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José Luis García Paneque was born in 1965 in Cuba. He studied medicine at the Institute of Medical Sciences of Camaguey. As a doctor, he specialized in plastic surgery.

In 1998, he became active as a dissident, joining the Freedom Press Agency, an alternative journalism project. In 2000, he became the initiative’s director. For his activism, he was removed from his position at the hospital where he worked.

In March 2003, Dr. García was among the 75 dissidents who were arrested in the crackdown known as the Black Spring. He was summarily sentenced to 24 years in prison. He was imprisoned for seven years and four months, two years of which were in solitary confinement. The harsh conditions in prison caused him to lose half of his body weight, posing life-threatening consequences to his health. In 2010, he was released in negotiations brokered by the Roman Catholic Church. As a condition of his release, Dr. García was required to leave Cuba.

Since leaving his homeland, Dr. García has overseen the Freedom Observatory project, which is associated with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies at the Catholic University of Valencia in Spain. He currently lives in Florida.

Follow Dr. García’s blog at http://vocesdeldestierro.wordpress.com/. 

Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.

Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.

Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.

In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.

While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.

Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.

Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.

The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.

Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.


More from Jose Luis Garcia Paneque

Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: The Black Spring “I was sentenced to 24 years in prison.” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: Release and Exile “Seven years and four months passed before I regained my freedom.” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: The Cuban Opposition “The opposition has forced the regime to try and project an image of pretended openness.” More + Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: Life as a Political Prisoner “I was transferred to prison – that is when my passage through hell starts.” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: The Role of Technology “The regime knows that if people start to be informed, it will become a potential danger for them.” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: Becoming an Activist “So I made up my mind and one day I decided to participate” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: Cuba's Role in Grenada How Cuba’s role in Grenada influenced Dr. Garcia’s path. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: Background “I realized that the system under which I lived was a lie.” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: International Support “International support is essential.” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: How the Regime Maintains Control “The government instills fear in the people.” Jose Luis Garcia Paneque: Foreign Investment in Cuba “Foreign investment does not benefit the Cuban people.”

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