Reading the fine print

When Human Rights Watch released their report on November 18th, detailing the continued brutal and violent repression of Cubans on the island, the liberal media wasted no time in pouncing upon two small paragraphs contained in the 123-page report. Located in the Recommendations section, these paragraphs call for an end to the US embargo against the Cuban dictatorship, calling it a “costly and misguided failure,” and proclaiming that it “has done nothing to improve the situation of human rights in Cuba.” The embargo, the report authors go on to say, does nothing but provide the dictatorship with a scapegoat for its incompetence and helps it garner sympathy from other nations.

Efforts by the US government to press for change by imposing a sweeping economic embargo have proven to be a costly and misguided failure. 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.

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 the US Goliath, a role it exploits skillfully.

In the estimation of the liberal media and supporters of diplomatic relations with a vile regime, these statements by Human Rights Watch vindicate their calls for engagement and dialogue with the Castro dictatorship.

The Los Angeles Times had this to say after listing some of the crimes listed by the report that are being committed against the Cuban people.

Nevertheless, the rights group said the United States should lift its 47-year-old embargo on travel and trade with Cuba, calling it a costly failure. It urged more targeted pressure to improve human rights conditions.

“No longer would Cuba be able to manipulate the embargo as a pretext for repressing its own people,” the report said.

Take the embargo away, the Los Angeles Times would like us to believe, and we deal a brutal political blow to the communist regime.

The New York Times, however, decided to take it even a step further. Not to be out-liberaled by the LA Times, the NYT decided to paint these statements by HRW as a point of solidarity between the human rights organization and the dictatorship in Cuba.

On at least one point, however, the New York-based human rights organization and the Cuban government agree: the need to end the American trade embargo on Cuba.

While Cuba considers it a cruel policy by an imperialist government that makes its citizens suffer, Human Rights Watch called it ineffective in pressuring the Cuban government to change its ways and successful only in imposing even more hardship on everyday Cubans.

The problem this interpretation of HRW’s view of the embargo has is that there are more than two paragraphs addressing the US embargo in this report. As usual, the media and the supporters of the regime have cherry picked the points they agree with and left out the statements that give context to HRW’s recommendations on how to deal with the Cuban dictatorship. It is true that HRW believes that the embargo has failed to improve human rights in Cuba, but what the liberal media and supporters of improved political relations with Cuba are not telling you is that the report goes on to say that the policy of engagement and dialogue being carried out by European countries and Canada is just as ineffective.

Another little tidbit being left out of news stories and speeches citing HRW’s call for an end to the embargo is how the report calls for a 6-month deadline to be imposed on the regime to release all political prisoners. It goes on to say that before the US lifts the embargo, it must secure commitments from nations that engage in commerce with the regime that they will join the US in exerting political and economic sacntions on the Castro government if they fail to release these prisoners of conscience within the 6-month period.

Here is the text from the report so you can get the context of HRW’s recommendations:

Just as the US embargo policy has proved counterproductive, so have the policies of the European Union and Canada failed to exert effective pressure on Cuba. The EU’s Common Policy sets clear human rights benchmarks for economic cooperation with Cuba, but the cost of noncompliance has been insufficient to compel change by the Castro government. Canada lacks such benchmarks, promoting significant investment in the island at the same time as it decries the Cuban government’s abuses.

Worse still, Latin American governments across the political spectrum have been reluctant to criticize Cuba, and in some cases have openly embraced the Castro government, despite its dismal human rights record. Countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador hold Cuba up as a model, while others quietly admit its abuses even as they enthusiastically push for Cuba’s reintegration into regional bodies such as the Organization of American States (OAS). The silence of the Latin governments condones Cuba’s abusive behavior, and perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows repression to continue. This is particularly troubling coming from a region in which many countries have learned firsthand the high cost of international indifference to state-sponsored repression.

Not only have all of these policies—US, European, Canadian, and Latin American—failed individually to improve human rights in Cuba, but their divided and even contradictory nature has allowed the Cuban government to evade effective pressure and deflect criticism of its practices.

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.

This move would fundamentally shift the balance in the Cuban government’s relationship with its own people and the international community. No longer would Cuba be able to manipulate the embargo as a pretext for repressing its own people. Nor would other countries be able to blame the US policy for their own failures to hold Cuba accountable for its abuses.

