Human Rights Watch says conditions in Cuba have not improved under Raul Castro and in some ways are worse than they had been when his brother Fidel was president.
In a report released Wednesday, the group accuses Raul Castro's government of systematic repression and creating "a pervasive climate of fear among dissidents and, when it comes to expression of political views, in Cuban society as a whole."
Fidel Castro ceded power to Raul Castro first on an interim basis in 2006, then permanently in February 2008. Human rights activists had hoped that the change would lead to greater liberty on the Caribbean island.
The report found little evidence of that. It criticized Raul Castro's increased reliance on a law that it says criminalizes "any behavior that contradicts socialist norms."
It says the law "captures the essence of the Cuban government's repressive mindset, which views anyone who acts out of step with the government as a potential threat and thus worthy of punishment."
Human Rights Watch described the report as its most comprehensive analysis of conditions for Cuba since Raul Castro took power. The report echoes the group's past criticism of Raul Castro's government.
Cuba contends it protects human rights much better than most countries because its communist system provides free health care, education through college, housing and basic food. It says it holds no political prisoners, and opposition activists in jail are there for legitimate reasons, such as treason. The government says dissident groups are mercenaries of Washington.
Human Rights Watch rejects that argument, but criticizes the United States for its decades-old embargo.
While giving the Cuban government "full and exclusive responsibility" for rights abuses, the report says that while the embargo continues, "the Castro government will continue to manipulate U.S. policy to cast itself as a Latin American David standing up to the U.S. Goliath, a role it exploits skillfully."
Cuba's government has jailed or harassed some independent journalists or activists, although its restrictions on Internet use are loose enough that some critics still manage to file blog posts regularly from computers on the island.
The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, whose reports are the basis for many analyses of the situation in Cuba, says more than 200 political prisoners still are held in Cuba, notably fewer than when Fidel Castro ruled. The government does not recognize the commission's legitimacy but has not shut it down.
Associated Press writer John Rice contributed to this report from Mexico City, Mexico.