Summary and Current Status
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello is an economist and former professor of mathematics and statistics. A prominent Cuban dissident, she helped found and currently directs both the Cuban Institute for Independent Economists (Instituto Cubano de Economistas Independientes) and the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (Asamblea para Promover la Sociedad Civil en Cuba), a coalition of some 365 non-governmental organizations. Neither of these groups is officially recognized by the Cuban government.
Ms. Roque has twice been imprisoned for her peaceful criticism of policies and programs of the Cuban government. The first time, she served almost three years in prison (July 1997-May 2000) for alleged sedition. Rearrested in March 2003, she was the only woman among approximately 75 dissidents who were summarily tried as part of what has been widely described as a massive crackdown by the Cuban government. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison for engaging in “activities aimed at subverting the internal order of the Cuban State, provoking its destabilization and the loss of its independence,” and receiving “substantial monetary funds from the U.S. Government.” Amnesty International adopted her as a prisoner of conscience during both of her incarcerations.
On July 22, 2004, Ms. Roque was conditionally released from prison on health grounds, after serving just over 15 months of her 20-year sentence. She remains in poor health, suffering from numerous ailments, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Formally, her release is conditional on a lack of improvement in her health.
According to Amnesty International, since her release from prison, Ms. Roque has reportedly been subjected to serious acts of intimidation.
The CHR has worked on Ms. Roque’s case since 1997.
Ms. Roque graduated with a major in economics in 1976 from the University of Havana, where she later taught. In 1990, she lost her teaching position at the university, presumably for independently producing an audit of the Cuban Ministry of Tourism that identified widespread mismanagement.
As an independent economist Ms. Roque has authored a number of economic analyses, which contradict official Cuban economic reports. The Cuban Institute, which she heads, regularly produces reports and articles on Cuban agriculture and industry which, reportedly, are based on official statistics and news reports. It is our understanding that the organization’s reports are banned in Cuba. Some of Ms. Roque's articles, including "GDP: Gross Domestic Product" (PIB: Producto Interno Bruto) and "Manifestations of the Cuban Crisis" (Manifestaciones de la Crisis Cubana), have been published in the United States and Europe.
Over the past decade, Ms. Roque appears to have been targeted for harassment because of her economic writings and dissident views. Prior to her first arrest in July 1997, she was detained several times, her home was searched without a warrant, and she received at least one death threat.
In the summer of 1996, Ms. Roque and three other colleagues—Félix Antonio Bonne Carcasés, an electrical engineer; Vladimiro Roca Antúnes, an economist; and René Gomez Manzano, a lawyer—formed the Internal Dissidents’ Working Group for the Analysis of the Cuban Socio-Economic Situation (Grupo de Trabajo de la Disidencia Interna para el Análisis de la Situatión Socio-económica Cubana). Ms. Roque was responsible for producing and distributing the group's publication, which Cuban authorities considered to be illegal. Several months after the group formed, they wrote an article, entitled "Cuba: A Sensible Proposal” (Cuba: Una propuesta sensata), describing their vision for Cuba's future. In June 1997, the group published another article, "The Homeland Belongs to Everyone" (La Patria es de Todos), and presented it at a small press conference attended by international reporters. The five-page article specifically rebutted, section by section, an official Cuban Communist Party document, "The Party of Unity, Democracy and Human Rights that We Defend," published in May 1997.
On July 16, 1997, Ms. Roque was arrested for the first time by Cuban state security officials, together with her three colleagues. It is believed that their arrest was directly linked to the publication and dissemination of "The Homeland Belongs to Everyone."
Initially, Ms. Roque and her colleagues were all detained at Villa Marista state security headquarters, in Havana. However, later, in November 1997, Ms. Roque was transferred to Manto Negro women’s prison in the municipality of La Lisa, Havana province. On July 30, 1998, after more than a year of pre-trial detention, Ms. Roque and her colleagues filed a habeas corpus petition, which a Havana court rejected the next day.
Several months later, on September 23, 1998, Ms. Roque and her colleagues were informed that they had been charged with “sedition” and “other acts against state security.” Some five months later, on March 1, 1999, Ms. Roque and her colleagues were brought to trial before a tribunal in the Marianao district of Havana. Nine family members reportedly were allowed to attend her trial, but foreign diplomats, journalists, and others were barred from the courthouse. During the two days prior to the trial, some 30 dissidents were detained in what appeared to be an effort to prevent possible demonstrations of support for the accused during the trial. After the trial, most, if not all, of the 30 detainees were released.
