Amnesty International (AI) is undoubtedly the jost famous human rights organization in the world. Created in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Berenson, this non-governmental organization has branches in more than 50 countries and more than two million members throughout the world. Its outstanding work in favor of abolishing the death penalty and torture, against political crimes and for the freedom of prisoners of conscience has allowed it to enjoy advisory organization status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the Organization of American States, among others. (1)

"Prisoners of conscience"

Every year AI publishes a report about the state of human rights in the world. Aljost no country escapes its watchful eye. With regards to Cuba, the international organization documents "69 prisoners of conscience" in its 2007 report and explains that they are incarcerated for "their positions or non-violent political activities." The Cuban government rejects this charge and accuses AI of partiality. The country’s authorities broke relations with the organization in 1988, the date of AI’s last visit to Cuba. (2)

In a statement dated March 18, 2008, AI referred to "58 dissidents who remain incarcerated in different prisons around the country." The organization emphasized that "the only crime committed by those 58 people is to have peacefully exercised their fundamental rights." Kerry Howard, assistant director of Amnesty International’s Regional Program for America, declares that "the prisoners of conscience must be freed immediately and unconditionally. (3)

In their communiqu, the international organization recognizes that "the majority were accused of crimes such as "acts against the independence of the State’." Amnesty International also recognizes that those people were sentenced "for having received funds or materials from the United States government to carry out activities which the authorities consider subversive and prejudicial for Cuba."(4)

In order to be convinced of this state of affairs, existent since 1959, it is enough to consult partially declassified U.S. files, section 1705 of the 1992 Torricelli law, section 109 of the 1996 Helms-Burton law and the two Reports of the Commission of Assistance for a Free Cuba of May 2004 and July 2006. All of these documents show that the U.S. president finances the internal opposition in Cuba with the objective of overthrowing the government of Havana. It is the main pillar Washington’s foreign policy with respect to Cuba. (5)

Thus, section 1705 of the Torricelli law states that "the United States will provide assistance to appropriate non-governmental organizations, for the support of individuals and organizations that promote nonviolent democratic change in Cuba."(6)

Section 109 of the Helms-Burton law is also very clear: "the President [of the United States] is authorized to furnish assistance and offer all kinds of support to individuals and independent non-governmental organizations to support democracy-building efforts in Cuba." (7)

The first report of the Commission of Assistance to a Free Cuba established the development of a "strong program that favors Cuban civil society." Among the recommended measures, financing is allocated in the amount of 36 million dollars for "supporting the democratic opposition and empowering an emerging civil society."(8)

On March 3, 2005, Roger Noriega, undersecretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the Bush administration, indicated that 14.4 million dollars had been added to the budget of 36 million dollars established in the 2004 report. Noriega was even so honest that he revealed the identity of some of the people in charge of the development of the U.S. foreign policy against Cuba. (9)

Finally, the second report of the Commission of Assistance to a Free Cuba established a budget of 31 million dollars to finance the internal opposition even more. In addition, annual financing of at least 20 million dollars is planned, with the same objective, for the following years "until the dictatorship ceases existing." (10)

Therefore, there is no doubt about this matter.


AI now admits that the people who are considered "prisoners of conscience" have "received funds or materials from the U.S. government to carry out activities that the authorities consider subversive and harmful for Cuba." Here, the organization finds itself in full contradiction.

In effect, international law considers it illegal to finance domestic opposition in another sovereign nation. Said policy flagrantly violates the principles and norms governing relations between states. All countries of the world have a legal arsenal at their disposal, which allows them to defend their national independence against this kind of foreign aggression, codifying as crimes behaviors that favor application of laws that lead to subversion. It is a fundamental duty of any state.

Cuban law

Cuban law severely punishes any association with a foreign power with the objective of subverting the established order and destroying its political, economic, and social system. The Protection of Cuban National Independence and the Economy Law No. 88 was adopted on March 15, 1999, after the United States made the decision to increase economic sanctions and to finance the internal opposition in Cuba.

