EXECUTIVE SUMMARY NO.10

Political Discrimination and Threats to Academic Freedom and University Autonomy in the Cuban Higher Education System

Through the Observatory on Academic Freedom (OAF), to date, 40 cases have been documented of violations of academic freedom, university freedom, and other related rights, clearly evincing that persecution for political and ideological reasons is a State policy promoted and orchestrated by the regime in power since the emergence of the Revolution in 1959. This fact contradicts international human rights regulations1.

 

The current report reveals several concerns regarding a speech given on July 4th, 1985, by Fidel Castro Ruz, President of Council of State and Ministries, that threatens academic freedom and university autonomy, as well as Decrees – Laws 32, 33, and 34 of 1980, which solidified the ideologization of Cuban higher education and served as the basis for future retaliations against academics across the country, constituting a State policy against academic freedom, university autonomy, and other related rights.

 

Consequently, actions leveled against several university professors and students are reported in which these members are discriminated and persecuted for ideological, political, and religious reasons, a situation that violates the right to academic freedom and other rights of university members.

 

The analysis stems from a graphic outline conveying the events according to the rights violations, years registered, and the institutes of higher education where they occurred. This representation facilitates a demonstration of the incidents with greatest recurrences:

Graph 1. Incidents by type

INFORME NO. 10
Chart 9.PNG

Source: Defenders Data Base (2021)

Ideological biases and threats to academic freedom and university autonomy in the July 4th, 1985, speech by Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Council of State and Ministries of Cuba

On July 4th, 1985, Fidel Castro, President of the Council of State and Ministries of Cuba, imparted a speech at the graduation ceremony before more than 11,000 students from the Higher Pedagogical Institute and the first graduates with teaching degrees in primary education, event which took place at the “Karl Marx” theater. The speech’s fundamental element was the ideologization of education in Cuba through control and subordination of the practice of teaching, alongside its complete politicization.

 

This report analyzes the speech from two points of view: firstly, its educational guidelines and their importance for the modeled positioning of Cuban teachers as ideal representatives of “good revolutionaries”; and secondly, the coopting of pupils’ thoughts and ideologies through authoritative subjugation to the socialist ideology established by the revolutionary government.

 

The speech lays the foundation for omissions of the right to academic freedom in Cuban universities2, as it disrupts university autonomy3 due to the universalization of Marxist, Leninist, and socialist ideals and teachings in educational institutes, accompanied by the permanent and singular summons to those teachers deemed true revolutionaries; additionally, it violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience, creed, or religion4 by formulating the ideologization of teaching in Cuba through control of teaching practices and coopting of its thinking, ideology, and discernment.

Consolidation of the ideologization of teaching through Decrees – Laws 32, 33, and 34 of 1980

In a context of transformations generated by the Revolutionary Government with the objective of implementing an educational model to shepherd the formation of the “New Man,” guided by the Constitution of 1976, the Cuban regime dictated a series of legal measures to align the new educational policy with the edicts from the Congress of Education and Culture, which took place in 1971. These objectives were aided by decrees-laws number 32, 33, and 34.

 

Decree-Law 32 conferred state administrations with extraordinary powers to apply coercive measures against “undisciplined” employees. Simultaneously, Decree-Law 33 retroactively transferred educational activity and school discipline from the administrative jurisdiction towards that of the principals and rectors of educational centers. Decree-Law 34 reaffirmed the two preceding decrees-laws.

 

Since the establishment of those regulations, hundreds of students and employees who expressed divergent thinking from that established by the Party-State-Government have been separated or expelled from their centers of study. This conduct constitutes an act of permanent violation of the rights of academic freedom and expression in institutions destined to fulfill the responsibility of imparting education in Cuba.

1. Violations of academic freedom and other human rights of university professors and students: Historical cases (1959 –2010)

 

1.1. Joel Humberto Rojas Pérez, student of painting at the School of Fine Arts, Higher Institute of Art (HIA)

In 1989, Joel Humberto Rojas Pérez, first-year painting student at the School of Fine Arts, Higher Institute of Art (HIA), was expelled for creating a piece entitled “The David.” The piece was censored for containing a marked visual reference to political leader Fidel Castro, in addition to its appropriation of communist symbols such as the sickle and the hammer.

 

In response to the punitive measure, Rojas appealed to the Minister of Culture, Armando Hart Dávalos, who, in turn, deemed the complaint null on the basis of Resolution No. 131, which ratified the Definitive Separation of Regular Daytime Courses.

 

The artist was kept on the sidelines of the institutional cultural system, a situation which led him, after repeated attempts, to exile in the United States in 2006.

 

Joel Rojas was a victim of human rights violations, including the right to education and academic freedom5 and due process6, as well as the principle of non-discrimination recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 2), among other documents7.

1.2. Yoaxis Marcheco Suárez, aspiring professor in the Department of Information Sciences at the “Marta Abreu” Central University of Las Villas (CULV)

In 2005, Yoaxis Marcheco Suárez, who holds an undergraduate degree in Scientific and Technical Information from the University of Havana, was barred from becoming a professor in the Department of Information Sciences at the “Marta Abreu” Central University of Las Villas (CULV) due to her connection - along with her husband, Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso, whose case was preliminarily discussed in the report entitled “Policies of Indoctrination and Persecution in Cuban Universities: Violations of Academic Freedom, Freedom of Thought and Religion, and Other Human Rights of University Members” (OAF, April 2021) - to a university in the United States, in addition to her failure to belong to government-sanctioned popular organizations.

