WASHINGTON — Scores of Cubans have been detained as political prisoners since Raul Castro assumed power three years ago, a human rights organization reported Wednesday, suggesting that there has been little change in the repressive system that existed under his brother Fidel.
Human Rights Watch issued what it called the most comprehensive report yet on civil and political rights in Cuba under Raul Castro, based on a two-month unofficial visit by its researchers to the island and supplemented by telephone interviews from the United States.
Raul Castro has introduced some limited free-market reforms since his ailing brother relinquished power to him in July 2006, the report said, but his government has continued to use "draconian laws and sham trials" to incarcerate people seen as critical of authorities.
Castro's government has relied heavily on a legal provision allowing people to be arrested for "dangerousness" before they have even committed a crime, the report said. Some of those charged with "dangerousness" had held peaceful marches, written news articles critical of the government or given out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to Human Rights Watch.
"This is Raul's repressive tool of choice," said Nik Steinberg, one of the researchers who compiled the report, "New Castro, Same Cuba."
A spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington said in a statement that his country "does not recognize the legality or moral authority of this organization" that compiled the report. The spokesman, Alberto Glez, said Human Rights Watch "has been linked to misrepresentation of Cuban reality" and was tied to "the mercenary service of the anti-Cuban sector."
The report was released the day before a hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on whether to lift U.S. restrictions on travel to the island. The Cuban human rights record is expected to feature prominently in the debate, with some critics arguing in favor of keeping the travel ban and economic embargo.
The Human Rights Watch report calls the embargo "a costly and misguided failure" that enables the Castro government to portray itself as a victim and win sympathy abroad. The study recommends that the embargo be dropped and that the U.S., European and Latin American governments adopt a unified position pressing Cuba to release its political prisoners or face targeted sanctions.