Wednesday, November 18, 2009

... And Still the Same U.S. Policy [Updated]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released an new 123-page report on Cuba focused on its systematic (and often violent) repression of dissent inside the island. In sum, the report calls for a multilateral policy towards Cuba, rejecting the U.S. embargo, and placing maximum pressure on the Cuban government for the release of political prisoners and a change to its repressive laws.

This new report is based on "more than 60 in-depth interviews [from June and July 2009] with human rights defenders, journalists, former political prisoners, family members of current political prisoners, members of the clergy, trade unionists, and other Cuban citizens." It is an impressive report [summary and full report], here's a sample:

"Raúl Castro’s government has relied in particular on a provision of the Cuban Criminal Code that allows the state to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the suspicion that they might commit an offense in the future. This “dangerousness” provision is overtly political, defining as “dangerous” any behavior that contradicts socialist norms. The most Orwellian of Cuba’s laws, it 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."

"Imprisonment is only one of the many tactics the Cuban government uses to repress fundamental freedoms. Dissidents who try to express their views are often beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and subjected to public acts of repudiation. The government monitors, intimidates, and threatens those it perceives as its enemies. It isolates them from their friends and neighbors and discriminates against their families."

I also noticed that some bloggers have already mentioned some points like the above, but have not yet gotten to the other important part of the report: the recommendations.

It should be first noted that a multilateral policy towards Cuba has been dismissed for years by hard-liners and militants who instead desire an overthrow of the Cuban government through unilateral pressure (or intervention) from the U.S. government. So, some are going to ignore or reject the recommendations by HRW.

According to HRW: "The embargo imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and has done nothing to improve the situation of human rights in Cuba. Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies."

Therefore: "To remedy this continuing failure, the US must end its failed embargo policy. It should shift the goal of its Cuba strategy away from regime change and toward promoting human rights. In particular, it should replace its sweeping bans on travel and trade with Cuba with more effective forms of pressure."

HRW recommends a multilateral policy that includes 1) a firm committment from "[the European Union], Canada and Latin American allies" to demand the "immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners" inside Cuba; 2) the commitment must include an agreement on the definition of "political prisoner"; 3) provide a six-month deadline that includes punitive measures (such as targeted sanctions) if the Cuban government does not comply; and 4) once this committment is secured, the U.S. must end its embargo towards Cuba

If the Cuban government does not release its political prisoners, the multilateral coalition must impose its targeted sanctions policy. If all political prisoners are released then the coalition should continue with a strategy to pressure Cuba to change its repressive laws on dissent.

The recommendations are bold and its application a moral imperative. I see no reason to ignore or dismiss the recommendations, given the facts of the report.

--- [Update] ---

The Cuban Interest Section in Washington D.C. has already responded to the HRW report saying:

"HRW is an organization that analyzes this issue from a discriminatory, selective and above all politicized perspective. Its evaluation of human rights in Cuba is illegitimate and illegal."

"The presentation of this report in a news conference precisely today has no other intention than to divert the public's attention from the hearing by the international relations committee of Congress on the elimination of restrictions on Americans' travel to Cuba. That audience will be tomorrow. No doubt, a strange coincidence!"

It should be reiterated that HRW, along with Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, has called for the end of the U.S. embargo repeatedly and consistently, including U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba.

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