On December 7, 2018, the Organization of American States (OAS) hosted a conference on the human rights situation in Cuba. The event, held at OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., was inaugurated by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and included dialogues on the regime’s gross and systematic human rights violations, the criminalization of freedom of expression, the situation of political prisoners and the accountability for repressors in the country. Read the inaugural and closing remarks by Secretary General Almagro below. Also watch the full conference here — Parts 1 and 2.
Inaugural Remarks by Secretary General Almagro
Conference on the Human Rights Situation in Cuba
December 7, 2018
The OAS is relevant and meaningful as an organization to the extent that it protects and defends the principles of democracy and human rights. The further it distances itself from these values that are enshrined in the Inter-American instruments and norms, the more dispensable the Organization becomes.
Values are the raison d’être and the moral compass for any decision or action taken by the OAS. The Hemisphere’s multilateralism must not be defined by ideology, dogma, party or political interests. The only authority that governs our work is the authority of our principles.
This is stated clearly in the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC). It clearly outlines: Democracy is a right of the peoples of the Americas. The essential elements for democracy are: respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law; the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people; the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations; the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.
Transparency in government activities, probity, responsible public administration on the part of governments, respect for social rights, and freedom of expression and of the press are also fundamental.
The Organization and its member states have an obligation to safeguard those principles and defend the rights of their people.
That is why we cannot be silenced and not speak out when there is abuse or violations of human, when there are crimes against humanity, or when there is unrestrained pillaging and corruption. We cannot remain silent when murders occur. We cannot remain silent when there are political prisoners, and systemic violations of human rights. In each case, we have asked, we have demanded answers; we have worked to reach the truth, to find justice, to re-democratize these countries.
We have been consistent in working with practically all the countries to address bad practices or achieve better functioning electoral processes.
We demand justice when journalists, human rights defenders, and activists are ruthlessly assassinated. We raise our voices when the voices of those who are simply exercising their rights and defending the rights of others, are silenced, sometimes permanently.
As we have always said: we must be the voice of those who have no voice. The OAS is the multilateralism of principles and must always be on the side of the people. Always on the side of victims.
The principles that define the OAS and make the difference between its being a hollow shell of bureaucracy and a multilateral agency that serves to uphold the rights and freedoms of the people that, definitively, apply to everyone.
These are the highest principles and standards, which is why it is an honor for me to inaugurate the first of several conferences on the situation in Cuba, which we will hold here at the headquarters during the next year. We will begin today speaking openly, without fear, about the cries against humanity in Cuba.
We take this fundamental step of addressing the Cuba regime within the framework of the OAS, precisely because we cannot and should not stray from our principles. If we are to be true to the principles that define us, we have an obligation to do so.
We have to give visibility to the situation in Cuba; the dictatorship ensures that to this day, the international community has internalized and accepted the situation as normal.
It is not normal. The same fear that Cuba uses to persecute its own people it also uses to intimidate the international community to its advantage.
It is time to raise awareness about the reality of the Hemisphere’s longest-running dictatorship. It is time for the OAS to get to work, making the illegitimacy of a dictatorship that lacks respect for Article 1 of the IADC absolutely clear. Making clear the Cuban regime’s lack of respect for these principles, values, fundamental freedoms and guarantees that all citizens of the Americas must be guaranteed. We cannot exclude any nationality.
We cannot exclude Cuba from defending those values and principles.
The IADC applies in Cuba.
The rights of the Cuban people to democracy are the same as the rights of any citizen of the Americas.
We must consider the violence that extends the Cuban dictatorship.
We will use examples to make it graphic.
This year in Venezuela, the presence of Cubans was recorded in the torture of its people. It is estimated that there are some 46,000 Cubans in Venezuela, an occupation force that teaches how to torture and repress, that performs intelligence, civil identification, and migration services.
In Nicaragua, we have heard the testimony of torture victims who assert that Cubans were present during their torture.
Cuba is an enemy of democracy and human rights in every part of the continent.
Because of its toxic effect on the rest of the region and the way in which it deprives its own people of their freedoms on the island, from today forward we are making Cuba a priority on the Inter-American agenda.
It is time to end the impunity the Cuban dictatorship enjoys.
We will find justice. We will find justice for the countries of Latin America that have suffered this aggression: the torture, repression and deprivation of liberties.
We will also do justice by directly attacking the case in which Cubans have been stripped of their rights or torture or turned into political prisoners.
As long as Cuba is a dictatorship, persecuting, murdering, torturing and silencing its own people, and teaching others in the region to persecute, murder, torture, and silence, our Hemisphere can never be free of the bad practices that undermined our freedom, democracy, and at peace.
It is a pleasure to welcome you, especially the Cuban activists, journalists, and human rights defenders who will speak at the conference. They have dedicated their lives—and risked their own lives—for the ideal of a democratic Cuba. Throughout the day, there will be discussions of the need to bring the oppressors to justice, on the criminalization of freedom of expression, restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders, and the situation of political prisoners.
The International Cuba Justice Commission will also present a summary of previous hearings on the human rights situation and introduce new evidence of crimes against humanity committed by the Cuban regime.
As the Inter-American community, we cannot afford to indulge in the kind of tricks that dictatorships employ: denying problems as well as spreading excuses and lies when dealing with the suffering of their people.
The denial, ignorance, and appeasement of dictators are not an attitude or behavior befitting an Organization that adheres to principles. Such attitudes and conduct do not befit any who claims to be a democrat.
