Caribbean News Now: US in no position to lecture us, says Cuban government

Caribbean News Now

Following US President Donald Trump's announcement on Friday that he is reversing the Obama administration's steps to normalize relations with Cuba, the Cuban government said in a 1,400-word statement published by the Cuban News Agency that the US is in no position "to lecture us".

In a "Declaration of the Revolutionary Government", Havana said that Trump's speech in Miami announcing the rollback was "full of hostile rhetoric", adding that the newly announced policies constitute "a fall back in relations between the two countries" that have improved in the past two years.

In accordance with a national security presidential memorandum, the Trump administration will begin strictly enforcing the exemptions that allow travel between the US and Cuba and prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses owned by the military and intelligence services. 

Trump also directed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to convene a task force on expanding Internet access on the island and reiterated the United States' opposition to efforts in the United Nations to lift the Cuban embargo until more is done to honour human rights.

During his speech, Trump slammed Cuba for human rights abuses, saying, "The Castro regime has shipped arms to North Korea and fueled chaos in Venezuela. While imprisoning innocents, it has harboured cop killers, hijackers and terrorists. It has supported human trafficking, forced labour and exploitation all around the globe."

However, his critics have questioned why his administration is now singling out Cuba for its human rights record but downplaying the issue in other parts of the world.

The LA Times commented in an editorial that Trump just reopened the Cold War with Cuba. His excuse was completely disingenuous: “Trump decides to draw a line at Cuba’s human rights policies? He could at least try to make a fake excuse a little more believable."

Marselha Margerin of Amnesty International noted that Trump recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he lavished its leaders with praise and signed a huge military deal but ignored their flagrant human rights abuses.

"It's a bit hypocritical how the US government addresses human rights violations in different countries," she said.

The Cuban government also rejected those claims, saying that Trump's executive order betrays a double standard on human rights.

"The government of the United States once again has resorted to coercive methods of the past, adopting measures to reinforce the embargo in place since February 1962, which not only inflicted damage and deprivation on the Cuban people and constitutes undeniable obstacles to the development of our economy, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, promoting international condemnation," the Cuban statement said.

"The United States is not in the condition to give us lessons. We have serious concerns for the respect and guarantees of human rights in that country where there is a number of assassination cases, police brutality and abuses, in particular against the African American population; the right to life is violated as a result of the deaths by weapons; child labour is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there are threats with imposing more restrictions to health services, which will leave 23 million people without health insurance; there are wage inequality between men and women; emigrants and refugees are marginalized in particular those from Islamic nations; walls pretend to be lifted that denigrate its neighbours; and international commitments are abandoned aimed at preserving the environment and confronting climate change," the Cuban government said.

Havana also pointed to human rights violations committed by the United States in other countries, like the arbitrary detentions of dozens of prisoners in the illegally occupied territory by the US Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where torture was carried out; extrajudicial executions and civilian deaths caused by bombs and the use of drones; and wars against different countries like Iraq, sustained by lies like the possession of weapons of mass destruction, with serious consequences for peace, security and stability in the region of the Middle East.

The newly announced measures impose additional obstacles to the very restricted opportunities that the US business sector had to trade and invest in Cuba, while restricting even further the right of US citizens in visiting the island.

While the policy changes are intended to cut off cash to Cuban leader Raúl Castro’s regime, which controls about 60 percent of the island’s economy through military-run enterprises, and pressure the Cuban government to let the nascent private sector grow, supporters of Obama’s policy of rapprochement argue that tightening travel restrictions will reduce US tourism and only hurt the very small businesses Trump hopes to help.

“This policy was clearly written by people who have never been to Cuba, at least not in this century,” James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, a group that lobbies for closer Cuba ties, said in a statement. “Because if they had, they’d know that the only think that restricting travel will do is devastate Cubans working in the private sector who have relied on American visitors to provide for their families.”

The reversal in ties comes despite overwhelming support of Americans for their right to visit Cuba, and the recent reintroduction of a bill sponsored by 55 US senators promoting the freedom to travel to the Caribbean island.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 75 percent of Americans support improved links between Havana and Washington.

The Morning Consult group noted that six out of ten Republicans support the process towards the normalization of relations between the two countries.

"It's heartbreaking," said Patrick Hidalgo, a Cuban-American and former director of the White House Business Council under Obama. "We all know that Raúl Castro and the leadership in Cuba will be fine. They don't worry where they're going to get breakfast, lunch and dinner. The average Cuban does, and our policy has helped them. This change will have a very direct, negative impact on their daily lives and their morale."