AI hopes new Cuban president will open space for dialogue

    16 de abril de 2018

    Mexico City, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Amnesty International said Monday that upon the arrival of new leadership in Cuba, that nation will open up space for dialogue, a first step toward resolving restrictions on freedom of expression and association on the island that will have positive repercussions in other areas of human rights.

    The mandate of President Raul Castro will end on April 19 and everything points to the fact that his successor will be First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old engineer and the figure on which the hopes for possible change and opening are fixed.

    The restrictions that have been in place for more than half a century on the communist island - such as freedom of expression and association - can certainly be resolved, and if that happens the world will see advances in other areas of human rights, Louise Tillotson, an AI researcher for the Caribbean, told EFE in an interview on Monday, the day on which the report titled "Transform confrontation into dialogue: a human rights agenda for Cuba" is being published.

    Tillotson said that AI holds out the hope that the change in Cuba's leadership, which is significant on the symbolic and historical levels, will be a chance to broaden dialogue there.

    She called the transition an "historic opportunity" to transform what has traditionally been a confrontation between dissident and critical voices and the regime into dialogue.

    She noted that the NGO she represents has been documenting restrictions on freedom of expression on the island for more than 50 years, but these restrictions have changed over time and she added that in recent years the Cuban Penal Code has been used by the government there as a repressive measure, with articles that are not consistent with international norms.

    In addition, short-term arbitrary arrests of people deemed to be critical of the government have been carried out and the state exercises control over the labor sector to quell critical voices and arrange arbitrary firings.

    She also said that Cuba is one of the few countries where one may not engage in human rights work or activism because independent groups, unions and civil society groups cannot legally register themselves and those who do attempt to engage in dialogue face harassment.

    Tillotson acknowledged that in recent years AI has seen a "certain opening" and some changes, but said that it is difficult to know whether or not they are structural.

    She also said that in 2015 Cuba allowed a visit by the International Red Cross and in 2017 the United Nations was able to send officials there on two occasions, which she interpreted as small signs that perhaps there will be greater opening in the near future.

    AI, however, has not been allowed onto the island yet, its last request being made in 2016.

    Tillotson said monitoring by independent human rights organizations can be "constructive" and should not be feared, asserting that the "lack of transparency" that prevails in Cuba could be remedied via legislative means.