The Cuban people can count on the OAS. Cubans who defend human rights and democracy can count on our support. We have no doubt that the correct path is to give visibility to the situation of the Cuban dictatorship, erode the complete impunity that it has enjoyed to date, and work directly on highlighting the illegitimacy of the regime.
I would like to finish my presentation by recalling Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a dissident and political prisoner of the Cuban regime who died after 86 days of a hunger strike. He was the second Cuban opposition figure to die of a hunger strike in prison. The first was Pedro Luis Boitel in the seventies. I do not know what it is to be a prisoner of conscience: that your own government robs you of your freedom for thinking differently. I do not know what it is to have you last form or protest, the last weapon of resistance you have left in captivity is your own life. I do not know what it is to intentionally starve yourself to show your dissent and defend the notion of freedom.
What I do know is that where there are political prisoners, where there are dissidents who die on hunger strike, there are definitively no human rights, there is only dictatorship.
We are already too late to apply the highest standards that define this Organization to Cuba.
The Hemisphere will never be truly free and democratic unless the dictatorship in Cuba ends; unless the impunity of the Regime continues unchallenged; unless we begin to see the Regime for what it truly is, a dictatorship which hides behind the crises of other countries; unless justice is serviced and those in the Regime responsible for human rights abuses and possible crimes against humanity are held to account.
The disinformation under which the Cuban people have suffered, which, as Oswaldo Payá described, is one of the characteristics of the Dictatorship, must end. And with that, the self-imposed disinformation that the international community has also suffered over these many years regarding Cuba must also end.
The OAS exists to defend and to stand for principles; for people and for their rights. We are starting with this Conference, denouncing and bringing to light the mechanism of terror and repression that Cuba uses against its own people and which it silently exports to the rest of the region.
Closing Remarks of Secretary General Luis Almagro
Conference on the Human Rights Situation in Cuba
December 7, 2018
We have heard presentations from 21 panelists and witnesses this afternoon, five of whom were unable to travel to Washington because they are prohibited from leaving the island. Another attempt by the regime to silence their voices.
In fact, last Monday, as a journalist friend was on his way to the house of Iván Hernandez Carrillo to film his video, the Cuban political police confiscated all his work equipment, including his mobile telephone. He was detained for seven hours at the police station in Aguada de Pasajeros, Cienfuegos, and told that he would be charged with “Usurping Public Functions”, but he was eventually released.
We have listened to the chilling testimony of victims and their families.
The brother and uncle of Berta Antúnez, who were unjustly convicted and subjected to mistreatment, humiliation, and beatings, and forced to live in the most appalling inhumane conditions.
Berta described the conditions 140 political prisoners were forced to live in, awful overcrowding, deprived of food, beaten and denied medical assistance, slave labor from dawn to dusk, barefoot, half naked, malnourished, hungry, and forced to work until they are sick, lest they be beaten and thrown in solitary confinement.
The testimony of Jorge Garcia and how he lost 13 members of his family, including children and grandchildren, when on July 13, 1994, the Cuban regime murdered 37 men, women, and children in the tugboat “13 de marzo” massacre.
The testimony of Sylvia Iriondo, who miraculously survived the February 24 massacre against the planes of the Brothers to the Rescue.
We have heard how the Cuban regime has repressed, represses, and will continue to repress its people by resorting to such ludicrous offenses as “pre-criminal danger to society,” with the power to use them in practically any circumstance in order to jail political prisoners and to silence critics with minimal justification and without any justification at all.
We have seen how the model of repression against the freedom of expression and against human rights defenders has morphed into a new form of repression that seeks to leave no trace or evidence; preventing the registration of civil society organizations, making them illegal; using arbitrary detention, imposing travel restrictions, and using the judicial system to criminalize these defenders.
We support the efforts of International Cuba Justice Commission to investigate, document, and bring to trial the perpetrators of crimes against humanity committed against the Cuban people.
It is vital that the repressors know that there is not, nor will there be, impunity for crimes against humanity. The initiative of Cuba Justice Commission is indispensable for real democratic change in Cuba.
We take note of the four resolutions adopted by the Commission to consider concluding the four cases that had been opened, to continue receiving new complaints, to expand the Commission by adding legal, medical, and technical experts, and to organize the call for the creation of an international tribunal for crimes against humanity committed in Cuba. We will continue to support the important work of the Commission.
We will continue to draw attention to abuses and international crimes committed by the Regime through conferences and hearings, like this one, and others that we will organize.
As I said this morning, it is time to raise awareness about the oldest dictatorship in hemisphere. It is time to get to work, here at the OAS, on delegitimizing the Cuban regime which, for decades, has been operating and contaminating the rest of the region with its dictatorial practices, always low-profile and almost invisible.
We support the request made by Rosa Maria Paya for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to draft a country report on Cuba.
We support the request of Lartiza Diversent that Cuban civil society organizations have access to this Organization, so that they can bring their concerns and complaints, not only to the IACHR, but also to the General Secretariat and the meetings of the OAS political bodies.
We salute the initiative of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to prepare a plan of action on Cuba and the fact that it will hold hearings on Cuba at its coming session in Bolivia.
We welcome the suggestion of Carlos Ponce that the General Secretariat prepare a report on the crimes committed in Cuba.
We hope to soon receive the thematic report of the IACHR Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
All these ideas and initiatives are positive steps to make visible the violations and crimes committed in Cuba. To debunk the false myth and propaganda of the Cuban Government that for too many years has served to “normalize” the situation on the island in the eyes of the international community, and break down the shield surrounding a criminal regime.
We must continue denouncing this situation in order to restore hope to all those who demand their civil, political, and human rights in Cuba and who dream of a free and democratic Cuba.