EXECUTIVE SUMMARY NO.8

Practices of Ideologization and Political Discrimination in Cuban Universities: Violation of Academic Freedom andnOther Human Rights of University Members

Through the Observatory on Academic Freedom (OAF), there have been documented multiple cases of restrictions on academic freedom, university autonomy, and other related human rights, which comprise policies implemented by the State to the detriment of the rights of the country’s academic community, contradicting international human rights regulations1.

 

This report reveals several concerns regarding speeches given by Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Council of State and Ministries of the Republic of Cuba, one in 1979 and the second in 1981. The contents of both addresses infringe on academic freedom and other human rights of university members.

Prior to these speeches, this antidemocratic position had been normalized within the Higher Education Reform in Cuba (1962) by imposing the teaching of Marxism in all fields of study, thus subordinating the university community to the revolutionary ideological project as a State policy violating academic freedom, university autonomy, and other related rights.

 

Associated with this precedent are reports of actions leveled against several university professors and students who were discriminated and persecuted for ideological and political reasons, circumstances which violate the right to academic freedom as well as other rights of university members.

 

The current report presents an outline conveying these actions, sorted by rights violations, years registered, and the institutes of higher education where they occurred. The following graph demonstrates the incidents with the highest frequency across all eight reports completed to date:

Graph 1. Incidents by type

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Source: Defenders Data Base (2020)

Speeches from July 13th, 1979, and July 7th, 1981, by Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Council of State and Ministries of the Republic of Cuba, that threaten academic freedom and other related rights

This report considers two speeches given by Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Council of State and Ministries of the Republic of Cuba: the first on July 13th, 1979, at the graduation ceremony of the “Manuel Ascunce Domenech” Pedagogical Detachment; and the second on July 7th, 1981, before 10,658 graduates of the aforementioned Pedagogical Detachment, by then at the undergraduate level. Both speeches were intended as a summons for Cuban teachers and students to take part in “perfecting” the education system, in the sense of fulfilling the revolutionary ideals and propelling an exclusive model of learning in which the socialization of communist values would be the only way to impart all teachings.

In these speeches, all professors are invited to commit themselves to transforming students’ conscience, as well as to ensure they channel their inclinations towards the revolutionary struggle and the defense of the ideals of a socialist society, to the detriment of academic plurality, autonomy, and freedom. Both speeches included affirmations that threaten any ideals of autonomy, freedom of thought, and political diversity within Cuban institutes of higher education, in addition to damaging the right to freedom of association and political participation.

Subversion of university autonomy through the Reform of Higher Education (1962)

As discussed preliminarily in reports published by the OAF, for decades, the expulsion of university professors and students has been perpetuated by a multiplicity of legal regulations, which are sustained by a common origin: the 1962 Reform of Higher Education in Cuba. Furthermore, the current report analyzes this regulatory body and the context in which it was dictated, given that it constituted not only a setback in terms of freedoms and participation, but also represented the elimination of one of the primary sources of social change within the Republic.

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

1.1. Amador Perfecto Blanco Hernández, professor in the History Department at the “Félix Varela” Higher Pedagogical Institute

During the 1982-1983 academic year, Amador Perfecto Blanco Hernández, professor in the History Department at the “Félix Varela” Higher Pedagogical Institute in the city of Santa Clara, perceived indications of harassment from the institute’s administration after he critically analyzed in his classes several events related to social repression in the Soviet Union. Consequently, he was subjugated to an act of repudiation with high doses of physical violence, in which his students participated, which included being accused of intending to ideologically deviate those to whom he should be imparting the precepts of Marxism – Leninism.

 

Amador Blanco was the target of a robust campaign to tarnish his reputation, and he was prohibited from practicing pedagogy at all educational levels in the country. Stemming from these events, the “José Martí” National Human Rights Commission was founded in 1989. Political persecution led him to imprisonment between 1992-1995.

Amador Blanco was a victim of the violation of freedom of expression and opinion2, the right to freedom of thought or conscience3, the right to non-discrimination, and, in particular, the right to academic freedom recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Article 13), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (Article 26), the General Comment N° 13 from the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article XII), among other documents4.

