensus on Development mandates a human rights based approach. The EU continues to support the implementation of the 'Lineamientos' aimed at reforming the Cuban economy, in areas such as economic planning, taxation, foreign trade and investment, statistics, public registries, as well as, lately, the judicial system, showing hints of progress towards a more open government. A number of EU projects continued implementation throughout 2019, including projects addressing food security, youth, people with disabilities, healthy ageing and a gender approach for the care of the elderly and people with intellectual disabilities. A major programme on the promotion of cultural heritage (TRANSCULTURA, EUR 15 million) was approved in 2019, to harness diversity and build bridges between people and cultures within the Caribbean region and with the EU. The EU also launched a EUR 3 million call for proposals to support civil society organisations and local authorities on cooperation for development projects that favour social inclusion through culture.
5. Multilateral context: Cuba's term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council ended at the end of 2019. Cuba is traditionally a very active player in the Council. EU and Cuban positions are not always aligned, but Cuba has been supportive of the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as in gender and economic, social and cultural rights and the rights of the child. Cuba continues to maintain a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, though to date it has not abolished capital punishment. Cuba has signed, but not yet ratified the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. OHCHR Special Rapporteurs on modern forms of slavery and on trafficking of human beings wrote to Cuban authorities enquiring about the working and living conditions of Cuban doctors sent in international missions abroad.