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    Test for U.S. Shift on Cuba Is Whether Rights Improve

    Test for U.S. Shift on Cuba Is Whether Rights Improve
    By MICHAEL R. GORDONDEC. 24, 2014

    WASHINGTON — President Obama’s decision to restore full diplomatic
    relations with Cuba will face an early test next year as the White House
    tries to make good on its contention that the policy shift will lead to
    a gradual improvement in the Cuban government’s dismal record on human
    rights.

    The Cuban authorities have promised to release 53 political prisoners,
    but at first they wanted to send the prisoners to the United States.
    American officials insisted, however, that they be allowed to remain in
    Cuba with no restrictions on their activities. The Cubans agreed.

    American officials will be watching to see if all 53 are released, and
    if the Cuban government undermines the gesture by continuing to detain
    or harass other political opponents. Some American officials believe
    that Cuba has been holding more political prisoners than the 53 and say
    that it will be important to push next year to secure the release of the
    others, as well.

    Senior Obama administration officials insist that the improved ties
    between the countries will strengthen the prospects for reform by
    precluding President Raúl Castro from blaming American efforts to
    isolate his country for the failings of Cuba’s government.

    “It denies the regime an excuse and enables us to leverage stronger
    pressure from Europe and Latin America, which we couldn’t do effectively
    as long as our policy was viewed around the world as a bigger problem
    than the Castros’ repression,” said Tom Malinowski, the State
    Department’s top official for human rights. “For many of us who worked
    on human rights in Cuba for many years, it feels like this is the first
    time we really have a chance.”

    The policy will face other early challenges. A second test will be
    whether Cuba makes good on its pledge to allow American companies to
    improve Internet access in Cuba, a commitment that White House officials
    highlighted as a way of expanding the ability of the Cuban public to
    communicate with Americans. The new administration policy also seeks to
    help Cuba’s small private sector by expanding United States exports to
    Cuba’s entrepreneurs and small farmers.

    Obama administration officials are calculating that they can enlist
    support from European and Latin American countries to persuade Cuba to
    accede to a major treaty protecting political freedom — the
    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — and, ultimately,
    to improve its legal system.

    Specific talks between the United States and Cuba on human rights have
    yet to be scheduled. The compartmentalized nature of the secret
    negotiations, in which the American side was represented by a deputy
    national security adviser to Mr. Obama and a senior National Security
    Council aide, means that the rest of the administration is still trying
    to flesh out a strategy to advance political freedoms in a nation that
    has been a notorious violator of human rights.

    In his news conference last week, Mr. Obama said his policy could
    involve “carrots as well as sticks” to induce the Cuban government to
    make changes, but administration officials have not publicly specified
    what they might be.

    “The State Department was not part of the negotiations; neither was the
    Cuban Foreign Ministry,” said Tim Rieser, a foreign policy aide to
    Senator Patrick J. Leahy, one of the Senate’s leading human rights
    champions. “It is going to be a process of determining how best to
    advance our human rights goals.”

    Cuba’s record on human rights is well documented. The State Department’s
    annual human rights report said this year that the Cuban government
    carried out arbitrary arrests, failed to hold fair trials, spied on
    private communications, opposed free speech, restricted its citizens’
    access to the Internet and refused to recognize independent human rights
    groups.

    Human rights advocates say the Cuban government has relied less on long
    prison terms to silence dissent and more on short-term detentions, which
    rose to more than 8,400 this year, according to the Cuban Commission for
    Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group.

    An especially pernicious practice, the State Department report notes, is
    a legal provision that allows the Cuban government to detain people for
    up to four years for “potential dangerousness.” The measure, the State
    Department says, has been used to “silence peaceful political opponents.”

    “Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction
    of the government,” the State Department report says. “Impunity for the
    perpetrators remained widespread.”

    Source: Test for U.S. Shift on Cuba Is Whether Rights Improve –
    NYTimes.com –
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/world/americas/test-for-us-shift-on-cuba-is-whether-rights-improve.html?_r=0

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