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CARICOM and Cuba
Tuesday, August 02, 2005   By: Juan Paxety

A shifty commentary

Other Caribbean countries are watching fidel's latest crackdown and are expressing some concern. Caribbean Net News published a commentary by Sir Ronald Sanders, a former Caribbean diplomat and current businessman.  He poses this question:

Should CARICOM countries be tougher with Cuba on human and civil rights? This question was posed to me last week by veteran BBC Producer and Reporter, Orin Gordon. Discussion of it subsequently became the subject of an interview on the BBC’s Caribbean Service.

Sir Ronald says Gordon had read, and was concerned about, reports of civil unrest on the island because of electricity, water and health problems all worsened by Hurricane Dennis. Sir Ronald also points to the July protests marking the anniversary of the "13 de Marzo" killings and the arrests of dissidents planning to protest at the French Embassy on Bastille Day. He also points to the EU's recent decision to normalize relations with Cuba following the Cocktail Wars.

CARICOM countries have had a long tradition of political demonstrations, and authorities have learned to view them as a measure of public opinion. The challenge has always been to manage these demonstrations in a peaceful and orderly manner, and to ensure that other platforms for political dialogue either exist or are created to take account of, and act on, the dissatisfaction of protesting groups.

When political demonstrations are not permitted, protestors are arrested, the opposition is not included in a dialogue at some level, and the media is curtailed, it is a sign that governments are fearful of their positions.

Cuba does not have a system of open political dialogue with opposition groups and media where opposing views can be expressed.

The absence of such a system in Cuba can be explained, though it can not be excused.

Of course, the explanation is the evil United States, its embargo and 45-years of open hostility and attempts to, in his words, destabilise the government of Cuba.

In this context, it is arguable that standards of accountability for human rights in Cuba can not be applied in the same way as normal States.

Normal states, Sir Ronald, don't have laws under which people who disagree with the government can be locked away in prison for 20-years. Normal states don't train their medical doctors as spies and send them out to neighboring countries. Normal states don't allow such things as electric service and water to deteriorate. And besides, the standards upon which the Cuban state should be judged are its treatment of people, not how its treated by other states.

Then he, of course goes on to discuss how generous the Cuban government is with its neighbors - sending doctors and eye surgeons. Sending Caribbean students to Cuba to study in Cuban schools. Cuba building a new airport at St. Vincent & Grenidines. Sir Ronald does not mention at what cost.

Then he says this:

As long as it continues not to allow and manage dissent, the Cuban government will continue to feed the arguments of the US that it is repressive of its own people and there is need for regime change.

Is he really saying that the real problem with castro's human rights record is that it serves U.S. political interests? Seems so, as he concludes:

The day the US government decides to lift the embargo and to treat with Cuba normally, the rest of the world can demand the normal standards of human and civil rights to which all peoples are entitled and which all governments should be made to uphold. 

Sounds like time for an email

To: Sir Ronald Sanders ([email protected])

From: Juan Paxety

I read with great interest your commentary of 2 August as published by Caribbean Net News. You seem to be saying that the real evil of the Cuban governments human rights record is that it feeds U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.

How can you support such a position and ignore the real human tragedy occuring on the island?

Let's see if he answers.

Update - Sir Ronald did reply

I am sorry if that is the impression the commentary conveyed.

What I am saying is that US policy toward Cuba gives the Castro government an excuse for a poor human and civil rights record; I do not condone that record at all.  The problem is that as long as the US continues to spend so much money on various actions against Cuba and on a trade embargo which severely limits the Cuban economy and has been contiuous for over 40 years, the Castro government will continue to have a credible basis for acting against dissidents. The situation is akin to any government, spending millions of dollars on dissidents within the UK or the US.

I did say in the commentary that this explains the Cuban situation, it does not forgive it. 

Once the US lifts the embargo, I suspect the international attitude to Cuba's human rights will change with the Cuban government being held accountible and being held to the same standards required of others.

I hope this clarifies the commentary.

With regards

Ronald Sanders



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