This legislation has as its objective, as Article 1 states, "to define and sanction those acts directed at supporting, facilitating or collaborating with the objectives of the `Helms-Burton’ Law, the blockade and the economic war against the Cuban people, aimed at violating internal order, destabilizing the country and eliminating the socialist state and independence of Cuba."(11)

The law provides sanctions of from seven to fifteen years in prison for any person who "supplies, directly or through a third party, the Government of the United States, its agencies, dependencies, representatives or officials, information to facilitate the objectives of the `Helms-Burton’ Law." This sentence will be eight to 20 years in prison if the offense is committed in concert with two or more people or if there is stipend in one way or another. (12)

Law No. 88 punishes with sentences of three to eight years in prison the act of gathering, reproducing or distributing subversive material from the "Government of the United States of America, its agencies, dependences, representatives, officials or any other foreign entity" with the objective of supporting economic sanctions and destabilizing the nation. The sentences will be imprisonment for four to 10 years if the crime is carried out in concert with others or if it is financed. (13)

Finally, Article 11 provides that "he who, [] directly or by means of a third party, receives, distributes, or participates in the distribution of financial, material or any other kind of support, coming from the Government of the United States of America, its agencies, dependencies, representatives, officials or from private entities, will be punished by imprisonment for three to eight years."(14)

Thus, as Amnesty International explicitly admits, the people who are considered "prisoners of conscience" really committed a serious crime that Cuban law punishes severely. Consequently, their status went from opponents to agents subsidized by a foreign power and they are accountable to Cuban justice. In reality, the "prisoners of conscience" are mercenaries at the service of a hostile and bellicose foreign power.

Cuban penal specificity?

It is also appropriate to stress that historically the United States has been a bitter enemy of Cuba’s independence and sovereignty. In 1898, Washington intervened in Cuba’s anti-colonial war in order to stop the Cubans fully gaining self-determination and occupied the country until 1902. Later, Cuba became a type of protectorate, politically and economically controlled until 1958. Since 1959, the United States has tried everything to destroy the Cuban Revolution: terrorist attacks, armed invasion, threat of nuclear disintegration, economic sanctions, political, media, and diplomatic war, and internal subversion.

Like any other responsible state, the revolutionary government adopted legal measures to survive in the face of those actions. Nonetheless, is it the case that Cuban penal law is unusual? Is it unique? Let’s see what is provided for in laws in Western countrieswhich, nevertheless, don’t face the same threats as Cubafor individuals who put themselves at the service of a foreign power.

The U.S. Penal Code

In the United States, those actions are severely punished. According to paragraph 951 of the U.S. Penal Code, "Whoever, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attache, acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General [i] shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years." Point e/2/A of the paragraph specifies that "any person engaged in a legal commercial transaction shall be considered to be an agent of a foreign government [] if it is an agent of Cuba." Thus, a Cuban who buys medical equipment in the United States for a hospital in Havana is legally subject to a penalty of up to ten years in prison. (15)

Paragraph 953, known as the Logan Law, provides that "any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States" shall receive a penalty of up to three years of imprisonment. (16)

If this law were applied in Cuba, the vast majority of what the Western press considers to be "Cuban dissidents" would be behind bars. In fact, the Cuban opposition regularly meets with the U.S. representative in Havana, Michael Parmly, at the offices of the U.S. Interests Section (USIS) or even at his personal residence.

Paragraph 954 provides a penalty of ten years in prison for any person who makes "false statements" with the objective of attacking the interests of the United States in its relations with another nation. (17) Here also, if the opponent Oswaldo Paywho accuses the Cuban government of being responsible for disappearances and of having murdered more than "twenty children" were subjected to laws as severe as those in the United States, he would be currently in jail, without provoking any commotion among Western conservative souls. Nonetheless, the jost famous of Cuban dissidents never has been bothered by Cuban justice, since there it has no evidence that he receives money from a foreign power. In comparison, Ral Rivero, who was a relatively moderate and half-hearted opponent with respect to Paya, was sentenced to twenty years in prison (and freed one year later) because he had accepted generous remunerations offered by Washington. (18)

Paragraph 2381 provides that "whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years." (19)

Thus, if U.S. citizens behaved in the same way as the individuals found guilty by Cuban justice of association with a foreign power, they would risk capital punishment. Paragraph 2385 provides a penalty of twenty years for any person who publicly supports the overthrow of the government or established order. (20)

As it is easy to verify, the U.S. penal code is in many ways much more severe than Cuban laws.

