Leading Human Rights Groups Condemn a Potential Reversal Of Current Cuba Policy

 

Washington, DC -- Ahead of President Trump's reported rollback of Cuba policy, leading international human rights organizations issued statements condemning a potential reversal of current policies that expanded travel to and trade with Cuba. The organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Washington Office on Latin America, assert that tightening U.S. regulations on Cuba will only worsen conditions on the island. Additionally, Oxfam has publicly supported lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba. 

"The White House has repeatedly claimed human rights as the justification for a reversal of our current opening with Cuba. This suggestion is inconsistent at best and disingenuous at worst," said President of Engage Cuba, James Williams. "That would directly contradict Trump’s efforts to strengthen relations with countries that have far worse human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, China and Egypt. Given that leading human rights organizations including, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, WOLA and Oxfam all publicly support engagement with Cuba, it is becoming increasingly clear that a Cuba reversal is the result of backroom politics and nothing else."

The statements issued by the human rights organizations are available below: 

Human Rights Watch
Tues., June 13, 2017

“The previous administration was right to reject a policy that hurt ordinary Cubans and did nothing to advance human rights,” said Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that Obama’s approach hasn’t led to political reform in Cuba after just a few years isn’t reason to return to a policy that proved a costly failure over many decades.” 

Amnesty International:
Mon., June 12, 2017

"Ironically, the Trump administration cites the Cuban government’s human rights abuses as justification for policy adjustment. For decades, Amnesty International has documented human rights violations in Cuba and also has called for lifting the U.S. embargo. Amnesty International’s 2009 report emphasized how the trade and financial sanctions affect healthcare in Cuba."

Washington Office on Latin America:
Tues., June 13, 2017

“There is no question that Cuba ought to do more to permit its citizens’ full freedom of expression and association. WOLA has been, and continues to be, critical about the restrictions that the Cuban government imposes. However, a return to failed policies of the past will inevitably halt progress and only make life more difficult for Cubans on the island. The willingness to engage on equal terms is the only avenue to encourage transformational social and economic changes over the long term."

The full text of each statement is included below:

Human Rights Watch: Don't reverse Cuba policy
(Washington, DC) – Reversing the Obama administration’s changes in United States policy toward Cuba will not improve respect for human rights on the island, Human Rights Watch said today.

President Donald J. Trump may announce a new policy toward Cuba during a visit to Miami on June 16, 2017, multiple news outlets have reported. Critics of the current policy point to ongoing repression in Cuba as evidence that the approach was misguided.

“The previous administration was right to reject a policy that hurt ordinary Cubans and did nothing to advance human rights,” said Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that Obama’s approach hasn’t led to political reform in Cuba after just a few years isn’t reason to return to a policy that proved a costly failure over many decades.”

In December 2014, then-President Barack Obama announced that the US would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce, and called on Congress to consider lifting Washington’s decades-old embargo on the island. In exchange, the government of President Raúl Castro granted conditional release to 53 political prisoners.

The two governments restored diplomatic relations in July 2015. In March 2016, Obama visited Cuba, where he met with Castro, as well as with Cuban human rights advocates and independent journalists. Obama gave a nationally televised address in which he urged the Cuban government to lift restrictions on political freedoms.

Cuba remains a highly repressive country. While there were improvements in several areas in the years prior to 2014 – including the relaxation of travel restrictions and the reduction in the number of political prisoners – the government’s other repressive practices remain largely unchanged. It represses dissent and discourages public criticism.

The Cuban government relies less now than in years past on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics. But short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others increased in recent years. Other repressive tactics include beatings, public shaming, and the termination of employment.

But restoring restrictions on travel and commerce are unlikely to lead to improvements, Human Rights Watch said. For more than half a century, the embargo has imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole. It has provided the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems, a pretext for its abuses, and a way to garner sympathy abroad with governments that might otherwise have been willing to condemn the country’s repressive practices.

And insisting on human rights progress as a precondition to a new policy is unlikely to bring about change, Human Rights Watch said. Given the Castro government’s longstanding determination to control virtually all political activity on the island, it is very unlikely that such a quid-pro-quo approach would have yielded any more results than it has in the past. Instead it would merely have prevented the rapprochement and left intact the geopolitical dynamic that has inoculated the Cuban government from international pressure for decades.

“International pressure on the Cuban government is needed to help create conditions for change,” Wilkinson said. “But to be effective, this should be multilateral pressure brought alongside other governments in the region.”


Amnesty International: Your trip to Havana might have to wait. What Trump's policies for Cuba will mean for human rights

Your trip to Havana might have to wait!

Despite criticisms, increasing travel to Cuba not only fosters tourism, it serves as a glimpse into what every day Cubans go through. Would police beating up Ladies in White on their way to church go unnoticed on social media if American tourists were coming and going from the Island with their 4G phones?

If the Trump Administration switches back to U.S. policy towards Cuba to “Cold War”-era relations, Cubans are the ones likely to lose. More travel, more communications’ access, and more dialogue with Cuba are the way forward for human rights in Cuba.

