What's Wrong with Cuba? Plenty

The fact that the president is normalizing U.S. relations with the island nation does not erase its record of human rights abuses.

Cuba isn't all white-sand beaches and mojitos. Amid the announcements about the U.S. moving to normalize relations with Havana, lawmakers and advocates have noted that the communist nation has one of the worst human-rights records in the Western Hemisphere.  While that hasn't stopped the U.S. from establishing ties with other nations with poor human-rights records–and, by some measures, there are many worse offenders–Cuba's record is not good.

Even so, some of these same human rights groups have advocated that the U.S. improve relations with Cuba. The economic embargo imposes "indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights," according to Human Rights Watch, while Amnesty International pointed to groups that have said the embargo has had "negative effects" on the population. 

Here's a list of some of Cuba's offenses according to the human rights community. 

Arbitrary detentions

In recent years, the Cuban government has increased its use of arbitrary detentions.  There were 3,600 reports of such imprisonments from January to September 2013. That's up from 2,100 complaints in all of 2010, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Victims are sometimes held for hours or days at police stations, other times they're "driven to remote areas far from their homes where they are interrogated, threatened, and abandoned," according to a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch.

Threats to dissidents 

Amnesty International has a lengthy docket of complaints from people who have raised their voices against the Cuban government, even after sanctioned demonstrations. An example from October 2013 is Juan Carlos Gonzáles Leiva, the head of a Cuban human rights group, who was blocked from attending a protest in Havana.  Instead he was forced to stay in his home while government supporters blasted loud music and issued death threats, according to Amnesty International. 

Freedom of the press

The press can report what they want as long as the stories "conform to the aims of a socialist society" according to Cuba's constitution. Freedom House, a group that pushes for civil liberties, rated Cuba's press a "not free" and awarded it a press freedom score of 90,  on a scale where 100 is the worst.  "The government owns virtually all traditional media except for a number of underground newsletters," according to a Freedom House report on the country.

Limited internet

There are some who argue that internet access is a basic human right, and those should stay far away from Cuba. Only 26 percent of Cubans could get online in 2013, according to Freedom House. And most of those folks can only look at a very limited Cuban internet that largely consists of an encyclopedia and government propaganda, the report found. The organization estimates that only 5 percent of Cuban can view the real internet. 

Prison conditions

Human Rights Watch notes that the Cuban prisons are "overcrowded, unhygienic and unhealthy" and note that prisoners who protest via hunger strikes are punished with "extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits and denial of medical care." 

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