Human rights group blasts Cuba for abuses

WASHINGTON — The human rights arm of the Organization of American States on Friday condemned Cuba for multiple violations, drawing an angry response from its allies Venezuela and Nicaragua, which argued that Havana had been unable to defend itself.

In its 2007 annual report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a semi-autonomous unit of the OAS, said Cuba restricted political rights and freedom of expression, lacked free elections and an independent judiciary and "created a permanent panorama of breached basic rights for the Cuban citizenry."

The report also faults Cuba for the lack of independent trade unions and threats and attacks against rights activists. The commission also noted that foreign reporters were stripped of their work permits because "their assessment of Cuban problems is not acceptable to the Cuban government," the report said.

It said Cuba jailed 26 journalists, more than any other country in the hemisphere.

Cuba is also found to have violated multiple articles of international rights treaties and was urged to free jailed dissidents. One of the prisoners, Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo, was confined to 15 months of solitary confinement and "suffered damage to his central nervous system and other pathologies," according to the report.

The report also mentioned Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela as countries of concern.

Cuba rejects the jurisdiction of the commission, saying it was suspended from the OAS in 1962. OAS officials argue that Cuba is still bound to respect human rights treaties. Commission communications to Cuba are usually returned unopened.

In his dissenting vote, Venezuelan representative Freddy Gutierrez called the report "abstract" and "vague" with deeds "recounted by one side only" with sources he considered "dubious" and "taken from media that systematically oppose the right of the Republic of Cuba freely to determine its own destiny."

"It is also contrary to any sound interpretation of the law to seek to initiate, pursue, and issue a condemnation of someone who cannot defend himself," he said.

Representatives from Venezuela and Nicaragua also criticized the report when it was presented before an OAS judicial committee on Thursday.