The following information is based on the Amnesty International Report 2021/22. This report documented the human rights situation in 149 countries in 2021, as well as providing global and regional analysis. It presents Amnesty International’s concerns and calls for action to governments and others. 

CUBA 2021

In the wake of historic protests in July, Cuban authorities imprisoned many hundreds of protesters, almost 700 of whom remained in prison at the end of the year. The authorities ramped up their machinery of control over freedom of expression and assembly with physical surveillance of human rights activists, artists and journalists, and by subjecting them to house arrest, arbitrary detention, violations of due process and, in some cases, ill-treatment, while also disrupting the internet. The economic situation continued to deteriorate and the US authorities again failed to lift the economic embargo.

Repression of dissent

Thousands of people took to the streets on 11 July to peacefully protest over the economy, shortages of medicines, the government’s response to Covid-19 and harsh restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, in one of the largest demonstrations seen in decades.1

In response to the protests, the Cuban authorities detained many hundreds of protesters, of whom almost 700 remained in prison at the end of the year, according to NGO Cubalex. Authorities also subjected activists and journalists to house arrest and arbitrary detention, violated due process rights and, in some instances, ill-treated detainees, all while disrupting the internet.2

The majority of those detained were charged with crimes historically used to silence dissent and often inconsistent with international human rights law and standards. These included “public disorder”, “resistance”, “contempt”, “incitement to commit a crime” and “damages”.

Following the protests, many of those released from prison were formally put under house arrest pending their trial. Cuban authorities also subjected activists and journalists to physical surveillance by positioning security officials permanently outside their homes and threatening them with arrest if they left, amounting to arbitrary detention.

Relatives of those detained, and detainees who were later released, widely reported a range of violations of due process rights and incommunicado detention. While the Prosecutor General’s Office denied that detainees lacked access to legal assistance or had been held incommunicado, testimonies indicated otherwise.

The mass detentions also resulted in widespread reports of ill-treatment, including against women, and authorities subjected women journalists and activists to house arrest, surveillance and harassment. The authorities denied human rights violations were committed in the wake of the crackdown and, using their monopoly over the media, broadcast selected footage of incidents of violence during the protests to wrongly characterize them as violent overall. The President of the Supreme Court insisted that the justice system and judges operated with independence and indicated that the media was publishing false information distributed by “enemies of institutional order and the Cuban Revolution”. Meanwhile, during the period of protests, the authorities disrupted the internet and regularly blocked instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal.

In November, the government refused requests by civil society to hold a Civic March for Change, once again demonstrating its intolerance of protest.3

Human rights defenders

During the year, the government imprisoned numerous artists, journalists and political activists.

In April, authorities detained prisoners of conscience Esteban Rodríguez, an independent journalist for ADN Cuba, and Thais Mailén Franco Benítez, a human rights activist, in Old Havana, along with some 12 other people, for peacefully protesting in support of Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who at the time was on hunger strike in protest at constant police surveillance outside his home.4 Thais Mailén Franco Benítez was later released to complete her sentence under house arrest, but Esteban Rodríguez remained imprisoned at the end of the year.

In May, authorities also detained prisoner of conscience Maykel Castillo Pérez, one of the authors of “Patria y Vida”, a song critical of the Cuban government which was adopted as a protest anthem and for which he and other artists won “song of the year” at the Latin Grammys in November.5 He was charged with “assault”, “resistance”, “evasion of prisoners and detainees” and “public disorder”. In June, authorities imprisoned graphic artist Hamlet Lavastida, a former prisoner of conscience, allegedly for proposing an artistic performance in a private messaging conversation that in the end never took place. He was later released on condition that he left Cuba.

On 11 July, the day of nationwide protests, authorities detained prisoner of conscience Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a member of the San Isidro Movement which mobilized initially in opposition to a law that would censor artists, just after he announced on social media that he intended to join the protests. Later in the year, he contracted Covid-19 in prison and went on hunger strike in protest at his continued imprisonment. He remained in prison at the end of the year.

Similarly, state security officials detained José Daniel Ferrer García, activist and leader of the unofficial political opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba, as he tried to attend the demonstrations in Santiago de Cuba with his son. Authorities later concealed his whereabouts, potentially amounting to an enforced disappearance. Despite the authorities’ ongoing repressive policy, throughout the year artists and activists continued to collaborate and innovate in solidarity. Artist Erik Ravelo launched “The Eternal Flame”, a digital conceptual memorial in support of artistic freedom of expression in Cuba.6

Economic, social and cultural rights

The economic situation continued to deteriorate, with media reports of significant shortages of food, essential medicines and other basic items. In May, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern over “acute and persistent food shortages in Cuba”, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout the year there were electricity outages.

At various moments in the year there were reports of hospitals being overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases. However, by the middle of the year the authorities had scaled up their vaccination programme.

The authorities continued to place the blame for shortages exclusively on the economic embargo. Although the embargo violates economic, social and cultural rights in Cuba, it does not negate Cuba’s obligations to guarantee these rights to the maximum of its available resources.

Cuba Newsroom

March 25, 2022 • Press Release

Amnesty International calls for access to the country to monitor trials of 11J protesters in Cuba

In recent months, Cubans of all ages and walks of life have been charged, put on trial, or sentenced for participating in last July’s nationwide protests, in largely unfair and opaque proceedings mostly held behind closed doors, said Amnesty International today, as it calls on the authorities to allow it and other human rights observers access to the country to monitor the ongoing trials.

December 17, 2021 • Press Release

Amnesty International Launches a Holidays Solidarity Action in Support of Prisoners of Conscience in Cuba

Today Amnesty International launches “Write a letter of hope”, a global solidarity action inviting the public, during the 2021 holidays, to write individually to five brave human rights defenders detained in Cuba to express support and solidarity with them and all those incarcerated only for exercising their rights.

April 15, 2018 • Report

Cuba: Change of leadership must herald a new era for human rights

The end of Raúl Castro’s mandate as president of Cuba, expected to come on April 19, presents a historic opportunity to overhaul the state of human rights in Cuba, Amnesty International said today, as it published a roadmap for how the new administration can improve the nation’s human rights record: Transform confrontation into dialogue.

November 16, 2017 • Report

Cuba: Job sector, a tool of repression as perceived critics face jobless life

Ordinary Cubans perceived to be even subtly critical of life in the country face a future of harassment at work, or unemployment as authorities use their control over the job market as an additional tool of repression, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

June 16, 2014 • Report

President and Congress should apply human rights principles and close Guantánamo

The US prison camp at Guantánamo is back on the political agenda. And the politicking again threatens to derail the already long overdue goal of closing it. This is what happens when a government operates a detention regime that flouts human rights and the rule of law and then fails to apply human rights principles in ending it.

May 17, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Cuba 2013

REPUBLIC OF CUBA Head of state and government Raúl Castro Ruz Repression of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists increased. There were reports of an average of 400 …

March 28, 2013 • Report

USA: Letter to US Secretary of Defense in relation to hunger-strikes at Guantánamo

Amnesty International expresses deep concern at the situation faced by the detainees held in Department of Defense custody at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

September 11, 2012 • Report

Another detainee dies at Guantánamo: Yemeni man, in his 11th year of detention without charge or trial, found dead in cell

A tragic reminder of the numbing cruelty of the USA’s indefinite detention regime at its Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and the urgent need to resolve the detentions, comes with the news that another detainee has died at the naval base.