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November 2009
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Cuba's embargo must go

Cuba's embargo must go

It's time to end the counterproductive sanctions against Cuba, which
have only served to strengthen its brutal regime

John Keenan, Tuesday 24 November 2009 14.00 GMT

This month Europe celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the collapse
of the iron curtain. Tribute was paid the role the US played in helping
to speed the demise of totalitarian regimes. But just 90 miles off the
coast of Florida, the Cuban government continues to ruthlessly suppress
any sign of dissent – and the US administration's misguided embargo
merely strengthens the dictatorship's hand.

Now Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based NGO, has called for the
US to scrap its failed policy in favour of "more effective forms of
pressure". HRW's new report, New Castro, Same Cuba, proves that Raul
Castro shares his brother's extreme distaste for opposition.

Since taking the reins of power from his ailing sibling in 2006, Raul
has deepened the repression of his opponents, particularly through the
vigorous use of a provision in the criminal code which allows people to
be jailed if it is suspected that they might commit a crime in the
future. The catch-all pre-criminal state of "dangerousness" is defined
as any behaviour that contradicts socialist norms. HRW's report states
that more than 40 people have been jailed for "dangerousness", including
handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, staging
rallies, and attempting to form independent trade unions.

HRW has called for the embargo to be scrapped and replaced by a
multi-lateral coalition comprised of the US, the EU, Canada, and Latin
American to pressure Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release its
political prisoners. The coalition, HRW says, should give the Cuban
government six months to meet this demand or face sanctions, travel bans
and asset freezes.

The report was published in a week which saw the 64-year-old Cuban
dissident Martha Beatriz Roque end her hunger strike over fears for her
health. Roque and five other dissidents staged a sit-in protest 40 days
ago, complaining that government agents stole a camera from her.

A statement issued by the protesters explained: "The camera we want back
is not the final purpose of this protest, it is a symbol of our rights
and the rights of the people, which day after day are violated by
government actions."

And this weekend the husband of the dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said
he was attacked by government supporters as he waited to confront state
security agents accused of detaining and beating his wife two weeks ago.

The intimidation, persecution and incarceration of the Castro
government's opponents is ignored by those who like to believe that Cuba
is a plucky little island standing up to the might of Uncle Sam. This
ignorant and patronising view allows the dictatorship to manipulate the
policies of foreign governments in its favour.

When North Korea and Burma ruthlessly extinguish any dissent they are
rightly castigated as pariah states. When Cuba does the same, the world
looks away.

The co-called Cuban exiles in Miami and New Jersey need to drop their
noisy support for the US policy of regime change – it serves only to
shore up the government they despise.

Anyone who cares about human rights should encourage their governments
to take up HRW's call for a new unified approach to Cuba's human rights
failures. The Cuban government will change its ways only if it is forced to.

Cuba ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1995. It has been allowed to flout
that convention with impunity.

Cuba's embargo must go | John Keenan | Comment is free |
(24 November 2009)

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