Summary and Current Status
Vladimiro Roca was released on May 6, 2002, after serving all but 70 days of a five-year prison sentence in Cuba's Cienfuegos Prison solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental rights to freedom of expression and opinion. He, together with the three other members of the Internal Dissidents Task Group for the Analysis of the Cuban Socio-Economic Situation, was arrested in July 1997 after the group presented The Homeland Is for Everyone—a socio-economic critique of a Cuban Communist Party manifesto that described their vision of Cuba's future—at a press conference for foreign journalists. In March 1999, almost two years later, the four Task Group members were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three-and-a-half to five years. Mr. Roca received the longest sentence, five years. The three other members were released in May 2000, before their sentences had expired. They reportedly were freed under Cuban legislation that allows for conditional freedom of prisoners who have served more than half their sentences and are considered to have behaved well during their incarceration. Although Mr. Roca appeared to also meet the criteria for early release, he was forced to serve almost his entire sentence and was subjected to particularly harsh conditions of confinement.
Mr. Roca—the son of Blas Roca, a Cuban revolutionary hero and founding member of the Cuban Communist Party—is an economist. He has a bachelor's degree in international economic relations from the Instituto Superior Cubano de Relaciones Internacionales (Cuban Higher Institute of International Relations). After completing his degree in economics, Mr. Roca trained to be a fighter pilot in the then Soviet Union and served in the Cuban Armed Forces for 10 years. Subsequently, he worked as an economist for the State Committee for Economic Cooperation in the Cuban Ministry of Investments.
Mr. Roca was a member of the Cuban Communist Party. However, in the early 1990s he reportedly grew disillusioned with certain party policies and broke all his ties to the government. Subsequently, he was elected president of the unofficial Partido Social Demócrata Cubano (Cuban Social Democratic Party), which seeks a peaceful transition to a democratic society and the rule of law. Mr. Roca was also one of the founding members of the Concilio Cubano (Cuban Council), an umbrella organization for Cuban dissident groups that is not recognized by the Cuban government. The government has repeatedly targeted the Council for repression, suppressing its meetings, arresting and harassing its participants, and systematically searching the homes of its council members. Prior to his current imprisonment, Mr. Roca was detained a number of times for hours or days, and government-organized mobs staged several so-called "acts of repudiation" outside his home which included stoning his house. During the early and mid 1990s, Mr. Roca wrote several articles and essays, published abroad, that were critical of Cuban government policies and advocated a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba. Titles include: Alternativas (Alternatives), Situación política (The Political Situation), Análisis del año 1996 (Analysis of the Year 1996), and Un poco de luz en la oscuridad (A Democratic Vision for the Future).
In the summer of 1996, Mr. Roca and three other colleagues—Félix Antonio Bonne Carcasés, an electrical engineer; Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an economist; and René Gomez Manzano, a lawyer—formed the Grupo de Trabajo de la Disidencia Interna para el Análisis de la Situación Socio-Económica Cubana (the Internal Dissidents Task Group for the Analysis of the Cuban Socio-Economic Situation). In late June 1997 they wrote an article describing their vision of Cuba's future, entitled Cuba: Una propuesta La Patria es de Todos (The Homeland is for Everyone) and presented it at a press conference for foreign journalists. The five-page article rebutted, section by section, an official Cuban Communist Party draft manifesto, el Partido de la Unidad, la Democracia y los Derechos Humanos que Defendemos (The Party of Unity, Democracy and Human Rights that We Defend) published in May 1997 prior to the October 1997 Fifth Cuban Communist Party Congress. Immediately following the press conference, approximately 40 members of a support committee for the Internal Dissidents Task Group were detained briefly. On July 16, 1997, Mr. Roca and his colleagues were arrested by Cuban state security officials, who reportedly searched their homes, seizing books, papers, correspondence, and personal property such as typewriters and computers. It appears that their arrest was directly linked to the publication and dissemination of The Homeland is for Everyone. The four were detained at Villa Marista State Security headquarters until November 1997, when they were transferred to separate prisons. Mr. Roca was sent to Cienfuegos Prison in Ariza. On July 30, 1998, Mr. Roca and his colleagues filed a habeas corpus petition, which a Havana court rejected the next day.
