Fidel Castro: A progressive but deeply flawed leader

Danilo Maldonado is a Cuban graffiti artist and prisoner of conscience
Danilo Maldonado is a Cuban graffiti artist and prisoner of conscience © private

Fidel Castro’s achievements in improving access to public services for millions of Cubans were tempered by a systemic repression of basic freedoms during his time in power, Amnesty International said following the death of the former Cuban leader.

Amnesty International Americas Director Erika Guevara-Rosa said:

"There are few more polarising political figures than Fidel Castro, a progressive but deeply flawed leader."

"Access to public services such as health and education for Cubans were substantially improved by the Cuban revolution and for this, his leadership must be applauded. However, despite these achievements in areas of social policy, Fidel Castro’s 49-year reign was characterised by a ruthless suppression of freedom of expression.

“The state of freedom of expression in Cuba, where activists continue to face arrest and harassment for speaking out against the government, is Fidel Castro’s darkest legacy.

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is a tale of two worlds. The question now is what human rights will look like in a future Cuba. The lives of many depend on it.”

After his accession to power following the 1959 revolution in Cuba, Castro oversaw dramatic improvements in access to human rights such as health and housing. This was accompanied by an unprecedented drive to improve literacy rates across the country.

Over more than five decades documenting the state of human rights in Cuba, Amnesty has recorded a relentless campaign against those who dare to speak out against the Cuban government’s policies and practices.

Over the years, Amnesty has documented hundreds of stories of “prisoners of conscience”, people detained by the government solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Repressive tactics used by the authorities have changed in the last years with fewer people sentenced to long-term prison for politically motivated reasons, but the control of the state over all the aspects of Cubans’ life remain a reality. Repression takes new forms in today’s Cuba, including the wide use of short-term arrests and ongoing harassment of people who dare to publish their opinions, defending human rights, or challenging the arbitrary arrest of a relative.

The government continues to limit access to the internet as a key way of controlling both access to information and freedom of expression. Only 25% of the Cuban population is able to get online and only 5% of homes have internet access.

Upon establishing his provisional government in 1959, Castro organised trials of members of the previous government that resulted in hundreds of summary executions. In response to an international outcry and amid accusations that many of the trials were unfair, Castro responded: "Revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction... we are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it."

Cuba retains the death penalty for serious crimes although its use declined over the course of his leadership.

Read more:

Six facts about censorship in Cuba (Feature, 11 March 2016)…
Obama-Castro encounter: More than a handshake needed to thaw the Cold War’s human rights freeze (Comment, 21 March 2016)…


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