French criminal law

The French penal code also provides extremely severe sanctions in case of proved association with a foreign power. According to article 411-4,

"The act of maintaining intelligence with a foreign power, a company, a foreign organization or one under foreign control, or with its agents, with the aim of provoking hostilities or acts of aggression against France, is punished with thirty years imprisonment and a fine of 450,000 Euros.

The act of offering to a foreign power, business, or foreign organization or one under foreign control or to its agents the means to undertake hostilities or carry out acts of aggression against France will be punished with the same penalties." (21)

The French law is, in this respect, more severe than Cuban law. Spanish law

The Spanish Penal Code of 1995 provides severe sanctions for those same offenses. According to Article 592,

"those who, with the goal of harming the authority of the State or jeopardizing the dignity or the vital interests of Spain, intelligence relations of intelligence or any kind of relation with foreign governments, with their agents or with international or foreign groups, organizations, or associations will be punished with a prison sentence ranging from four to eight years." (22)

Article 589 provides a penalty of one to three years of imprisonment for "whoever publicizes or executes in Spain any order, disposition or document from a foreign government which threatens the independence or security of the state, opposes the observance of its laws or provokes noncompliance with them." (23) If the famous Cuban Ladies in White had had the same behavior in Spain, they would be jailed.

The Belguim Penal Code

Chapter II of the Belgian law which deals with "crimes and misdemeanors against the external security of the state" and more precisely Article 114 provides that

"he who carries out maneuvers or maintains intelligence with a foreign power or with any person who acts in the interests of a foreign power in order to bring this power to begin a war against Belgium, or to procure the means, will be sentenced to 20 to 30 years of imprisonment. If the hostilities occur he will be sentenced to life imprisonment." (24)

Italian legislation

According to Article 243 of the Italian Penal Code,

"he who maintains intelligence with foreigners with the objective that a foreign State declare war or carries out hostile acts against the Italian state, or commits other acts with the same objective, will be punished with imprisonment of no less than ten years. If the war breaks out, the death penalty will be applied [1]; if the hostilities are proven, a life term will be applied. [1] The death penalty is abolished and replaced by a life sentence." (25)

Article 246 is about financing of the citizen by a foreign power:

"The citizen who, even indirectly, receives or causes to be promised to him from a foreign country, for him or for another, money or any other kind of article, or accepts only the promise of it, with the goal of committing acts contrary to the national interests, shall be punished, if the deed does not constitute the jost serious act, with imprisonment from three to 10 years." The penalty shall increase if "the money or the article are delivered or are promised through propaganda by means of the press." (26)

Thus, Italian legislation is much more severe than that of Cuba. If the very famous dissidents like Pay, Marta Beatriz Roque or Elizardo Snchez found themselves in Italy, they would be incarcerated and not free.

Swiss Law

Even peaceful Switzerland provides sanctions for the crime of association with a foreign power. Article 266 of the Penal Code provides that:

"1. He who commits an act that threatens the independence of the Confederation or poses a danger to its independence, or provokes on behalf of a foreign power interference in the matters of the Confederation, which poses a danger for the independence of the Confederation, will be punished with imprisonment of at least one year.

2. He who maintains intelligence with the government of a foreign state or with one of its agents with the objective of provoking a war against the Confederation will be punished with a sentence of at least three years of imprisonment.

In serious cases, the judge will pronounce a sentence of life imprisonment.