Shortly after representatives of the European Union and Canada met with Cuban officials to express concern over the arrests, Cuban Foreign Ministry spokesman Miguel Alfonso reportedly sent a statement to several embassies in Havana saying that the four were arrested because: they had carried out intense activity aimed at subverting the judicial and constitutional order of the Republic of Cuba, they were seeking to disrupt local government elections, they had released false and inexact information about the state of the Cuban economy with the aim of negatively influencing foreign investment in the country, and they had the logistical support of U.S. diplomats in Havana. The Cuban government also reportedly claimed that it had proof that the four were in contact with "leaders of terrorist groups based in the territory of the United States."
It appears that the arrest of Mr. Roca and his colleagues was part of what Amnesty International described as a renewed and intensified effort by the Cuban authorities to stifle peaceful political dissent in the country in the months prior to the Fifth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party. This effort coincided with reports during June and July 1997 of bomb explosions at three tourist hotels in Havana. Amnesty International has said it believes the majority of those detained since April 1997 have been targeted because of their peaceful political beliefs and that the Cuban authorities deliberately tried to discredit them by linking them to the bombings. It appears that because of the lack of press freedom and independent organizations in Cuba, Mr. Roca and his colleagues resorted to foreign journalists and other avenues abroad through which to express their ideas and opinions, rights promulgated by the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On September 23, 1998, more than a year after their arrest, Mr. Roca and his colleagues were informed that they had been charged with "other acts against state security" in relation to a charge of "sedition." Some six months later, on March 1, 1999, they were brought to trial at the Havana Tribunal in the Marianao district in Havana. Nine family members reportedly were allowed to attend, 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, it appears that most, if not all, of the detainees were released. On March 15, 1999, the verdict of the trial was made public. Mr. Roca and his colleagues were convicted of sedition. Mr. Roca was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, Mr. Bonne to four years, Mr. Gomez to four years, and Ms. Roque to three-and-a-half years. During the trial and for a number of weeks afterwards, Mr. Roca and his colleagues were kept at Villa Marista State Security Headquarters and reportedly were put under intense pressure to accept exile from Cuba in exchange for their freedom. They all refused the offer. Mr. Roca was subsequently returned to Cienfuegos Prison, where he remained until his release.
In May 1999, Mr. Roca and his 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. A formal decision on the appeal, which is not subject to a specific time limit for a response from the Cuban courts, was never made public. However, in May 2000, Mr. Roca's three Task Group colleagues—Félix Bonne, Martha Roque, and Rene Gomez Manzano—were released after spending almost three years in prison. (On June 29, 2000, Mr. Bonne, Ms. Roque, and Mr. Gomez sent CHR Chair Torsten Wiesel a letter of appreciation to thank the CHR for its efforts to gain their release and for the small gifts that the CHR sent them as a token of support during their incarceration.) They reportedly were freed 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. As a condition of their release, they are denied certain civil rights until the expiration of their sentences. Mr. Roca is the only Task Group member who was refused early release under this legislation.
Throughout his incarceration, Mr. Roca was subjected to particularly harsh conditions of confinement. At Villa Marista state security headquarters—where he was first detained for more than a year without access to legal counsel, formal charges, or a trial—he was kept in a small, hot, unsanitary cell in which the electric lighting was on 24 hours a day. He was subsequently transferred to the remote Cienfuegos Prison, a considerable distance from his home, where he was held most of the time in solitary confinement. His family visits were greatly restricted. Mr. Roca reportedly did not receive adequate medical treatment for his high blood pressure.
Amnesty International considered Mr. Roca to be a prisoner of conscience.