Many critics of the Cuban Government and Fidel Castro insist that Cuba is a police state where the people are constantly watched and terrorized.
While there are an average amount of police officers around (similar to the US), their presence generally has positive effects, contrary to some notions that Cuba is a brutal police state. The police officers do not question people as to their destinations, nor do they request to see papers or seem to spy on citizens.
However, the Government does keep some information on all of the workers. Those who don't speak against the Government have little to worry about. Such people go about their lives without any significant amount of harassment.
Also, the officers mainly keep to themselves and do not look threatening. This is a contrast to many other countries where soldiers of various training with the authority of police walk around with machine guns. The Cuban police, as with all Cubans, are almost all educated and friendly people, not at all the violence-crazed henchmen of some murderous tyrant.
There is, however, a moderate police presence. The main purpose of this seems to be to show to the people that the Cuban Government does not tolerate crime. Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world, and petty crime levels are much lower than in almost all other nations, including the United States.
It is hard to speculate at the level of political freedom tolerated in Cuba (see our Freedom in Cuba page). Many Government critics do so anyway, and it is important to be careful in believing what they say, as few of them have the first hand knowledge to make such statements.
The Cuban Government does not look well upon dissenters, labeling them "counter-revolutionaries". There is only one political party in Cuba that can campaign, and Cuban democracy is quite different than standard Western democracy. People who speak out against the government are occasionally imprisoned; distributing "counter-revolutionary" propaganda is a crime in Cuba.
Their caution in allowing political opposition is certainly not mere paranoia. A country, which has the world's most powerful nation as its primary enemy, is not an ideal place for political freedom to prosper.
Those who consider their country to be "freer" than Cuba should try to imagine how the situation might change if a huge and powerful neighbor was trying to overthrow their government. While the state of Cuban political freedom is certainly not ideal, taking Cuba's position in world politics into account rationalizes the Government's attitude towards dissenters somewhat.
Of course, some criticism of the government is tolerated. As Cubans are generally a very open people, they will often feel free to speak their mind about the Government. For an example, the highly popular Cuban movie, Strawberry and Chocolate, tells about how the government mistreated gays in Cuba. In order to have been produced, this film would have to have received government permission.
One must take into account how successful or unsuccessful the government has been when looking at its political freedom record. If one believes it has done well, then perhaps protecting the Revolution in this way is justified.