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    Engaging Cuba on Human Rights

    Engaging Cuba on Human Rights
    The regime should be asked to release political prisoners in exchange
    for normal relations
    by Jorge G. Castañeda
    Published in:
    The Wall Street Journal
    November 19, 2009

    The logical route to follow is the one HRW and others have
    suggested: The U.S. should shift from a policy of regime change to a
    policy of human-rights promotion. The Obama administration should
    approach the European Union and the Latin American democracies and offer
    to lift the embargo on the condition that these countries join the U.S.
    in pressuring Cuba on a single demand: the release of all political
    prisoners, including those incarcerated for "dangerousness."
    Jorge G. Castañeda, board member of Human Rights Watch

    Normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba was widely seen as exactly the
    kind of high-value, low-hanging fruit that would be ideal for a
    president elected under the banner of "change." But a scathing new Human
    Rights Watch (HRW) report, "New Castro, Same Cuba," will make lifting
    sanctions against the Castro regime-on travel, remittances, trade-more
    difficult for President Obama.

    Sadly, the human-rights situation on the island remains dismal, despite
    new leadership. According to HRW, the Raúl Castro government has
    harassed and imprisoned dissidents using an Orwellian provision of the
    Cuban Criminal Code that punishes "dangerousness." Authorities can lock
    up individuals on the suspicion that they may commit a crime in the
    future, or for engaging in behavior that is "antisocial" or contrary to
    "socialist morality."

    Among the activities the government has deemed "dangerous" are: handing
    out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, failing to
    attend pro-government rallies, or simply being unemployed. In its
    report, based on more than 60 interviews carried out in Cuba without
    official permission or by phone from abroad, HRW documented more than 40
    cases of dissidents who have been sentenced for "dangerousness."

    Cuban law is replete with laws like the "dangerousness" provision that
    may be used to punish anyone seen as critical of the government.
    Human-rights defenders, journalists, political activists and others
    charged with breaking such laws find themselves at the mercy of a system
    that violates virtually every due process right.

    Political detainees are denied access to legal counsel and family
    visits. They are subjected to abusive interrogations, and they may be
    detained for months or even years without being charged. Trials are pure
    theater, mostly conducted behind closed doors and finished in minutes.

    Once in prison, abuse is commonplace. On Dec. 10, 2008-Human Rights
    Day-a political prisoner tried to read aloud to fellow prisoners from a
    book his wife had brought him called "Your Rights." In response, a guard
    came into his cell and told him to eat the book. When the prisoner
    refused, he was beaten and later sentenced to six more years in prison
    for "disrespecting authority."

    Dissidents are subjected to public "acts of repudiation," in which
    crowds gather outside of their homes, throwing stones, shouting threats,
    and sometimes physically assaulting them. Those labeled
    "counterrevolutionaries" are fired from their jobs, monitored,
    threatened and prevented from traveling. The beating of dissident
    blogger Yoani Sánchez by two men she says were Cuban agents in civilian
    clothes in Havana just two weeks ago is further proof of this
    regrettable state of affairs.

    Without outside pressure, the human-rights situation in Cuba will not
    improve. But outside pressure-sadly absent today, in the case of Europe
    or Latin America-has proved insufficient. At the same time, the U.S.
    embargo policy has been a unmitigated failure.

    The logical route to follow is the one HRW and others have suggested:
    The U.S. should shift from a policy of regime change to a policy of
    human-rights promotion. The Obama administration should approach the
    European Union and the Latin American democracies and offer to lift the
    embargo on the condition that these countries join the U.S. in
    pressuring Cuba on a single demand: the release of all political
    prisoners, including those incarcerated for "dangerousness."

    Once the U.S. government has secured this commitment and a multilateral
    coalition is in place, the U.S. should end its failed embargo policy.
    Cuba should be given a brief and specified period-the report recommends
    six months-to release all of its political prisoners.

    If the government of Raúl Castro complies, it will set in motion a
    process whose ultimate goal is the full normalization of relations with
    the U.S. and the EU, as well as compliance with the democratic standards
    of the Organization of American States. If it does not, this
    multilateral coalition should enact targeted sanctions directed at the
    leadership of the Castro government.

    The Castro brothers know that nothing would be more threatening to their
    half-century monopoly on power than the end of the U.S. embargo, which
    they use as a justification for their ongoing abuses. Indeed, they
    appear to be deliberately sabotaging normalization by making the
    human-rights situation worse.

    This is why a multilateral approach is crucial. According to the Spanish
    daily El País, President Obama asked Spanish Prime Minister Rodríguez
    Zapatero three weeks ago to "Tell the Cubans we are taking steps, but if
    they don't take them too, it will be very difficult for us to continue."
    The Obama administration gets it. Now, if only we could get more Latin
    American countries to stop countenancing Cuba's human-rights violations
    and play a constructive role.

    Mr. Castaneda, a professor at New York University, board member of Human
    Rights Watch and fellow at the New America Foundation, was Mexico's
    foreign minister from 2000 to 2003.

    Engaging Cuba on Human Rights | Human Rights Watch (20 November 2009)
    http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/11/20/engaging-cuba-human-rights

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