Article 266 is also very clear:

"1. He who, with the objective of provoking or supporting enterprises or organized actions from abroad against the security of Switzerland, enters into a relationship with a foreign state, with foreign parties, or with other organizations abroad, or with their agents, or launches or spreads incorrect or tendentious information, will be punished with imprisonment of no more than five years maximum or a fine. In serious cases, the judge will pronounce a jail term of at least one year." (27)

Swedish law

In Sweden, the Penal Code provides a penalty of two years jail for "he who receives money or other donations from a foreign power or anybody who acts in its interests, with the goal of publishing or disseminating writings, or influencing in any manner public opinion regarding the internal organization of the state." (28)

This Scandinavian democracy also sanctions "he who spreads or transmits to foreign powers or their agents inexact or tendentious information, with the objective of creating threats for the security of the state." Finally, a sentence of ten years to life imprisonment is applied to he "who constitutes a threat against the security of the state for having utilized illegal means with the support of a foreign power."(29)

Agents at the service of a foreign power and not "prisoners of conscience"

The examples could be infinitely multiplied. In any country of the world the law severely punishes association with a foreign power and it is not possible, consequently, to grant the status of "prisoners of conscience" to the individuals financed by a foreign power, as is the case of the detained Cubans, which, on the other hand, Amnesty International honestly recognizes.

Amnesty International is an organization recognized for its seriousness, professionalism and impartiality. But the treatment that it reserves for Cuba is debatable. In order to be able to continue enjoying the same prestige and the same objectivity, AI would do well to reconsider, without further delay, its judgment regarding those that it considers "prisoners of conscience" in Cuba, since the double standard is unacceptable.


(1) Amnesty International, L’histoire d’Amnesty International, sin fecha. (sitio consultado el 23 de abril de 2008).

(2) Amnesty International, Cuba. Rapport 2007, abril de 2007. (sitio consultado el 23 de abril de 2008).

(3) Amnesty International, Cuba: Cinco anos de mas; el nuevo gobierno

debe liberar a los disidentes encarcelados, 18 de marzo de 2008.

(sitio consultado el 23 de abril de 2008).
(4) Ibid.
(5) Salim Lamrani, Double Morale. Cuba, l’Union europenne et les droits de l’homme (Paris: Editions Estrella, 2008), pp. 45-55.

(6) Cuban Democracy Act, Titre XVII, Seccion 1705, 1992. 

(7) Helms-Burton Act, Titre I, Seccin 109, 1996. 

(8) Colin L. Powell, Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, (Washington: United States Department of State, mayo de 2004). (sitio consultado el 7 de mayo de 2004), pp. 16, 22. 

(9) Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary Noriega’s Statement Before the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, Department of State, 3 de marzo de 2005. (sitio consultado el 9 de abril de 2005). 

(10) Condoleezza Rice & Carlos Gutierrez, Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, (Washington: United States Department of State, julio de 2006). (sitio consultado el 12 de julio de 2006), p. 20.

(11) Gaceta Oficial de la Repblica de Cuba, Ley de proteccin de la independencia nacional y la economa de Cuba (LEY NO 88), 15 de marzo de 1999.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Ibid. 

(14) Ibid. 

(15) U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 45, 951. 

(16) U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 45, 953. (17) U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 45, 954. 

(18) El Nuevo Herald, Mensaje de Pay destaca que en la isla hay desaparecidos, 18 de marzo de 2005, p. 23A. 

(19) U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 115, 2381. 

(20) U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 115, 2385. 

(21) Codigo Penal Francs, Libro IV, Capitulo I, Seccin 2, Articulo 411-4. 

(22) Codigo Penal Espaol de 1995, Capitulo II, Articulo 592. 

(23) Codigo Penal Espaol de 1995, Capitulo II, Articulo 589. 

(24) Codigo Penal Belga, Capitulo II, Articulo 114. 

(25) Codigo Penal Italiano, Libro II, Ttulo I, Capitulo I, Articulo 243. 

(26) Codigo Penal Italiano, Libro II, Ttulo I, Capitulo I, Articulo 246. 

(27) Codigo Penal Suizo, Articulo 266. 

(28) Codigo Penal Sueco, Capitulo 19, Articulo 13. 

(29) Codigo Penal Sueco, Capitulo 19, Articulo 8.

Salim Lamrani is a professor, writer, and French journalist specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States. He has published the following titles : Washington contre Cuba (Pantin: Le Temps des Cerises, 2005), Cuba face l’Empire (Genve: Timeli, 2006) and Fidel Castro, Cuba et les Etats-Unis (Pantin: Le Temps des Cerises, 2006). He has just published Double Morale. Cuba, l’Union europenne et les droits de l’homme (Paris: Editions Estrella, 2008).

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