Americas Watch, the hemispheric monitoring group, said this week that 1992 was a bleak year for human rights in Cuba, where some of the stiffest sentences in the past 10 years were meted out for "thought crimes."
An annual report on human rights problems throughout the world cited the following problems in Cuba:
* Reprisals against dissidents.
* Trials staged in courts that lacked independence.
* Long prison sentences for political dissenters.
* Government-organized mobs that beat dissidents and vandalized their homes.
* Frequent complaints about prison conditions.
Cuba's escalating economic crisis, the report said, has made an already worrisome situation even harder, and repression has increased.
"The ever-increasing difficulty of daily life has given rise to groups advocating democratic and other reforms," it said. "These, in turn, have elicited from the government only ideological retrenchment and greater control and repression."
Widespread anxiety over the economy was exacerbated in October when the U.S. Congress passed the Cuban Democracy Act, the report said. The law tightens the U.S. trade embargo against the island but is also supposed to foster democracy by providing a limited opening to the Cuban people through better communications links.
"While Americas Watch commends efforts to pressure the Cuban government to improve its human rights practices, it has objected to provisions of the law, as well as the pre-existing embargo, that continue to impede human contacts by maintaining restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens and on telephone communications," the report said.
The Cuban government reacted against the law swiftly, waging a massive
propaganda campaign and denouncing it as one more example of U.S. hostility.
The result, Americas Watch said, was that the legislation "provided the Cuban
government with a
pretext to tighten internal security controls against 'anti- social behavior.' "
Americas Watch noted the continuing difficulty in monitoring human rights abuses in Cuba. Such monitoring is illegal, and despite petitions to the Ministry of Justice, none of Cuba's human rights groups have managed to obtain legal status.
"Cuban rights activists are routinely harassed, questioned, intimidated and threatened by the state security police and frequently arrested," the report said. Since 1989, it noted, there have been more than 230 arrests of human rights activists, and at least 50 rights monitors and dissidents are now behind bars.
The Cuban government ignored Americas Watch requests to visit the island this year to conduct the kind of investigation it routinely carries out elsewhere in Latin America.
In a related matter, Juan Mendez, Americas Watch executive director, sent a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro on Thursday, urging the release of Cuban filmmakers Marco Antonio Abad, 27, and Jorge Crespo Diaz, 32.
The two men have been in prison for more than a year after making an irreverent video called An Ordinary Day. It interspersed film clips from the movie The Godfather with excerpts of Castro speeches and critiqued the regimentation of cultural life in Cuba.
Abad and Crespo were accused of "disrespect" for offending Castro in the video and spreading "enemy propaganda" because one of their collaborators showed it in Costa Rica. They were tried Oct. 13 and are awaiting sentencing. The prosecution has asked for eight-year terms.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.