However, ending the current embargo policy by itself will not bring an end to Cuba’s repression. Only a multilateral approach will have the political power and moral authority to press the Cuban government to end its repressive practices. Therefore, before changing its policy, the US should work to secure commitments from the EU, Canada, and Latin American allies that they will join together to pressure Cuba to meet a single, concrete demand: the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

In order to enforce this demand, the multilateral coalition should establish a clear definition of who constitutes a political prisoner—one that includes all Cubans imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights, including those incarcerated for the pre-criminal offense of “dangerousness” and the 53 dissidents still in prison from the 2003 crackdown. It should also set a firm deadline for compliance, granting the Raúl Castro government six months to meet this demand.

Most important, the members of the coalition should commit themselves to holding the Cuban government accountable should it fail to release its political prisoners. The penalties should be significant enough that they bear real consequences for the Cuban government. And they should be focused enough to target the Cuban leadership, rather than the Cuban population on the whole. Options include adopting targeted sanctions on the government officials, such as travel bans and asset freezes; and withholding any new forms of foreign investment until Cuba meets the demand.

It is interesting that after you read the fine print surrounding Human Rights Watch’s call for an end to the US embargo, it sounds more like a call for the entire world to join together to pressure the despots in Havana to respect the rights of all Cubans on the island. Even more interesting is the fact that this is what the “hardliners” have been asking for all along. This is why you should always read the fine print.

15 thoughts on “Reading the fine print”

  1. I don’t think “this is what the ‘hardliners’ have been asking for all along.'”

    First, it should be stressed that HRW has called for the end of the U.S. embargo repeatedly (meaning its unilateral economic sanctions regime and associated travel restriction penalties) since 2003. This is the opposite of what “hardliners” have been doing since 2003.

    Second, the qualifiers used by HRW to support sanctions policy (such as effectiveness compared to alternatives and representing interests of victims) is starkly different than what “hardliners” have been using. In addition, as quoted above, HRW believes the embargo is targeting (deliberately or not) the whole Cuban population.

    Third, HRW is recommending multi-lateral “targeted sanctions”, a regime which functions very differently to current U.S. sanctions towards Cuba. Best example of targeted sanctions being travel restrictions against Cuban officials, NOT civilians (artists or athletes). The shift to multi-lateralism is an obvious progression in this regime.

    While it is well understood that “hardliners” have called on other nations to join with U.S. sanctions towards Cuba, the reality is that this possibility has been rejected and repeatedly denounced. Not only by other countries, but by other human rights organizations. Therefore, HRW is not asking for something that “hardliners have been asking for all along.”

    To equate what “hardliners” want in terms of sanctions policy towards Cuba with what HRW is asking for now, is, in my opinion, a manipulation of the highest degree.

  2. Pablito, I believe the most important point I should make here is that it doesn’t really matter what you think the “hardliners” have wanted all along.

    You have no idea what the hardliners want. You have no idea of the misery Cubans on the island suffer. You have no idea the pain millions of Cuban exiles have experienced having to leave their homeland.

    You have no idea because you are not a Cuban.

    You are Peruvian that came to this country when you were two years old. For some reason (I’ll let a clinical psychologist figure that one out), you have developed an unhealthy fixation with the Cuban exile community. I suggest that your time would be better spent advocating the issues affecting the Peruvian-American community in this country. The energy you expend feeding your compulsion to act as a citizen cop, to be the Mambi Night Watchman, surveying every move made by the Cuban exile community here in Miami, would be better used for the community of your fellow Peruvians.

  3. First, I’m impressed and happy that the Babalu blog is (so far) welcoming these comments. I am inclined to post more comments and replies in the future. I hope this will contribute to the interest of readers, who are obviously interested in topics related to Cuba, and may be looking for facts on which to become better informed participants.

    Second, while I had hoped to provoke a civil discussion over facts, it’s likely that this may not happen (at least not with writers of Babalu). Nevertheless, as we may both agree: the facts will prevail.

    At least the relevant ones.

  4. Pablito, I’m curious. And I’m sure there are a few people out there that are equally as curious.

    Have your therapists ever been able to find the root cause(s) of your severe case of OCD (or perhaps in your case, OCCD: Obsessive Cuba Compulsive Disorder)? If so, have they been able to figure out why the disorder has manifested itself so thoroughly in a Peruvian in the form of Cuban politics?

    Of course, these questions are of a highly personal nature–as all mental health questions are–and I would fully understand if you prefer not to answer them. Nevertheless, I myself am curious to know what obviously uncontrollable force compels you to spend so much time and energy on a topic that is plainly foreign to you.

    Don’t get me wrong here–I’m not saying that only Cubans can talk Cuban politics. I’m just saying that those who suffer from certain disorders that cloud judgment and cause erratic, compulsive, and incongrous behavior should seriously consider avoiding political discussions.

    No one wins, Pablito: It annoys everyone and it doesn’t make you look very good.

