A year ago, over 1300 protestors were arrested in some of the most violent anti-government uprisings in Cuba since 1959, spurred by shortages of food, power, medicine and economic suffering following the COVID-19 pandemic. Demonstrating the right to peacefully protest as found in the Cuban constitution, thousands took to the streets to demand political reform from President Miguel Diaz-Canal’s authoritarian government. What resulted was little improvement of socioeconomic conditions, with mass trials of those arrested and improper sentencing causing 700 to remain behind bars today. What does international law have to say about this?
Although Cuba is not formally classified as a ‘dictatorship’ via international law (the word being a political term), the lack of democratic rights has spurred many Human Rights Organisations to call it one. International human rights standards have clearly been broken in Cuba’s case, demonstrated evidently through the force used against the demonstrators, with 1300 being arrested, with many (including minors) prosecuted against and charged with disproportionate prison sentences of up to 30 years. The harsh crackdown by Cuban authorities is thought to be a deterrence scheme to prevent future threats to authority in Cuba, with the Cuban government referencing these protests as an “attack to the constitutional order” of Cuba. Human rights organisation Justicia 11J was in fact the body that revealed the number arrested, as Cuban authorities attempted to cover up the number of cases. The European Union displayed “deep concern” (press release on 30th March 2022) surrounding the improper prison sentences being handed out and called on Cuba to release all political prisoners on the grounds that they should be allowed to express freedom of association, speech and expression. Particular concern was also surrounding the nature of these trials as many of those prosecuted underwent trials without any independent legal counsel.
The Cuban government blames civil unrest on the economic hardships experienced by both Covid-19 and the US sanctions on Cuba, with the latter having greater influence. The USA currently has embargoes on trade with Cuba which have been in place since 1962, which President Biden on 17th March 2022 announced plans to ease. According to international law, any undiplomatic methods imposed onto a country in attempt to prevent authoritarian regimes from violating international law must be primarily aimed at getting governing leaders to change course, minimising long-term and real-time impacts on the citizens themselves despite collateral damage being inevitable. In this case, US embargoes have had a significant impact on the Cuban economy which has trickle down effects on the population – Cuban inflation rates soared to 23.7% in April, with the Cuban economy also shrinking by 11% since the pandemic. Biden’s plans to limit said sanctions hopefully will improve the state of the Cuban economy, but needs to be met with sufficient political and socioeconomic reform to prevent further anti-government protests.