 

In 2013, she participated in the foundation of the Patmos Institute, an institution oriented towards defending religious freedoms in the country, which action provoked constant persecution of her and her family, who ended up suffering arbitrary arrests, threats, and other repressive episodes. Faced with this situation, she left for the United States under the status of political refugee.

Marcheco has been a victim of the violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, creed, or religion8, the right to academic freedom9, the right to work10, and the right to non-discrimination11, among others12.

2. Recent cases (2010 – Present day)

2.1. Enrique Valdés López, law student at the University of Havana (UH) via long-distance learning

Between April and May of 2019, Enrique Valdés López, a law student at the University of Havana (UH), was informed by a presumed State Security agent that he would be unable to continue with his undergraduate degree due to his adoption of a stance contrary to the revolutionary process, especially as pertaining to legal studies.

 

Although the term wasn’t explicitly mentioned, Valdés believes that he was labeled a “counterrevolutionary” due to his denouncements and criticisms on social media of Cuban authorities.

Since the pupil’s expulsion was communicated to him orally, unmediated by any type of officializing document, Valdés did not return to classes, nor did he appeal the decision, considering such an action useless given the political nature of his case. His wife, being a public employee, also suffered consequences in the form of intimidations.

 

This young man, who used to balance studying for his degree with his regular job, has been unable to find employment in the public sector, the country’s largest source of employment. There is a frequent recurrence in the rejections of job applications after the expiration of the research period.

 

Enrique Valdés has been exposed to different human rights violations, among which are that of the right to thought, conscience, creed, or religion13, the right to education and academic freedom14, the right to work15, due process16, and the right to non-discrimination17.

2.2. Joanna Columbié Grave de Peralta, professor and graduate program subdirector at the Municipal Pedagogy School in Céspedes, Camagüey

In 2015, Professor Joanna Columbié began using social media to express denouncements related to the situation in Cuba and to publicly establish connections with members of non-government sanctioned civil society. Because of this, not only was her access to email and international browsing suspended, but that same year, she was also harassed, persecuted, and arbitrarily detained by State Security agents.

 

Shortly thereafter, she was definitively separated from the educational sector, prevented from leaving the country on six different occasions, and was even domestically deported. At the end of 2017, facing escalating repression, she achieved political asylum in the United States.

 

This former methodologist and teacher has been a victim of different human rights violations, including that of the right to thought, conscience, creed, or religion18, the right to education and academic freedom19, due process20, the right to work21, and the right to non-discrimination22, among others23.

1 Cuba is a participating State in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on Children’s Rights and its two voluntary protocols, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Furthermore, Cuba has ratified the ILO’s Convention (No. 87) on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (1948), the ILO’s Convention (No. 98) on the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively (1949), the ILO’s Convention (No. 100) concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value (1951), the ILO’s Convention (No. 111) on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) (1958), and the ILO’s Employment Policy Convention (No. 122). The Cuban Government, even after its subscription on February 28th, 2008, has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, nor that of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Cuba participated, furthermore, in the approval of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (1948) and ratified on July 16th, 1952 the Charter of the Organization of American States.

2 Protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Article 13, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, General Comment N° of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Protocol of San Salvador, Article 13, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article XII.

 

3 Contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Article 13, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, General Comment N° 13 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Protocol of San Salvador, Article 13, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article XII.

5 Recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 13), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26), General Comment N°13 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XII), among other documents.

 

6 Recognized by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

7 It is crucial to highlight that the International Covenants on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights of 1966 have not been ratified by the Cuban State. However, given that they were signed in 2008, it is important for them to be mentioned in the current report. Regrettably, neither the American Convention on Human Rights nor the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador, 1988) has been ratified by the Cuban State.

8 Protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18), the Pact of San José (Article 13), and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article IV).

 

9 Recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 13), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26), General Comment N° 13 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XII), among other documents.

 

10 Recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 7), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23), the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XIV), and the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Protocol of San Salvador (Article 7).

 

11 Recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 2).

 

12 The International Covenants on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 have not been ratified by the Cuban State, nor has the American Convention on Human Rights.

13 Protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (Article 18), the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18), the Pact of San José (Article 13), and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article IV).

 

14 Recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 13), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26), General Comment N° 13 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XII), among other documents.

 

15 Recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 7), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23), the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XIV), and the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Protocol of San Salvador (Article 7).

 

16 Recognized by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

17 Recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 2).

18 Protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18), the Pact of San José (Article 13), and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article IV).

 

19 Recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 13), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26), General Comment N° 13 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XII), among other documents.

 

20 Recognized by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

21 Recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 7), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23), the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XIV), and the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Protocol of San Salvador (Article 7).

 

22 Recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 2).

 

23 The International Covenants on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 have not been ratified by the Cuban State, nor has the American Convention on Human Rights.