  5. OK, Paul. Here’s some honest dialogue. Remember Helms/Burton? A key condition under that policy to reestablish relations with Cuba was the release of political prisoners and free and open elections in Cuba. That Helms/Burton supported by the hardliners. You may say the HRW recommendations are somehow different from what the “hardliners” have been advocating all along, and aside from a few relatively small differences, is it really all that different? It’s ironic how HRW spends a lot of time criticizing the U.S. position on Cuba, then concludes by stating that the solution is to put pressure on the regime – pressure that would inevitably affect the people on the island. Perhaps, Paul, you need to be more open-minded and accept the fact that the hardliners are right when the say that policies and actions taken on by the rest of the world against Cuba have been an absolute failure because they’re too soft on the regime – EXACTLY what the HRW report stated.

  6. paulto… are just one more comemierda who wants to convince himself that you actually believe that the crap you are letting come out of your mouth means something

  7. Alberto, I’m more than happy to answer any of your questions, even if they are personal. So, don’t hesitate to e-mail me and we can write on a more personal nature.

    Robert, where have you been!? (Thank God) You asked one question, and made two points.

    The points are: HRW stated “exactly” that foreign policy by nations other than the US have been absolute failures towards Cuba, and there are “small differences” between Helms-Burton and what HRW is asking for in terms of sanctions policy towards Cuba.

    You’re right on the first point, HRW did say that. No arguments from me. I guess that means I’m “open-minded.” On the second point, your absolutely wrong. There are large differences on what Helms-Burton does versus what “targeted sanctions” are intended to do. The literature on targeted sanctions is quite clear, they are a departure from and direct response to blunt economic sanctions that have failed in the past, like the US embargo.

    This is HRW’s basic premise in asking for targeted sanctions. Here’s what they said in 2003: “But it seems to us that any American policy designed to promote human rights in another country has to meet two basic tests to be worthy of continuation. First, is the policy more likely to be effective than the alternatives? Second, does it advance the interests and speak to the needs of those struggling to defend human rights in the country concerned? After 40 years, it’s clear that the all-out embargo against Cuba fails both tests.”

    So you ask: Is Helms-Burton “really all that different” from the sanctions policy that HRW is asking for now? Yes. Drastically in terms of its sanctions regime as stated above, and in the eyes of HRW itself.

    In terms of goals, every reasonable person desires the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners. It should be a priority.

  8. My apologies Pablito, but I am neither qualified nor interested in conducting a “personal” therapy session with you via email. I only asked you to share your therapist’s diagnosis so I, and the readers of this blog, could get a better idea what is behind your hatred of the Cuban exile community.

    As a simple matter of curiosity, it would interesting to know what possesses you, a Peruvian born resident of Miami, to monitor the Cuban-American community in this city in the same manner Castro spies do.

  9. Pabli2 (or whatever your latest nom de plum is):

    I believe reasonable people can differ on the type of sanctions needed and who the target of such actions should be. I’ll be the first to admit that the current sanctions aren’t perfect, and I think everyone else in this blog would agree. The problem is, too many anti-embargo (not all, or maybe even most, but A LOT) folks desire the exact opposite, which is pretty much what the rest of the world is doing. HRW clearly stated that this approach is wrong (while disagreeing with the U.S. policy). The insistence of these folks that the U.S. embargo is hurting the Cuban people ignores the fact that the U.S. is Cuba’s sixth-largest trade partner and supplies food and medicine to Cuba. Therefore, it is of my opinion that those who use the “embargo hurts Cubans” line to justify their anti-embargo stance aren’t seeing things as they really are. I am open to HRW’s idea of sanctions which target the regime. The problem is, who else would join us? Much of Europe and Latin America can’t be counted on. They’ve already sold their souls to the regime. Neither can we count on the most ardent anti-embargo folks in this country to support this policy, IMO.

  10. Agent of influence, perhaps? Maybe a useful idiot? A fellow traveler? All of the above? Who knows. All I know is that there are too many leftist assholes in this town willing to come down on us and not on the evil bastards running Cuba. To ALL of you, FUCK YOU.

  11. Very well said George,

    No if buts or maybes, no beating around the bush.

    It is what it is…al pan pan y al vino vino, if the truth hurts, tough shit.

  12. I’m tired of being labeled an intransigent in this town because I happen to stand for the right values of freedom, liberty and anti-Communism while the real intransigent ones are the Castro brothers and their cronies bent on keeping the Cuban people under the chains of their Communist dictatorship at all costs and they are constantly getting a free pass from all these lefties idiots while those same lefties idiots keep shitting on us on a regular basis.

    Que se vajan al carajo all the lefties, useful idiots!

    Fuck them all!

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