During the trial, and for a number of weeks afterwards, Ms. Roque and her colleagues were kept at Villa Marista state security headquarters. Reports indicate that they were pressured to accept exile from Cuba in exchange for their freedom. They all refused the offer.
On March 15, 1999, the verdict of the trial was made public. Ms. Roque and her colleagues were convicted of sedition. Ms. Roque was sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and transferred to Manto Negro prison. In May 1999, Ms. Roque and her colleagues appealed their convictions. The appeal argued that the convictions should be overturned on the basis of alleged infractions of due process in their trial. The outcome of these appeals was never made public by the Cuban government.
When the Cuban courts did not respond to the appeal, in mid July 1999 Ms. Roque began a protest during which she refused to speak and to eat solid food. Prison officials immediately transferred her to the State Security wing of the Carlos J. Findlay Military Hospital. (Ms. Roque later said that conditions at the hospital there were considerably more stressful than those at the prison because, while there, she was held in isolation in a “cell” with a woman who appeared to be mentally ill and who behaved violently. Given that Ms. Roque was sent to the hospital several times during her first imprisonment, it would appear that some of her “hospitalizations” may have been punitive.) On September 3, 1999, Ms. Roque began a full hunger strike but agreed to call it off two days later after meeting with the State Security official responsible for handling her case and receiving assurances that the courts would answer her appeal within a week. This did not happen. Instead, Ms. Roque was reportedly taken to an unknown location, where she was subjected to an "Instruction Regimen" for three months, after which she was returned to Findlay Hospital.
Ms. Roque reportedly experienced serious health problems during her first imprisonment. In October 1997 she discovered some lumps in her breast. A biopsy was performed, but she reportedly was never told the results. The procedure resulted in a severe infection which reportedly was not treated adequately. In December 1997, she was temporarily transferred to the Marianao Military Hospital, but it is not known if she received adequate medical attention there. She subsequently spent several months in the State Security wing of the Carlos J. Findlay Military Hospital, where she reportedly received insufficient treatment for breast tumors and a gastric ulcer. She also reportedly suffered an embolism in January 1998. Ms. Roque was hospitalized again for several days in early May 1999 in the State Security wing of the Carlos J. Findlay Military Hospital, although reports indicate that she was not treated for any medical problems. Ms. Roque reportedly was removed from prison and hospitalized again from June 8 to June 12, 1999, during the same days that Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, visited Manto Negro prison. On December 25, 1999, Ms. Roque was again sent to the Carlos J. Findlay Military Hospital because she reportedly was experiencing inflammation of the lymphatic glands in her throat and armpit, high blood pressure, and chest pains.
During this first imprisonment, Ms. Roque was allowed out of prison for 24-hour home visits on at least three occasions—in November 1999 just prior to the Ibero-American Summit in Havana, in February 2000, and again in March 2000.
After serving almost three years of her sentence, Ms. Roque was released from prison in May 2000, reportedly under Cuban legislation that allows for conditional release of prisoners who have served more than half their sentences and are considered to have behaved well during their incarceration. Her release was reportedly conditioned on the denial of certain civil rights until the expiration of her sentence.
Following her release, Ms. Roque resumed her work as head of the Cuban Institute for Independent Economists. Still unable to publish the Institute’s work legally in Cuba, she created a website on which she and others could disseminate their writings, primarily on various Cuban socio-economic issues. To circumvent strict Cuban laws governing access to the Internet and on-line publication, Ms. Roque arranged for the website to be managed by several people living in the United States.
In 2002, Ms. Roque received the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights Award for Scientists, given by the New York Academy of Sciences. However, the Cuban government did not permit her to travel to New York City to attend the awards ceremony.
In October 2002, Ms. Roque helped to create, and then became director of, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (Asamblea para Promover la Sociedad Civil en Cuba), a coalition comprised of more than 350 non-governmental civil society organizations.
