Cubans see little evidence of meaningful reform in their country and remain skeptical that Raúl Castro's new presidency will bring positive change, according to the findings of a field study released by Freedom House today. The study, Change in Cuba, provides a rare opportunity to hear the opinions of ordinary Cubans in five provinces.
"The superficial reforms that Raúl Castro enacted earlier this year have done little to improve the lives of average Cubans," said Daniel Calingaert, Freedom House deputy director of programs. "We hope that this study spurs Cuban democracy advocates and the international community to do more to provide an alternative vision for Cuba's future, one that stresses freedom, prosperity, and security for all."
Freedom House researchers interviewed 177 Cubans in the provinces of Ciudad de la Habana, Villa Clara, Holguín, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba. Researchers included respondents from diverse age, political, racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Interviews were conducted from March 28 to May 5, immediately following a round of small-scale government reforms that included allowing Cubans to purchase cell phones and enter tourist hotels.
The qualitative manner in which Freedom House researchers conducted the study allowed Cubans to express their views in detail, as seen in the report's numerous candid anecdotes. Some of the study's main findings include:
Main Challenges: Most respondents said their main concern was the struggle to survive and meet basic needs such as food and housing. Others named healthcare, transportation and public services as areas of concern. A few respondents cited political freedom.
Restrictions on Society: Despite talk of reforms, no respondent felt the changes would lead to significant increases in the space for private businesses to operate. They unanimously said that Raúl Castro would never permit increased tolerance of independent groups such as political parties and business associations. However, some interviewees in Camaguey believed that Raúl Castro was more tolerant toward the country's black market.
Reform Priorities: Respondents named freedom of movement—both outside and within the country—and freedom of expression as top reform priorities. They also urged the adoption of a single currency, pointing out that while they are paid in moneda nacional, they must exchange them for pesos convertible to buy certain items. Respondents in Habana, Villa Clara and Holguín said they believed they would start seeing change in two years, while those in Camagüey said it would take another generation. If change did not come within the next few years, respondents said they would "do nothing." Few expressed a desire to leave Cuba permanently, fearing that they might "lose everything."
Anxiety over Change: Interviewees expressed concern that political change could bring increased crime and insecurity. In addition, while many citizens said they would like to travel abroad, they would be reluctant to go for fear that the government would seize their homes.
Response to Abuse: Most respondents said they had little recourse if they were a victim of government abuse. They recounted stories of public attacks because of their political beliefs and evictions from their homes. None of the respondents mentioned contacting a police officer, a lawyer or a human rights activist. When asked about the possibility of protesting, respondents said such action was ineffective and dangerous.
Democracy Movement: Many respondents said they view democracy and human rights activists on the island as the only hope for a future transition to a free society. However, most knew little about such groups and often believe the government's propaganda about them. Only a few interviewees could name any of the groups or their initiatives and no one viewed them as an alternative to the current regime.
For the complete report visit: http://freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=384&key=119&parent=11&report=69
In addition to the report, Freedom House released Distributing Censored Information in Cuba, a policy brief that examines how Cubans access information from independent sources.
Cuba is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
For more information on Cuba, visit:
Freedom in the World 2008: Cuba
Freedom of the Press 2008: Cuba
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Cuba since 1972.
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Contact: Laura Ingalls in Washington, 202-747-7035 , 202-683-0909