In what Human Rights Watch describes as “little change” under leader Miguel Díaz-Canel regarding the repression and punishment of dissidents in Cuba, pro-democracy Cuban-Canadians are calling for Ottawa to publicly acknowledge that the island nation is ruled by a dictatorship.
Specifically, the community, along with some among the Venezuelan diaspora in Canada, are urging Canada and other democratic countries to “acknowledge that the regime clinging on to power in Cuba is ruled by a human rights’ predatory and totalitarian dictatorship,” according to a press release from activist group Democratic Spaces.
The release was issued after an online meeting on Jan. 19 organized by the group to discuss what it calls a human rights crisis in Cuba. It consisted of 10 attendees including Sebastien Sigouin, the director of Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic at Global Affairs Canada.
“Cuba is a beautiful country and Cubans are a noble people, but our compatriots in the island are ruled by a terrible and oppressive regime that in the name of a fraudulent social agenda has trampled on fundamental human rights, criminalized dissent, and marginalized those who think differently,” Democratic Spaces founder Michael Lima Cuadra said in a statement following the meeting.
“I believe nobody should be forced to live in a country where a power elite forces people to choose between a fabricated social agenda and individual liberties.”
According to Human Rights Watch’s latest report on Cuba, since October 2019, when Díaz-Canel took power, his regime has shown no sign of improving the long-standing human rights abuses that have been ongoing since communist Fidel Castro’s days. Under Díaz-Canel, Cuba has used Decree-Law 370—which came into effect in July 2019 and limits online freedom of expression and privacy—to detain, fine, and harass critics.
The regime also continues to repress and punish dissent and public criticism, and employ scare tactics including “beatings, public shaming, travel restrictions, short-term detention, fines, online harassment, surveillance, and termination of employment” on critics, independent activists, political opponents, journalists, artists, and others, the rights organization found.
“The judicial and the legislative powers are branches at the service of the executive power and the ruling elites,” Cuadra said.
“Cubans are therefore left in a state [of] defencelessness as an independent judiciary is non-existent and laws serve no other purpose [than] to perpetuate the prevailing political system.”
He added that since the media in Cuba is exclusively controlled by the state, all possible channels for dissidents to voice their views are closed. Also, the educational system indoctrinates ideological conformity and punishes all expressions of individuality; any student who dares to criticize the policies of the regime and communist party will be expelled.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, an artist and human rights activist based in Cuba, said in a pre-recorded video during the Jan. 19 meeting that the Díaz-Canel regime doesn’t want the world to know what’s really going on, noting that artists are also subjected to rights abuse.
“As an artist, I have been persecuted, abducted … I have been detained more than 40 times in two years without any justification whatsoever,” said Alcántara, also the main coordinator of the San Isidro Movement which supports democracy and free debate in Cuba.
“A [surveillance] camera has been installed in front of my house. My art has been labelled as a form of ‘terrorism’ in Cuba on the sole grounds that my art exposes misery and poverty and all the abuses that the regime does not want to show the world. They want to sell the image of a perfect society, and that is not the case.”
Activist Nelson Taylor Sol with the Cuban Canadian Foundation, who attended the meeting, told The Epoch Times it’s crucial that Canada change its approach to Cuba.
“[Global Affairs] keeps saying that they have private meetings with the members of the Cuban regime and they always bring up issues of human rights, but that’s meaningless,” he said.
Publicly denouncing the Cuban regime as a dictatorship would be consistent with the core values of democracy and fairness that Canada stands for and that guide its foreign policy, Taylor Sol said.
In addition, since Canada is one of Cuba’s biggest investors and is among its top trading partners and a substantial contributor of tourists to the island, Ottawa has leverage it could apply, he said, because “when it comes to [the] survival of the Cuban regime, Canada is key, really crucial.”
Democratic Spaces is calling on Ottawa to take the following actions:
- Acknowledge that the Cuban regime is ruled by a human rights’ predatory and totalitarian dictatorship.
- Act in consistency with Canadian core values and publicly speak out in support of those who are engaged in the peaceful struggle for human rights and individual liberties in Cuba.
- Continue engaging in dialogue with the Cuban-Canadian community on issues related to democracy and pluralism and implement concrete actions to hold the Cuban regime accountable for human rights violations.
- Find empowering mechanisms to help independent civil society in Cuba by supporting projects that promote respect for human rights and democracy without the involvement and participation of the regime.
- Review Canadian foreign policy to refrain from a tendency to place trade and economic interests above human rights considerations.
- Implement actions in partnership with other democratic countries in the hemisphere to denounce the situation in Cuba and Venezuela with actions resulting in political costs for human rights abusers.