Black Spring of Cuba
In what has been called the Black Spring of Cuba, the Fidel Castro regime put in jail 75 political opponents between 18 and 20 March 2003. Many of them are still prisoners. Some have been released in return for political concessions. Spain, for example, has gained the release of some dissidents and journalists. Using the image of their name, a group called Ladies in White advocates for the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners.
According to the Castro government, these people were "threatening national security" by disseminating ideas against the Communist system. The main legal argument was: "The Cuban authorities attempted to justify the crackdown as a necessary response to United States aggression towards the island. Dissidents were convicted either under Article 88 or 91 of the Penal Code or Law 88. Article 88, the Ley de Protección de la Independencia Nacional y la Economía de Cuba, Law for the Protection of National Independence and Economy of Cuba, provides stiff prison terms for those deemed guilty of supporting United States policy against Cuba. Article 91 provides for sentences of ten to 20 years or death against anyone 'who in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state'."Ambassadors from the European Union (EU) were denied access to the trials. The EU stated:
The conduct of the trials has raised serious concerns about access to justice and the right to a free and fair trial by an impartial tribunal. The trials fell well short of international standards particularly with regard to: adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense and communication with the counsel of
defendant's choosing; fair public hearing by independent and impartial tribunal; summary group trials each lasted on average one day; defendants were tried in groups of approximately six, each on different charges; no independent international observers were allowed in the courtrooms; State Security filled thecourtrooms and some family members/supporters were turned away.
A large number are journalists. Reporters without Borders noted that Cuba has the second largest population of imprisoned journalists, behind China. Independent reporting had become more available at this time, inside and outside the island. One example was the independent magazine De Cuba, launched by Raul Rivero and Ricardo Gonzalez. Also at that time the Sakharov Prizewinner, Oswaldo Payá, carried out the Varela Project, the most successful opposition initiative, that in May 2002 collected more than 10,000 signatures in support of a referendum for democratic reforms in Cuba.
Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and Amnesty International declared they were exercising reasonable democratic rights. They were arrested and subjected to summary trials, where they were condemned to long prison sentences, from 15 to 28 years.
- Carlos Lauria, Monica Campbell, and María Salazar (18 March 2008), Cuba's Long Black Spring: Five years after the Castro government cracked down on the independent press, more than 20 journalists remain behind bars for the crime of free expression, Committee to Protect Journalists
- CUBA: One year too many: prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown, Amnesty International
- Joaquín Roy (August 2003), The European Union Perception of Cuba: From Frustration to Irritation, European Union, Jean Monnet/Robert Schuman Paper Series Vol. 3 No.2, pp. 17-21
- Cuba second from last, just ahead of North Korea, Reporters without Borders, 20 October 2003
- Tom Malinowski, Washington Advocacy Director (3 September 2003), Cuba: Human Rights and US Policy, Human Rights Watch
- Laura Ingalls (22 March 2009), Freedom House Urges Cuba to Free Political Prisoners on Black Spring Anniversary., Freedom House