From José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Americas Division to the House Committee on Agriculture:
Human Rights Watch fully supports the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645), which would remove obstacles to legal sales of US agricultural commodities to Cuba and abolish restrictions on travel to the island. We believe the proposed legislation, as well as similar legislation in the United States Senate (S. 1089), represents a necessary step towards ending a US policy that has failed for decades to have any impact whatsoever on improving human rights in Cuba.
The death in custody on February 23, 2010, of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike served as a tragic reminder of the abuse suffered by those who dare to criticize the Castro government, and the lack of recourse for victims of repression. In the aftermath of Zapata's tragic death, some have argued that the US embargo policy should not be changed, or that restrictions on trade and travel should be tightened further. Human Rights Watch disagrees.
There is no question: the Cuban government bears full and exclusive responsibility for the abuses it commits. However, so long as the embargo remains in place, the Castro government will continue to manipulate US policy to cast itself as a Latin American David standing up to a US Goliath, a role it exploits skillfully. Ending the travel ban and removing obstacles to agricultural trade are steps in the right direction toward reforming this failed policy, and Congress should act swiftly to pass the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act.
[Full letter here]
[Human Rights Watch Report (November, 2009): "New Castro, Same Cuba"]