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Thursday, May 17, 2018

US and Cuba clash in the United Nations

Por Kvothe

More antagonism is seen in the news. According to El Nuevo Herald the differences between the United States and Cuba returned to occupy the United Nations scene this last Wednesday in Geneva, when both delegations were criticized during the universal periodic review on the human rights situation on the island.

"The presidential transition in April again robbed the Cuban people of any real opportunity to participate in the construction of the future of their country", US diplomat Michele Roulbet told the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). "The Cuban government continues to criminalize independent civil society and severely restricts the freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief and the right to peaceful association", Roulbet said.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez replied that "it is the United States that prohibits its citizens from traveling to Cuba and restricts their freedom to travel ... and denies Cuban families the granting of visas in their embassy in Havana". Countries that criticize his government's human rights record, Rodriguez said, "have no moral authority to prosecute Cuba, and instead are the authors of extensive and well-documented human rights violations".

In his initial statement, the Cuban foreign minister criticized the "intensification of the embargo" imposed by the United States, which he described as an "act of genocide".

The exchange is the latest example of tensions in relations between the two countries, which increased since President Donald Trump took office in the White House. Due to alleged attacks on US diplomatic personnel in Havana, a mysterious case still to be clarified, the US withdrew most of its personnel from the embassy in Havana and stopped the processing of visas, with few exceptions.

But the United States was not alone in questioning the Cuban government in Geneva. While several countries praised the Cuban government for its management in areas such as health and education, they also recommended that Cuba "adopt tangible measures to eliminate restrictions on freedom of expression and association" (Brazil); "eliminate arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders" and promote "more plural media" (Bulgaria). Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, among others, expressed similar concern "about intimidation and arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders". Portugal recommended abolishing the death penalty, while other countries recommended improving conditions in prisons, allowing greater access by UN rapporteurs to the country and freeing all prisoners of conscience.

Several African countries also recommended that Cuba do more to combat racial discrimination.

Cuban civil society organizations denounced to the UN, 36,254 documented cases of arbitrary arrests of dissidents and human rights activists between 2013 and 2017, according to a report prepared for the review by members of the UN HRC. The report includes accusations and recommendations made to Cuba on the subject of arbitrary detentions, the signing of international treaties, the Cuban legal system and the absence of a national organization that promotes and protects human rights.

The Cuban delegation categorically denied the violations mentioned by several delegations.

"In Cuba there simply are no political prisoners ... there is no discrimination in the Cuban prisons", said Rodolfo Reyes, general director of the Cuban chancellery in the session on Wednesday. "We deny any kind of reprisals committed against human rights defenders in Cuba". The Cuban foreign minister said it was "regrettable that some countries continue to manipulate human rights for political purposes to justify the embargo and a regime change".