In late February 2003, Ms. Roque held a meeting of the dissident community at her home to discuss the political and human rights situation in Cuba. Although she reportedly invited diplomats from all of the embassies in Havana to attend the meeting, U.S. Interests Section Chief James Cason was the only diplomat who came. This meeting received considerable press coverage. Approximately one month later, on March 20, 2003, Ms. Roque was arrested while conducting a week-long hunger strike to protest the incarceration of Cuban medical doctor and human rights activist Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González and other political prisoners. According to her niece, shortly thereafter Ms. Roque’s home was searched by security agents, who seized her computer, books, a typewriter, a fax machine, and papers. Within days Ms. Roque was charged with unspecified “activities aimed at subverting the internal order of the Cuban State, provoking its destabilization and the loss of its independence, activities for which she received substantial monetary funds from the U.S. Government.” Her indictment reportedly also stated that she had links with U.S. diplomat James Cason. Ms. Roque was one of a group of approximately 75 dissidents who were arrested in March and April 2003 as part of what has been widely described as a massive crackdown by the Cuban government.
On April 3, 2003, Ms. Roque was brought to trial and convicted. She was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison. The proceedings failed to meet international fair trial standards in a number of ways. Her trial, in which summary procedures were used, reportedly took only a few hours and was closed to Western diplomats and most international journalists. To our knowledge, no credible evidence was produced to support the government’s allegations that Ms. Roque had been engaged in subversive activities for which she received U.S. government funds. According to reliable sources, Ms. Roque was not given adequate access to her lawyer before the trial, and her lawyer was only allowed to review her lengthy court file a few hours before the trial, thus making it impossible for him to prepare an adequate defense. Furthermore, before Ms. Roque and the other approximately 75 dissidents who were arrested in March 2003 had been brought to trial and given the opportunity to defend themselves, the Cuban government announced their detention on national television and reportedly accused them of being linked to “acts of conspiracy,” through contact with the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, thereby depriving them of their fundamental right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty in a public trial, as promulgated by Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to Ms. Roque’s nephew, who attended her trial, her long-time personal assistant, Aleida Godinez, revealed at the trial that she was an undercover agent for the State. Ms. Godinez was the prosecution’s key witness in the case against Ms. Roque. It is important to note that Ms. Roque has always been completely open and public about her activities. Thus, it is difficult to believe that Ms. Godinez’s testimony provided any substantive evidence for the prosecution.
Following her conviction, Ms. Roque reportedly was held on a special ward run by State Security within Manto Negro women’s prison. Conditions of confinement there were reportedly harsh. Already in poor health, Ms. Roque’s condition worsened in prison, where she reportedly had little access to medical care. She reportedly suffered from an ulcer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and swelling of her face, among other ailments. According to her niece, on July 24, 2003, after she reportedly experienced chest pains and nose bleeds, Ms. Roque was transferred to the State Security wing of the Carlos J. Findlay Military Hospital in Havana. Her niece reported that Ms. Roque lost a lot of weight and that doctors at the military hospital confirmed that she had diabetes and a blockage in the left side of her heart (Bundle Branch Block). Although she reportedly received some treatment for these maladies—an anticoagulant via injection as well as medication for high blood pressure and diabetes—reliable reports indicate that she did not receive the specialized care and treatment that her serious ill-health required.
While held at Carlos J. Findlay Military Hospital, Ms. Roque reportedly shared a cell with other inmates. After a visit with her there on October 29, 2003, her niece reported that Ms. Roque had been physically threatened by one of her cellmates. The woman prisoner reportedly told Ms. Roque that she was going to take justice into her own hands by striking her with a single blow. After this incident, Ms. Roque was apparently transferred to another cell with two different prisoners who also were common criminals.
On July 22, 2004, Ms. Roque was unexpectedly released from prison, reportedly because of her declining health. According to press accounts, she has stated that she did not accept any conditions to her release. However, in Cuba, medical parole is given only for the period that a prisoner is experiencing serious health problems. If the Cuban authorities were to deem that there has been an improvement in her health, Ms. Roque would be returned to prison to serve the remainder of her lengthy sentence.
According to Amnesty International, since her early release from prison, Ms. Roque has been harassed repeatedly by Cuban government supporters and state security agents, including receiving death threats and being physically assaulted. Ms. Roque has made public allegations that her telephone is tapped, citing as evidence the broadcast of parts of her private conversations on state-run television on a program called Mesa Redonda (Round Table). Most recently, reports indicate that on April 17, 2007, Ms. Roque received an anonymous phone call from a man who said that he was a member of the security forces. He reportedly threatened to jail her unless she gave up her political activities, saying, “Martha, you are putting your life at risk, you are going back to prison.” (Martha, estás poniendo tu vida en peligro, vas a volver a caer presa.)