Why the Obama policy will worsen human rights in Cuba and the Americas: A rebuttalBetween 1959 and the present the only two times that the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to inspect Cuban prisons and their conditions were in 1988 and 1989 following the tightening of sanctions and isolation policies of the Reagan administration.
Jose Miguel Vivanco’s essay in Time Magazine titled “Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim” gets a lot of things wrong, but let me begin with what the Americas director at Human Rights Watch gets more or less right when he states that:
“For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and democratic change in the island.”
More accurately, U.S. politicians have used the above rhetoric in an attempt to appear like they were doing more than they were actually doing. This is not a practice limited to U.S.-Cuba policy. The reality is that the aim of economic sanctions on Cuba as laid out as State Department policy in the early 1960s was a policy of containment and it worked while the United States was serious about pursuing it: contributed to the economic implosion of the Soviet Union by raising the cost of subsidizing the Castro regime; demonstrated to other countries that expropriating U.S. businesses and properties had a cost; and saved U.S taxpayers billions of dollars that their Canadian, European and Latin American counterparts had to pay out when the regime proved to be a terrible credit risk time and time again. It is surprising that Mr. Vivanco overlooks these beneficial consequences of the U.S. policy the Obama administration wants to scrap.
Mr. Vivanco also overlooks that the Obama administration, not only began to loosen sanctions on the Castro regime in April of 2009, but also refused to meet in June of 2009 with the winners of the NED Democracy Award who happened to be five Cuban dissidents that year. It was the first time in five years that the president of the United States had not met with the award laureates. In December of 2009 the Castro regime took Alan Gross hostage and the Obama administration responded with initial silence and it took American diplomats 25 days to visit with the arbitrarily detained American.
Mr. Vivanco recognized that “Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically” but failed to mention that human rights have deteriorated in Cuba with rising levels of violence against nonviolent activists. including machete attacks, and the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (2012), and Harold Cepero Escalante (2012).
Unfortunately, its not only Human Rights Watch that has not addressed what appear to be extrajudicial killings and physical assaults with machetes that have disfigured activists in the past couple of years goes unmentioned. Human Rights Foundation commissioned a study that found that from 2000 to 2014, Amnesty International’s Americas chapter “spent 56.5 percent of its output decrying U.S. injustices, but only 4.3 percent on a stone-cold dictatorship like Cuba that, up until last year, still had 114 political prisoners.”
The Obama administration responded to the taking of Alan Gross (2009) and the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010) by further loosening sanctions on the Castro regime in January of 2011. The number of high profile activists who died under suspicious circumstances after the second round of loosening of sanctions should give one pause in Mr. Vivanco’s optimism with the administration’s new policy.
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