United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Monday, March 15, 2010

Which Human Rights?

[Editor's Note: We thank La Alborada for writing a compelling editorial which appears to be written from the Cuban perspective. The pretext now for maintaining our mutually assured destructive embargo with Cuba and offensive travel restrictions are human rights violations. But as we see, there are human rights violations on both sides. The New York Examiner published China's report on U.S. human rights violations using our own socioeconomic statistics and facts! Even if we have fundamental differences with its author, facts are facts and social economic indicators speak for themselves.
Like the sands of a desert, the pretext to keep our insane policies shift. Originally, the pretext was to contain Soviet influence in the western hemisphere. Then the pretext was Cuba's involvement in Africa. And then it was always something else. Today it is human rights. And while we are certain that everyone wants change in Cuba, nothing is possible when the context of our policies is finger pointing and interference. Any real possibility for our country to improve relations with Cuba lies in influence, not interference. It will not matter even when the Castro brothers are no longer in power.
Want to positively influence Cuba? Lets find a way now to resolve the human/political prisoner issues on both sides and stop our socioeconomic isolation of Cuba; lift U.S. travel restrictions, and end the embargo. Human rights are not improving under our status quo. Another Cuban is almost certain to die in a hunger strike. An American languishes in a Cuban jail. More Cuban political prisoners languish in Cuban jails. Two Cubans in U.S. jails are not allowed visits from their Cuban wives because of U.S. Visa denials. They and three others continue to serve heavy sentences not for threatening the United States, but essentially for seeking to protect their own country from violence that was originating here. And the list can go even further but read the editorial and consider all things from all sides and then decide...]

La Alborada - March 15

Cuba recognizes as human rights, and as a responsibility of the government, aspects of life such as housing, health care, higher education, and employment. It also emphasizes access to the arts and to sports. The U.S. does not see these the same way. Here, everyone has the right to be homeless, without health insurance, uneducated, and unemployed: it's up to the individual to achieve his or her individual goals. Different levels of government provide assistance to some degree, but that is a matter of discretion, not one of rights. Here, access to the arts and to sports don't register on the radar as responsibilities of government. In less-developed countries allied to the US, children have the right to live on the streets, begging for sustenance and sniffing glue before they retire under a bridge or in sewer tunnels, condenmed to a short and miserable life. It matters not that Cuban children don't do that. And in such countries, rural workers --forexample-- may have no education or health care or pensions, but it matters not that in Cuba that is not the case.

Instead, the US government focuses principally on civil and political rights listed in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, a wonderful compendium of protections from the State notwithstanding the occasional language from an 18th-Century context, such as "a well regulated militia" and the "quartering of troops." The First Amendment is the touchstone list of affirmative liberties --religion, speech, press, assembly, petition for redress. Two other provisons are substantive: no excessive bail nor cruel and unusual punishment. Several are procedural in character; for example, those that address unreasonable searches and seizures, Grand Jury and trial by jury, due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and so on.

In recent years, a number of the procedural protections have been whittled down as the government becomes more intrusive in its interception of personal communications and as it defends the use of procedures that were never before publicly defended. Among the latter have been the regular use of torture and mistreatment, specifically and scientifically programmed; the rendition of prisoners to other states for the purpose of torturing them for interrogation (notwithstanding, in addition, a treaty forbidding such action); the denial of constitutional protections even to citizens; and the stationing of prisoners abroad, even in secret jails, in order to avoid procedural protections that were previously applied to all people, even non-citizens. These actions come closer to the meaning of human rights: they have to do with the physical, mental and social integrity of individuals, the least that human beings deserve.

In the case of Cuba, the US applies a particular understanding of human rights, often in contradiction to its own actions. It wants Cuba to provide Internet on a mass scale, even while it restricts Cuba's use of the Internet and forbids the sale of hardware and software to Cuba. It also maintains a blockade intended to make it impossible for Cuba to develop the infrastructure needed for such a project, and that seeks to prevent the economic development of the island. What is more, it now pursues the use of new social-computing technologies to undermine the Cuban government, for which purposes it demands that Cuba collaborate by expanding telecommunications to suit. Hillary Clinton has taken lately to argue that such communications serve the defense of human rights.

The US insists on the right of Cubans to leave the country freely, and even has a special law to grant residency to Cubans just for showing up with dry feet, but it also threatens that allowing too many Cubans to leave will be considered a hostile action; those with wet feet don't qualify for residency and are returned to Cuba although presumably they have the exact same rights as the others. The US has in place a special project to induce doctors to abandon missions abroad that serve people who direly need medical care but cannot afford it. The gratitude of people whose human rights have been recognized became a political problem for the US.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans still live in damaged or substandard housing, especially after the hurricanes of 2008. The blockade has a lot to do with the lag in rebuilding damaged housing and building new units. Yet, the US wants Cuba to guarantee first that its jails and prisons meet the standards of more-developed countries. This applies especially to jails for dissidents whom it supports financially and through world media.

In general, the embargo and blockade of half a century's duration makes life more difficult for average Cubans in all fields that have to do with human rights as Cubans see them, from health care to housing, while the US declares that the blockade remains in place for the benefit of the same people.

Is it that the US considers political freedoms, as understood here, the necessary prerequisite for all human rights to be observed? The Cubans could hardly think so, knowing what happened to governments elected in open multi-party elections but which were not the preferred governments: Iran, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Brasil, Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, and several more, leading to the 2002 and 2009 coups in Venezuela and Honduras, respectively. At the same time, they remember the long list of dictators who ignored human rights but who were considered good friends by the US: Machado, Trujillo, Batista, the Duvaliers, the Shah, Somoza, Stroessner, and others, a list updated recently to include Roberto Micheletti, now senator for life just as Pinochet became. Cubans are not exactly paranoid to conclude that free multi-party elections make no difference to the US unless its preferred candidates win.

At bottom, relations between the US and Cuba are not about human rights, even about different definitions of human rights. They are about other interests. Talks and negotiations could lead to changes by mutual agreement, but they are unlikely to prosper as long as the blockade and covert intervention remain the operative principles.


Anonymous said...

to happen in Cuba and the United States??

Manuel Ortega Carmen said...

Respect for the lives of those at risk of dying as he did, to prevent the government of Fidel and Raúl Castro remain physically eliminating its peaceful critics and opponents who were sentenced to up to 28 years imprisonment for 'crimes' of opinion . Request immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners in Cuban jails and also respect for the implementation, promotion and defense of human rights anywhere in the world

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