The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights presents its fourth report on the situation in the country

Interviews to gather information on the Cuban situation were carried out before, during and after the protests that swept the island this summer
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The state of Cuba is critical. The population not only has to cope with the regime's political repression, but also suffers from a severe economic crisis, accentuated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In this context, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) has presented its IV report on the situation of social rights in Cuba. The document was presented by Alejandro González Raga, executive director of the OCDH, journalist and political activist; Yaxys Cires, director of strategy of the OCDH; Ernesto Ortiz, member of the organisation; and Dayli Coro, Cuban doctor.

Alejandro González Raga began by debunking the myth about the protection of social rights in Cuba. The OCDH Executive Director alluded to the serious economic situation, pointing out that one third of the Cuban population lives on remittances sent by Cubans from abroad. He also stated that many citizens who participated in the interviews for the report expressed their fear of possible reprisals by the regime. "This represents the great fiction that Cuba is a paradise of social rights", declared Raga.

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Later, Ernesto Ortiz detailed the process of drafting the document. The OCDH conducted 1,141 interviews with citizens over the age of 18 in 11 provinces of the country. Ortiz also underlined the relevant timing of the interviews. "One third of the interviews were conducted during and after the popular protests of 11 July," he stressed. "This obviously makes the data very topical," Ortiz added.

First, the main problems of the country according to citizens were presented. Yaxys Cires pointed out that 60% of those surveyed consider the food crisis to be the main difficulty. This includes the lack of food and the rising cost of basic products. The second biggest problem, according to the research, is the situation of the health system. Thirdly, there are the challenges arising from the task of order, a monetary reform that has made basic commodities and services more expensive. It has also eliminated subsidies. 

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Other problems worth mentioning are government repression and the severe inflation plaguing the economy. Cires underlined that the embargo is in 11th place and that it has been marked mostly by older people, while young people pointed to the political landscape as the main difficulty.

The elderly, citizens who do not receive remittances, the unemployed and the self-employed are the sectors most affected by the economic and social situation, as Cires pointed out. 

Fragile health system hit by the pandemic

Doctor Dayli Coro explained the health situation. Coro, like Raga, began by debunking a myth related to Cuba. In this case, the doctor referred to the idea that the island has a strong health system. Coro acknowledged that Cuba produces pharmaceuticals, but she pointed out that these medicines do not reach the citizens but are destined for foreigners or for certain political groups.  For this reason, it is difficult to obtain drugs. According to the OCDH report, only 22% of those surveyed bought medicines from pharmacies, compared to 29% who said they were unable to obtain them because of shortages. 14% received them from relatives and 7 % through charitable organisations. 

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Coro also referred to the black market within the health system and put into perspective the cost of medicines in relation to Spain. She said that in Cuba antibiotics can cost up to 100 dollars, while a blister pack of paracetamol can cost 40 dollars. "This is not a new problem. In my experience it is going to get worse," she lamented.

On the management of the pandemic, Coro said the government "still does not recognise the problems in the health system". "The necessary measures have not been taken, there are still people dying in their homes," he added. Interviews conducted on the management of the coronavirus indicate that 80 per cent did not receive any financial assistance, while 20 per cent admitted to having consumed expired medicines. 

Job discrimination 

Ortiz intervened again to explain the employment situation. "The level of the unemployed remains the same," he said. One in five of those surveyed works in tourism, a key sector on the island that has been hard hit by the pandemic. However, many citizens have been unable to access jobs in tourism due to discrimination, as admitted by 70 per cent of respondents. The main reason for discrimination is due to political views, followed by criminal record, social relations and sexual inclination. Discrimination based on race and gender accounted for 15% and 13% respectively. 

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On the other hand, within the tourism sector, 56% are of the opinion that the state should not keep a percentage of their salary, while 54% believe that there is a great deal of political and ideological control in the sector. Only 2 out of 10 workers say they work freely.

Access to drinking water, electricity supply and food are other issues addressed by the report, which provides worrying data on the Cuban situation. According to the OCDH, 82% of Cubans do not have access to drinking water on a permanent basis; 58% have suffered blackouts lasting 2 to 6 hours. In addition, power cuts have increased considerably.

Regarding food, 45% have had to go without at least one meal a day. Fifty-six per cent say that the food supply booklet is insufficient, as it only covers the first ten days of the month. "Every Cuban living in 71% of households lives below the poverty line," said Cires.

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"The country needs urgent change"

To conclude, Cires called on the Cuban regime to initiate a "path of change, of political and social transition". "The country needs urgent change", he added.

Demonstrators who have been imprisoned during the protests were also remembered. Many of them, young people, even minors, who share prison with criminals such as murderers or rapists. "The Cuban regime impoverishes and also represses," Cires stressed.

Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra