I had the opportunity today to hear two men speak of their experiences of repression in Cuba. I share their stories anonymously, as only the smallest samples of human rights abuses that have taken place in the country throughout several decades.
One of them had been a brilliant student, and as such, had been recruited during his first year in the university to join the communist leaders force. He turned down the offer, saying it didn’t interest him. His punishment was temporary removal from the university. Later he was admitted back, but they never lost sight of him. He was interrogated four different times, each lasting hours, for being suspected of dissenting activity, and was even threatened with death at one point (which could classify as torture under the UN convention against torture). During the last interrogation, he was told that they knew he wasn’t up to anything, but that fact that he thought differently was reason enough for them to keep a tight hold on him — so that he would not act on his thoughts.
The second man knows of two young men who were ‘disappeared’ not long after the Cuban Revolution for trying to fight against Fidel’s forces. No explanation was ever given, nor were their deaths confirmed by the government. This man also witnessed how two men were killed and buried arbitrarily.
Though there is some widespread knowledge about well-known dissenters being temporarily jailed in Cuba and protests being suppressed, there is little record or knowledge of the smaller acts that have taken place over the decades, those known by people who are unaware of international laws and their own rights and freedoms. As change comes to Cuba, as it inevitably will, questions of transitional justice will surface. Who will be held accountable for such crimes, if at all? How will trust be rebuilt within communities, a similar challenge seen in post-Soviet countries? How far back will they look – to the onset of the Revolution, to the crimes committed under previous presidents, or to more recent times? Yet unanswerable questions, but questions to keep in mind in the coming years.