Cuba, with a population of approximately 11.4 million, is a totalitarian state led by Raul Castro, who held the positions of chief of state, president of the council of state and council of ministers, and commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The constitution recognizes the Communist Party (CP) as the only legal party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Fidel Castro, who formally relinquished power to his brother in 2008, remained the First Secretary of the CP. The 2008 legislative elections were neither free nor fair; a CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates, resulting in the CP candidates and their allies winning 98.7 percent of the vote and 607 of 614 seats in the National Assembly. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
The government denied citizens the right to change their government. In addition, the following human rights abuses were reported: harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government-organized mobs and state security officials acting with impunity; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including selective denial of medical care; arbitrary detention of human rights advocates and members of independent organizations; and selective prosecution and denial of fair trial. Authorities interfered with privacy and engaged in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government also placed severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, constrained the right of peaceful assembly and association, restricted freedom of movement, and limited freedom of religion. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to place severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to form independent unions.
The government released more than 40 political prisoners, including many notable human rights activists arrested in 2003. Although most of these were released on the condition they leave the country, during the reporting period the government allowed one to remain in the country. The releases, mediated by the Cuban Catholic Church, came in the wake of street protests and severe international criticism following the death from hunger-strike of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo. During conversations with the church, the government indicated that it planned to release all political prisoners in the near future.
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