December 3, 2009
Cuba does not deserve this criticism on human rights
The real abuse taking place in Cuba is the crippling and inhumane American blockade
The Guardian, Thursday 26 November 2009
Your article on the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Cuba gives little context of the complexity of US-Cuba relations (Hopes of new dawn dashed as Fidel Castro's brother cracks down on dissent, 19 November).
You report that president Raúl Castro "has kept up repression and kept scores of political prisoners locked up", but ignore that these include individuals accused of receiving US government money who were jailed for being paid agents of a foreign power - a crime punishable in every country in the world.
And you make scant reference to the inhumane US blockade, recently voted against by 187 countries at the UN. The blockade should surely inform any debate, since it permeates every aspect of Cuban life. You only repeat HRW's accusation that it is a "pretext for Havana to crack down on dissenters".
HRW appears to care little for the human rights abuses the blockade inflicts on Cubans. Its 123-page report is more concerned with how the blockade "alienates" US policy internationally. Maybe this politicised view is not surprising since HRW's Latin America director, José Miguel Vivanco, recently accused Cuba of having the "worst human rights record in the region". In a region where trade unionists are assassinated, homosexuals murdered and children live in poverty with lives blighted by drugs, violence and abuse, Cuba does not deserve such an unjust title.
The Guardian failed to report, let alone devote an entire page to, Amnesty International's more even-handed July 2009 report, The US Embargo against Cuba, which stated that the "impact of the embargo on the human rights of Cubans has received insufficient attention from the US government". Rarely do we read about the multimillion-dollar lobbying by groups intent on demonising Cuba to justify the blockade, nor US funding - $45m (£27m) in 2008 - for Cuban individuals and organisations. Such hostility has intentionally kept the island in a state of siege.
Six words out of 1,400 in your article recognise "acknowledged advances in education and healthcare". But where are the reports on the 40,000 doctors providing healthcare in 80 developing countries, the 1.5 million who received free sight-saving operations, the thousands of students from poor countries receiving free medical scholarships?
The former UN general secretary Kofi Annan said: "Cuba demonstrates how much nations can do with the resources they have if they focus on the right priorities - health, education and literacy."
However, you quote Brian Latell, senior research associate from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, who claims that "no organised or potentially threatening opposition of any kind is tolerated". We are not told that his organisation is based at Miami University, the academic heart of the rightwing Cuban exile community, nor of its funding by both the US government and the Bacardi family, infamous financial backers of the blockade. Also not mentioned is Latell's background as a former CIA officer for Latin America.
Nobody claims that Cuba is perfect, but the country does not deserve such pariah status. Anyone who genuinely wants to improve human rights should start by demanding an end to the blockade.
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