News and Facts about Cuba

Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim

Lifting the Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim
Jose Miguel Vivanco Dec. 19, 2014

The status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy
to garner sympathy abroad

Some critics contend that Obama’s decision to re-establish
full diplomatic relations with Cuba means that the United States has
abandoned its commitment to protect in the island. Some
even argue that Obama’s new approach actually rewards Cuba, giving up
leverage the United States allegedly had against the Cuban authoritarian
government. This view is profoundly mistaken.

The confusion arises from the U.S. government’s own misguided rhetoric
to maintain a costly embargo. For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly
held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and
democratic change in the island. In fact, though, the embargo did
nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. Instead, it imposed
indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and provided
the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for
its abuses.

Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States,
enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while
simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies.

Not surprisingly, advocates in Cuba and abroad, as well as a majority of
countries in the UN General Assembly —188 out of 192 in an October
resolution — have repeatedly called for an end to the U.S. embargo.

Meanwhile, despite some positive reforms in recent years, the Cuban
government continues to engage in systematic abuses aimed at punishing
critics and discouraging dissent.

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political
prisoners on condition that they accept exile in exchange for .
Since then, the Cuban government has relied less on long
sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian
restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from
leaving and returning to the island.

But the Cuban government uses other tactics to repress individuals and
groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights.
Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically
in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders,
independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about
freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from
participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics.
Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours
or days.

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts
access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of
. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read
independent websites and blogs because of limited access to – and the
high cost of – the .

Let’s be clear: the responsibility for the crackdown on dissent in Cuba
lies with the Cuban government. Yet, the status quo has allowed the
Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to portray itself as a victim.

Empirical evidence shows that it was irrational to continue insisting on
a policy that never achieved its proposed objectives. The unilateral
approach, a relic of the Cold War, has been ineffective for decades, and
that’s precisely why this new policy by the White House provides a
golden opportunity.

To promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections,
independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government
must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key
democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to
move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights. It seems
that Obama gets it.

No one should be under the illusion that the human rights situation in
Cuba will improve overnight. On the contrary, it will be a long and
frustrating process. But there is no doubt that with Obama’s new
approach toward Cuba we are in much better shape to go in the right

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Source: Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim | TIME

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