A new Trump policy on Cuba may be in the works, according to press sources. While no official policy decisions have been made public yet, President Trump is said to be considering a roll-back on several of the Obama administration’s historic changes in U.S.-Cuba relations. These changes could range from reinstating restrictions for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba for educational or cultural purposes, and blocking transactions between certain sectors of the U.S. and Cuban economies, to once again implementing sanctions that were lifted by the Obama administration in an effort to ease the embargo after re-opening diplomatic relations between the two countries after over 50 years.

Ironically, the Trump administration cites the Cuban government’s human rights abuses as justification for policy adjustment. For decades, Amnesty International has documented human rights violations in Cuba and also has called for lifting the U.S. embargo. Amnesty International’s 2009 report emphasized how the trade and financial sanctions affect healthcare in Cuba.

Amnesty International continues to document that political activists and human rights defenders are publicly described as “anti-Cuban mercenaries,” “anti-revolutionary,” and “subversive’’ as they attempt to express their dissent or to organize. Amnesty has campaigned for an independent judiciary, and for the freedom of activists, like Dr. Eduardo Cadet, sentenced to three years in jail after criticizing Fidel Castro.

Last year’s U.S. presidential trip to Cuba finally opened the door for scrutiny and transparency so that eventually, organizations like Amnesty International, the UN, and independent regional experts could access the country for human rights monitoring. Cuba is the only country in the Americas where Amnesty International does not have permission to access. In April, for the first time in almost 10 years, the UN expert on Trafficking of Persons visited Cuba.

The Trump administration should not backpedal on engagement with Cuba and should move toward lifting the U.S embargo towards the country. Thus, once and for all, eliminating the Castro regime’s excuse of foreign threat to thwart the freedoms of its people.



Washington Office on Latin America: President Trump Expected to Reverse U.S.-Cuba Policy: Limiting Travel and Trade will not Advance Human Rights

In the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as this Friday, June 16, President Trump is expected to announce a reversal of the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba by reinstating limits on travel and commerce. In announcing these changes, the Trump administration is likely to cite the human rights situation in Cuba as justification for a more punitive approach.

“The Trump administration is taking exactly the wrong approach if it really wants to spur improvements in the human rights climate in Cuba. This reversal is fundamentally misguided,” said WOLA Senior Associate for Cuba Marguerite Jiménez.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights and social justice in the Americas, has long opposed the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The embargo includes a sweeping set of sanctions that harm the health and well-being of Cuban civilians. The sanctions have failed to stimulate or incentivize political reforms in Cuba; in fact, they have been, if anything, counterproductive in regard to human rights issues. They have damaged U.S. standing in the hemisphere, and hurt both U.S. economic and security interests unnecessarily. For all these reasons, WOLA has applauded the steps taken in the last few years to ease economic sanctions. Engagement with Cuba will serve U.S. interests, and encourage greater openness on the island.

Today, the Trump Administration appears ready to argue that the best way to support a political opening in Cuba is for the United States to demand human-rights concessions as a condition of engagement. This is not just a bad negotiating strategy. It also represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how the United States can most effectively influence Cuba’s political and social future.

Rather than make demands Cuba is sure to reject, engagement aims to create conditions that provide Cuban leaders with self-interested reasons to allow greater political and economic freedom. Building bilateral economic ties creates the incentive for Cuba to maintain an open flow of people and ideas, and to be more responsive to U.S. and international concerns on a whole range of issues, including human rights.

Returning to a policy of hostility will increase tensions and reduce the space for reform in Cuba, harm U.S. interests and relationships in the region, and do little more than make the lives of everyday Cubans more difficult. Moreover, this decision is driven not by a judgement about what will make a difference in Cuba, but by domestic politics and a diminishing but still vocal minority in the United States. It is being made without any facts or actual evidence to justify it.

“There is no question that Cuba ought to do more to permit its citizens’ full freedom of expression and association. WOLA has been, and continues to be, critical about the restrictions that the Cuban government imposes. However, a return to failed policies of the past will inevitably halt progress and only make life more difficult for Cubans on the island. The willingness to engage on equal terms is the only avenue to encourage transformational social and economic changes over the long term,” said Marguerite Jiménez.

Since 2014, the United States and Cuba have been able to sign more than twenty memorandums of understanding ranging from trade to environmental cooperation. Cuba has seen an increase in U.S. visitors and calls for more open debate about Cuba’s problems have led Cuban intellectuals to launch spirited discussions to tackle sensitive topics like inequality, racial discrimination, the role of religion, and the nature of socialist democracy on various print and digital platforms. Although not widely available, internet use has increased in Cuba, with progress on all indicators of internet freedom—internet penetration, obstacles to access, limits on content, and violation of the rights of users. More engagement, not a return to failed policies of the past, is what is needed in the U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Whatever the Trump administration does, WOLA will continue to advocate for policies of engagement, continuing the critical work of building bridges between peoples in both countries. The fifty-year-old embargo against Cuba and new Trump era policies will fail to promote human rights or democracy and instead will isolate the United States from the region and the world.