1.2. Yamisleidys Gómez Yanes, fifth-year undergraduate student in Geography at the “Félix Varela” Higher Pedagogical Institute’s School of Natural Sciences

Yamisleidys Gómez Yanes, fifth-year Geography student at the “Félix Varela” Higher Pedagogical Institute’s School of Natural Sciences, was arbitrarily expelled from the university for marrying a teacher belonging to a dissident group.

 

Gómez Yanes did not appeal the disciplinary measure due to her consideration that, given the nature of her alleged error and her unwillingness to divorce her husband, she would not be able to expect legal guarantees from an appeals process. She left for exile in 2005 and currently works as a faculty member in the public education system of the United States. Yamisleidys was a victim of several different human rights violations, among which are the right to freedom of expression and opinion5, the right to freedom of thought or conscience6, due process7, and the right to non-discrimination8, among other rights9.

2. Recent cases (2010 – 2021)

2.1. Félix Yuniel Llerena López, first-year student in Marxism, Leninism, and History at the “Enrique José Varona” University of Pedagogical Sciences

In April of 2017, Félix Yuniel Llerena López, first-year student in Marxism, Leninism, and History at the “Enrique José Varona” University of Pedagogical Sciences, was interrogated by State Security agents upon arriving in Cuba following a trip to the United States. The young man had been invited by the University of Miami and the Legal Rescue Foundation to participate in a Seminar on Democracy in Cuba where he exposed violations of religious freedoms on the island.

 

From the time of his return, both he and his family members were the targets of pressures and threats, all as part of a harassment campaign against him. Subsequently, in May of the same year, he was notified of his disenrollment from his educational institute, allegedly because of “attendance problems,” as a result of a summative procedure that violated university policies, given that there was no analysis with the student present, nor any documentation to make official the measure taken and allow for the assured convocation of a disciplinary committee for the purpose of analyzing the facts and corresponding extenuations.

 

The events herein described demonstrate Llerena López’s exposure to several different human rights violations, among which are the freedom of expression and opinion10, the right to freedom of thought or conscience11, due process12, academic freedom13, and the right to non-discrimination14, among other rights15.

2.2. Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, associate researcher at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (NIOR) and professor in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Havana (UH)’s School of Biology

As of December 5th, 2013, Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, associate researcher at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (NIOR) and professor in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Havana (UH)’s School of Biology, began to suffer harassment from State Security agents due to his friendships with people who dissented from the Cuban government.

 

The harassment against Casanella included pressuring his work colleagues for the purpose of undermining his social relationships, accusations of engaging in terrorism, threats to his personal safety, expulsion from his place of work, citations, interrogations, and even kidnapping within his own place of work, which occurred on December 30th, 2014. In the sphere of his work, his participation in research projects was prohibited while he was simultaneously the target of other actions that halted his progress and career development. One June 7th, 2016, he was definitively dismissed from NIOR, a measure which was ratified by the People’s Supreme Court of Cuba and prevented him from continuing his doctorate in Bioinformatics.

Since his dismissal, Oscar Casanella has become more associated with human rights activism on the island, for which he has suffered multiple threats, harassment, detainments, beatings, arbitrary house arrests, and prohibitions on leaving the country, among other forms of persecution. As a compounded result of all the aforementioned events, he has never again been able to practice his profession, neither as a researcher nor as a teacher. Consequently, Oscar Casanella is demonstrated to be a victim of several distinct human rights violations, among which are the right to freedom of expression and opinion16, the right to freedom of thought or conscience17, the right to academic freedom18, the right to work19, among other rights20.

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 Recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Maxn (Article IV) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José) (Article 13).

 

3  Recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18).

 

4 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.

5 Recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article IV) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José) (Article 13).

 

6 Recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18).

 

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

 

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

 

9 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 Protocol of San Salvador has been ratified by the Cuban State.

10 Recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article IV) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José) (Article 13).

 

11 Recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18).

 

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

 

13 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.

 

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

 

15 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.

16 Recognized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article IV) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José) (Article 13).

 

17 Recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18).

 

18 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.

 

19 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).

 

20 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.