Kerry failed to act on human rights in Cuba
Oppenheimer: Kerry failed to act on human rights in Cuba
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
Secretary of State John Kerry deserves applause for saying that human
rights will be a top priority in the newly normalized U.S. ties with
Cuba, but his decision not to invite Cuban dissidents to the
flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana flew in the face of
When I interviewed Kerry last week shortly before his trip, the first by
a U.S. Secretary of State to Cuba in 70 years, he said that “human
rights obviously is at the top of our agenda, in terms of the first
things that we will be focused on in our direct engagement with the
Video: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to Andres Oppenheimer
He even told me that he plans to discuss with Cuba a “sort of roadmap”
to full normalization that ultimately will involve the lifting of the
U.S. embargo, and Cuban steps, such as allowing Cubans “to engage in a
democratic process, to elect people.” To his credit, he reiterated these
themes in Havana, where he stated that “the people of Cuba would be best
served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their
All of that sounded great. But then, during his trip to Havana, Kerry
did not invite Cuban dissidents to attend, alongside Cuban officials,
the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy, which was the highlight
of his 10-hour trip to the island. Instead, some peaceful government
opponents were invited among hundreds of guests to a separate event
later that day at the residence of the U.S. charge d’affairs in Cuba.
When I asked Kerry in our interview why he would not include dissidents
among his guests at the U.S. Embassy, he downplayed the significance of
that decision. “Rather than have people sitting in a chair, at a
ceremony that is fundamentally government to government, with very
limited space, I will meet with them…and exchange views” separately,
Kerry told me.
But Republican critics and many human rights groups say the Obama
administration caved in to the Cuban regime, which refuses to
participate in diplomatic events attended by Cuban dissidents. In Cuba,
the five-decade-old Castro family dictatorship prohibits independent
political parties, and brands peaceful opponents as “mercenaries.”
Some opposition leaders who were invited to the charge d’affairs
residence declined to attend.
“We do not understand how the U.S. administration could accept the
conditions of these dictators,” said Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, one of
the dissident leaders who declined the invitation, to the website El
Diario de Cuba.
Bertha Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White who has been arrested more
than a dozen times in recent months for staging peaceful protests, told
me in a telephone interview that the Obama administration pays lip
service to human rights, but keeps a “shameful silence” about ongoing
rights abuses in Cuba.
Since Obama announced the start of normalization talks Dec. 17, there
have been more than 3,000 political detentions in Cuba, according to the
Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Kerry says that full diplomatic relations, more U.S. tourists and
greater commercial relations will help bring about change in Cuba,
although that make take time. He told me, “Let’s just let this work.
It’s an opportunity.”
My opinion: Of all the things that Kerry told me , there is one in which
I fully agree with, which is that the previous U.S. policy of
confrontation with Cuba didn’t work, and that it was time to try
something new. No question about that.
That’s why, when Obama first announced that he would start normalization
talks on Dec. 17 while simultaneously continuing to “strongly” press for
democratic reforms on the island, many of us agreed with him. A
two-pronged, carrot-and-stick policy of restoring ties while pressing
for human rights is worth trying.
But now, I wonder if it hasn’t become a one-track policy. Kerry’s trip
to Havana didn’t break new ground on human rights even symbolically, and
in effect hurt Cuba’s fledgling internal opposition by making it look
irrelevant in the eyes of many Cubans.
Could it be that Obama is so eager to visit Cuba before he finishes his
term — to go down in history as the U.S. president who “opened” Cuba,
much as Nixon “opened” China — that he is willing to sacrifice the human
rights cause? Could it be that he is so eager for a foreign policy
victory that he is willing to abandon a long-standing U.S. policy of
moral support to pro-democracy activists?
I hope I’m wrong on this, but Kerry’s trip to Cuba was a first big test
of Obama’s new Cuba policy, and the administration didn’t pass it.
Source: Oppenheimer: Kerry failed to act on human rights in Cuba | Miami