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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Freedom remains in short supply in Cuba

Freedom remains in short supply in Cuba
By ROBIN BERES 12 hrs ago

In January 1961, the American embassy in Cuba was abruptly closed as the
U.S. State Department recalled all of its personnel and President
Eisenhower formally severed relations with the island nation.

Within a few weeks of that decision, the only Americans remaining on the
island were U.S. troops stationed on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo
Bay. For 55 years, relations between the two nations remained more
combative than cordial.

But in December of 2014, President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro
announced simultaneously that the two nations were going to pursue a new
course in their relations.

Obama assured the American people that the outreach would be in line
with U.S. interests and would help make "the lives of ordinary Cubans a
little bit easier, more free, more prosperous."

On July 20, 2015, American and Cuban diplomats stood side-by-side in
Washington as Cuban soldiers raised their national flag over the Cuban
embassy. Shortly after the ceremony, Secretary of State John Kerry met
with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the State Department.

Rodriquez presented a list of his government's long-standing requests
that included compensating Cuba for "human and economic damages" imposed
by the American economic embargo on the island nation, ending that
embargo, and returning to Cuba the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

The ceremony at the Cuban embassy drew reaction from both pro- and
anti-Cuban activists and politicians. Most activists continue to insist
the long-standing policy only worsens human-rights abuses in Cuba.

In March of this year, President Obama and his family flew to Cuba for a
historic three-day visit. Just hours before Air Force One touched down
at the Havana airport, more than 50 dissidents who were marching to
protest human rights abuses were rounded up and arrested — right under
the noses of dozens of international journalists.

The president and his family were greeted at Jose Marti Airport by the
Cuban foreign minister and other government officials. Noticeably absent
among the welcoming committee was President Raul Castro. Whether the
elderly dictator's absence was planned in advance due to weather
conditions or was a deliberate snub remains unclear.

So one year later, what's changed and what hasn't? What has happened
with tourism, trade, and Cuba's disturbing history of human-rights
violations?

On July 20, a senior official at the State Department held a briefing on
the status of re-established diplomatic relations. According to that
individual, both nations "have engaged on a range of economic, security,
cultural and social issues. ... We remain convinced that our shift from
a policy of isolation to engagement is the best course for supporting
the aspirations of the Cuban people and the emergence of a peaceful,
prosperous, and democratic Cuba."

Yes, there have been noticeable signs that trade, tourism, and diplomacy
have greatly increased between the two nations. Cruise ships regularly
visit the island and numerous U.S. government officials have also
visited. Unfortunately, all of this increased activity seems to have
benefited only the Castro regime. There has been little benefit to the
average Cuban citizen.

In fact, as President Obama must know full well, the lives of ordinary
Cubans have not become "a little bit easier, more free, more
prosperous." If anything, things have gotten worse.

The State Department briefing was held just one day after The Miami
Herald published a less-flattering news story: "Cuba's human rights
abuses worse despite U.S. ties." The story by Andre Oppenheimer notes
that in the past year and a half, the Obama administration's outreach to
Cuba has been generous and Castro's regime has eagerly accepted the
proffered hand.

But, says Oppenheimer, while much has been offered, little has been
given in return. He shares a recently released report from the
Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation.

The report says that the number of political arrests and detentions has
greatly increased from a monthly average of 718 in 2015 to nearly 1,100
a month since January of this year. The Cuban government continues to
imprison, torture and even execute individuals for whatever it may
consider to be an act of civil disobedience.

Cuba needs this budding relationship far more than the U.S. needs Cuba.
It is time that the Obama administration shows a little backbone and
replaces its overly benevolent, naïve approach to the Castro regime with
a demand for greater human rights and a true democratic government.
Until that happens, Congress is right to keep the embargo in place.

Robin Beres can be reached at mberes@timesdispatch.com.

Source: Freedom remains in short supply in Cuba | The News Virginian |
dailyprogress.com -
http://www.dailyprogress.com/newsvirginian/freedom-remains-in-short-supply-in-cuba/article_96905888-6334-11e6-9493-6fb32bfde931.html
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