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Restrictions on Academic Freedom and Other Human Rights of Members of Cuban Universities

The seventh report produced for the Observatory on Academic Freedom (OAF) exposes the primary concerns related to academic freedom and university autonomy in the sphere of Cuban higher education, as well as their contradictions with international legal human rights regulations1. These violations of academic freedom and university autonomy represent policies implemented by the Cuban Government to the detriment of students and professors. This category of professionals has been the target of repercussions and persecutions in the field of their intellectual duties, especially in authoritarian contexts such as Cuba.


At the time of this report’s completion, there exists a total of 28 cases reviewed and published by the OAF since its first report, all of which are related to the systematic violation of the right to academic freedom and university autonomy in Cuba since 1959, when the revolutionary government seized power. This is reflected in Graph 3 of this report, which illustrates how the aforementioned cases of rights violations have occurred.


Following this outline of ideas, the current report reveals several concerns related to three speeches given in 2002 by Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Council of State and Ministries of the Republic of Cuba, in which he discusses measures taken against the Valera Project. The formation of this populace-consulted, civil initiative was attributed to the “terrorist mafias of Miami,” allegedly promoting the Project with the objective of promulgating political liberties and democratizing the country. Based on this reasoning, one of the most severe waves of repression in the history of Cuba was unleashed.


Likewise, with regards to the Special Regulation for Students of the Carlos J. Finlay Detachment, which established basic guidelines for the behavior of aspiring students in their pursuit of careers in the Cuban health system, guidelines that Fidel Castro indicated would be by far the toughest when it came to the Medical Sciences Detachment, there have also been observed repeated occurrences of limiting its members’ thoughts and political practices.

Within the framework of the Observatory on Academic Freedom, the current report contains four case studies, two of which are historical in nature (1959-2010), and two of which have occurred more recently (2010-2020). The historical cases section documents the violations of academic freedom and other human rights incurred in 2002 that correspond to undergraduate students Roger Rubio Lima and Yulys Espinosa Acosta, victims of the persecution leveled against the Varela Project, an initiative born of Cuba’s civil society that, under constitutional protection, sought to influence Cuba’s sociopolitical flexibilization.

The first of the aforementioned students was expelled from the Higher Pedagogical Institute of Camagüey for signing the proposal and participating as an activist for the Project; meanwhile, the second student endured threats and was subjected to continual monitoring during the remainder of her undergraduate degree at the University of Camagüey for having joined the Project and publicly expressing her agreement with it.


In the section describing recent cases, which covers cases of human rights violations from 2010 to the present day, this report documents violations against two university professors who were ultimately persecuted and discriminated for their political views.


Professor Osmany Suárez Rivero was a victim of harassment and retaliation, beginning with surveillance by State Security agents and leading ultimately to censorship and expulsion due to a letter he sent to the administration and professors of the university where he worked. Herein is also documented the case of Professor Julio Antonio Fernández Estrada, who was relieved of his duties, censored, flagged, and banned for upholding an academic praxis outside the margins of expected institutional rigidity, despite its ideological consistency with the current social system.

This report presents the following graph, which categorizes the violated rights in question and years registered, correlating incidents of violation of academic freedom and related rights, which consist of actions such as unjustified or illegal dismissal from work, harassment, accosting, and expulsion from educational institutes, among others. Incidents with the highest frequency of occurrence are thus evidenced:

Graph 1. Incidents by type

Informe No. 7 OLA
Chart 5.PNG

Source: Defenders Data Base (2020)

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 signing on February 28th, 2008, has not ratified the International Covenent 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.

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