Commissioners: Margarette May Macaulay, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño

Petitioners: Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, Fernando Palacio Mogar, Marthadela Tamayo González, Jorge Amado Robert Vera, and Marisél Nápoles González on behalf of the Citizens’ Committee on Racial Integration and the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

State: Cuba

At a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 21, 2017, Petitioners argued that the government of Cuba does little to remedy the ongoing human rights violations against Afro-descendants in Cuba.  Petitioners argued that the imprisonment of Afro-descendant journalists is both unconstitutional under Cuban law and violates international human rights law.

Marisél Nápoles, a journalist and researcher in Cuba, argued that the right to work continues to be severely threatened, that employment certifications are racial in nature, that Afro-descendants are unable to start their own businesses because of a lack of financial resources, and that racial stereotypes continue to keep Afro-descendants from participating in the business market. Nápoles stressed that people with lighter skin color receive more money for the same jobs, showing the importance of one’s skin color in hiring decisions for a majority of the employment sector in Cuba. Nápoles continued on to say that women are particularly disadvantaged because they have been taught that they are unworthy of having access to jobs.  Thus, most Afro-descendant women work in the cleaning industry.  Additionally, because of the stereotypes against black people, Nápoles said it is impossible for black people in Cuba to start their own businesses because they are unable to access the same financial resources as their white peers. Due to these issues, Afro-Cubans are subject to a multitude of disadvantages in the labor market.

Fernando Palacio Mogar, the Executive Director of el Centro de Liderazgo y Desarrollo (CELIDE – Center for Leadership and Development), argued that the Cuban government does little, if anything, to prevent racial discrimination in the workforce, particularly in journalism.  Mogar said that news organizations are not legally recognized, which violates citizens’ right to free association.  The State fears that political activities undermine security and have sought to restrict all news coverage under this pretense, especially journalistic pieces that cover political activities. Several high profile Cuban journalists have been threatened with imprisonment, or have actually been imprisoned.  Mogar stressed that police also contribute to this racialized system by disproportionately targeting Afro-descendant journalists. One example is the imprisonment of Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who was detained on January 2, 2014, and then prosecuted and imprisoned for his journalistic activities.  Another independent journalist, Rosa Avilés, was detained by police who threatened to take her daughter away after she posted a video on social media. The video showed a police officer hitting a black man in handcuffs.

Another activist and writer, Jorge Amado Robert Vera, uses alternative media to cover racial problems and human rights violations in Cuba.  Vera was subject to arbitrary detention on April 3, 2016 when he was detained by political police agents on a bus.  Police agents handcuffed and forcibly removed Vera from the bus, aggressively pushing him into the patrol car. The police then seized his personal computer, manuscripts, books, and personal items. As of this writing, none of the seized documents have been returned to Vera.  When he tried to reclaim his personal items from the Office for the Care of Citizens, he was told that (1) he did not have the right to file a claim, and (2) that he is barred from publishing in newspapers altogether.

Commissioners stated that they are interested in developing a rubric that would allow them to ascertain the degree of noncompliance based on international standards and IACHR norms.  The Commissioners were mainly concerned with the amount of Afro-descendants being affected by this issue, especially the disproportionate effect on women.  Additionally, the Commissioners expressed concern regarding the intersection of racism and poverty for especially vulnerable groups, like Afro-Cubans. The Commissioners expressed interest in developing normative provisions that would help them gauge the degree of noncompliance.  The Commissioners thanked the Petitioners for shedding light on this issue, especially given the high risk to personal safety.

Author’s Legal Analysis 

Under Article Two of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), every person is entitled to equal rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, including race.  Cuba is similarly bound by Article Two of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which states, “each State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation.” The actions of the Cuban government also violate Article Nine of the UDHR, which provides that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.” Given the Cuban government is in violation of its international obligations in both discriminating and detaining those of Afro-Cuban descent, it is imperative the government ceases these policies.