Cuba is an authoritarian country with one-party system, shaped by the rule of the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Cuba, PCC), the only legal party in the country today. The rule of the Castro brothers lasted until 2018, when Miguel Díaz-Canel was selected to succeed Raul Castro and became president, assuring continuation of established political system.
The human rights situation in Cuba shows distinct features in comparison to other Latin American countries. In the island, freedom of thought, expression and association are close to non-existent. The Cuban regime controls virtually every sphere of the life of Cuban people, and systematically suppresses activists and dissidents who raise their voices against the system. Regime critics are frequently detained, intimidated and threatened by state authorities that seek to undermine their psychological health.
Independent civil society organizations are prevented from gaining legal status, which profoundly limits freedom of association on the island. Instead of locally led organizations and initiatives, civic space is occupied by government-sponsored NGOs that are interlinked with state. These organizations respond to the socio-political priorities of the Cuban government. Historically, each step towards greater freedom has been buried under a series of restrictions. In 2013, Cubans were allowed to travel abroad, but since then, they have been increasingly prevented from leaving the island, especially when travelling to internationally recognized institutions to denounce human rights violations.
The freedom of information is also highly limited. The access to internet has improved, but it remains limited by high prices. Online activities are extensively surveyed by the government. Media are under the full control of the state and there is a slim chance for independent media to operate within the island without facing consequences. In spite of series of changes, Cuban people continue struggling with state authorities, including political police and state security agents who oversee behavior in all neighborhoods and engage in human rights violations.
People in Need in Cuba: 1997-2022
People in Need started working in Cuba in 1997, following request from Cuban dissident community in exile. As a young democracy, the Czech Republic was in the position to support Cuban people and their struggle for a more democratic society. People in Need became one of the pioneers in Europe to assist Cuban civil society. Since then, the Cuban program has focused on promoting and protecting human rights in Cuba.
Initially, we sought to aid Cuban activists, dissidents, political prisoners and lawyers. Basic supplies scarce in Cuba, including medication and journalistic equipment, were sent to Cuban partners to support families of political prisoners in need, as well as the work of independent journalists. Throughout time, the scope of support expanded to reach wider groups of civil society actors such as bloggers, environmental activists, women LGBT rights defenders, informal civic associations and artivists and bloggers.
More than 20 years have passed since we initiated human rights support in Cuba. Our effort is now joined by a number of international actors across the world.
1. Civil society support
• Goal: Support grassroots civil society organizations, empower vulnerable groups of the population, and strengthen of Cuban civil society
• Who we support: Civil society organizations, local activists, environmental and animal defenders, women, children, youth, LGBT communities, self-employed workers, social and community leaders, artists
• How we support:
We support diverse projects and activities implemented by local CSOs. Our focus is on small organizations located in remote provinces that are going through the early stage of organizational development. These organizations struggle to reach international aid as they cannot be registered as legal entities. On the one side, we award microgrants to CSOs. On the other side, we offer capacity building for organizations and individuals to equip them with necessary knowledge and skills in the areas of project cycle management, digital security, or organizational strengthening. Selected organizations go through an institutionalization process that strengthens them. Last but not least, with our region-wide network of activists and journalists, we facilitate the encounter of Cuban and other Latin American activists and journalists, allowing them to share their views and inspire each other.
(The table below summarises the themes and contents of the projects we have been supporting.)
- Projects with a specific emphasis on capacity building
2. Human Rights Defense and Advocacy
• Goal: Document and defend human rights recurrently violated by the Cuban regime, protect human rights defenders, and advocate for human rights protection internationally
• Who we support: Human rights defenders, dissidents, activists, Eye on Cuba Network
• How we support:
Activists, human rights defenders and those who do not play with the rules set by the Cuban government can experience a high degree of restrictions on their freedom and harassment. Cubans with critical voice are often arbitrarily detained and mistreated. The Eye on Cuba Network documents such reality and helps Cuban activists to organize themselves in their tireless effort. Human rights cases are published on the Eye on Cuba website.
Find more about human rights abuses in Cuba here.
On the island, discrimination based on gender, race and socioeconomic status is common. In order to fight discrimination and promote equal treatment for all, we provide direct support to projects tackling these issues and capacity building to vulnerable groups of the population. In particular, women have been constantly neglected and mistreated within Cuban society.
The sphere of our work is not limited to Cuba. In order to raise awareness and promote human rights topics, People in Need leads the EU-Cuba NGO Network and engages in advocacy efforts together with international organizations that work in Cuba. We have played an important role in connecting Cuban activists with European policymakers. Cuban activists were thus able to speak about the human rights landscape in the European Parliament, with the representatives of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomats in Geneva.
• Who we support: Independent journalists, independent media, artists
• How we support:
Each year, we invite selected Cuban journalists and artivists to different places where they go through an intensive audio-visual capacity building. The project has evolved to adapt to new media narratives, specializing in audio-visuals and recently in podcast. Many of journalists who previously participated in the audio-visual workshops have been producing audio-visual contents and portraying Cuban reality.
In 2007, we established the Cubalog web. It offers an online space for Cubans as well as the international actors to freely share their stories, analysis and critiques regarding life in Cuba. It serves as a sanctuary for independent Cuban emerging journalists, dissidents and grassroots activists, who wish to express their views freely, overcoming media censorship. The latest uncensored stories of life in Cuba can be found here.
Civil society support
Who we support: Civil society organisations, local activists, environmental and animal defenders, women, children, youth, LGBT communities, self-employed workers, social and community leaders, artists