During 2006 Cuba secured a place on the UN Human Rights Council and assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement during its XIV Summit in Havana in September.
In July, Fidel Castro underwent surgery and for the first time since 1959 transferred his responsibilities to other senior officials, including his brother, Raúl Castro Ruz. Political opposition parties and activities were not tolerated.
Political relations with the USA remained tense despite economic exports of agricultural products to Cuba exceeding US$500 million. The US Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba issued an update of its previous report in July. The European Union did not reintroduce sanctions lifted in 2005 despite continued concerns over the human rights situation in Cuba.
The US government set up a law enforcement task force to track down and prosecute those who circumvent restrictions on travelling and commercial exchanges with Cuba. In November, for the 15th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the USA to end its embargo on Cuba.
The government continued to deny the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cuba access to the country. AI and other independent human rights organizations were also not allowed to visit.
Prisoners of conscience
At the end of the year, 69 prisoners of conscience continued to be held for their non-violent political views or activities. Twelve others continued to serve their sentences outside prison because of health concerns. No releases of prisoners of conscience were reported during the year.
• Orlando Zapata Tamayo was sentenced to three years in 2003 on charges of showing "contempt to the figure of Fidel Castro", "public disorder" and "resistance". In November 2005 he was reportedly sentenced to an additional 15 years for "contempt" and "resistance" in prison. In May 2006, he was again tried on the same charges and sentenced to an additional seven-year term. He was serving a prison sentence of 25 years and six months.
Detention without charge or trial
Scores of people continued to be held without charge on suspicion of counter-revolutionary activities or on unclear charges. Their legal status remained unclear at the end of the year.
• Prisoner of conscience Oscar Mariano González Pérez, an independent journalist who was arrested in July 2005 as he was about to take part in a demonstration in front of the French embassy, remained in detention without charge or trial.
Freedom of expression and association
Severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association persisted. All print and broadcast media remained under state control. There was a rise in the harassment and intimidation of independent journalists and librarians. People suspected of links with dissident groups or involved in promoting human rights were arrested and detained. There was an increase in arrests on charges of "pre-criminal dangerousness". Access to the Internet remained severely limited outside governmental offices and educational institutions. Journalist Guillermo Fariñas staged a seven-month hunger strike to obtain access to the Internet, without success.
• Armando Betancourt Reina, a freelance journalist, was arrested on 23 May as he took notes and photographs of evictions from a house in the city of Camagüey. He was charged with public disorder. Armando Betancourt was reportedly held incommunicado for a week at the police station before being transferred to Cerámica Roja prison in Camagüey on 6 June. He was awaiting trial at the end of the year.
Harassment and intimidation of dissidents and activists
There was an increase in the public harassment and intimidation of human rights activists and political dissidents by quasi-official groups in so-called acts of repudiation.
• Juan Carlos González Leiva, President of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, was reportedly the target of several "acts of repudiation" - involving government supporters reportedly acting with the collusion of the authorities - at his home in the city of Ciego de Avila. He and his family were repeatedly threatened by demonstrators. Juan Carlos González Leiva, who is blind, was arrested in March 2002 for "disrespect", "public disorder", "resistance" and "disobedience" and spent two years in prison without trial. In April 2004 he was sentenced to four years' imprisonment, to be served at his home.
AI country reports/visits
• Cuba: Fundamental freedoms still under attack (AI Index: AMR 25/001/2006)
• Cuba: Fear for safety/Fear of torture/intimidation/harassment - Miguel Valdés Tamayo and Juan Carlos González Leiva (AI Index: AMR 25/002/2006)
AI last visited Cuba in 1988 and has not been allowed into the country since.