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Cuba Raises Human Rights Issues

THE accusatory glare of Cuba’s highest officials fell on Costa Rica after it voted in favor of a motion before the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemning Cuba’s record last month.Since then, Cuba has slung barbs at the countries that did not back Cuba’s proposal for a U.N. investigation of the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.During a speech on Saturday, Cuban President Fidel Castro leveled insults at the seven Latin American countries that supported the U.N. motion against his regime. He spared specific mention of Costa Rica, lumping it in with those countries that “nobody considers independent states.”CASTRO’S tirade against Mexico and Peru was not so forgiving. Mexico’s prestige and influence in Latin America has “crumbled into ashes,” the Cuban leader said, and “Peru is an example of the degree of abjection and dependence to which imperialism and neo-liberal globalization have driven many of the countries of Latin America.” Both countries responded with the removal of their embassies from the island – a move thatmay have provoked déjà vu among Latin American diplomats.In the past four years, Argentina and Uruguay bristled under Cuban diatribes following U.N. votes censuring the island’s human rights record and also withdrew their embassies. Argentina has since renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba. In early 2001, Cuba opened a consular office in Costa Rica – just in time for that year’s U.N. vote to censure Cuba, which Costa Rica supported.Cuba’s leaders, including the consul, lashed out – inciting the removal of the consul from Costa Rica (TT, April 27, 2001). The current Cuban consul, Jorge Rodríguez, took his seat early last year. HONDURAS submitted this year’s U.N. resolution, which marked the 14th time in 15 years that the record of Fidel Castro’s government was condemned, this time by a vote that squeaked by with 22 in favor, 21 against and 10 abstentions.One of the rights violations for which Cuba came under fire last year was the roundup and severe punishment of 75 dissidents, including journalists.“It seems to us like it’s a ridiculous result,” Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez said. “Cuba considers this a true failure of the government of the United States.”He called it a “Pyrrhic victory,” referring to ancient Greek leader Pyrrhus’ costly victory over the Romans, and said it was an “enormous waste and misuse of resources” by top U.S. officials who, according to Pérez, pressured other countries to vote in favor of the U.N. resolution.WITH no mention of U.S. pressure,Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar explained,“Costa Rica’s vote has to be in favor of(the resolution).”Because the defense of human rights isa state policy, Costa Rica has “no otheralternative” but to support the resolutioncondemning Cuba, he said.While still smarting from the voteagainst it, on April 15 Cuba proposed a resolutionbefore the U.N. Human RightsCommission to investigate allegations ofrights violations in connection with thehundreds of people held by the UnitedStates in Guantanamo Bay.Although Cuba was forced to withdrawthe proposal a week later, it framed theevents of that week as a moral victory for the“Third World.”“THIS has been a historic day,” Pérezsaid. “…Those countries of the ThirdWorld, including Cuba, have waged astrong battle on behalf of… the rights ofthe more than 600 imprisoned humanbeings in the Guantanamo Naval Base.”He added that the proposal turned theeyes of the international press to the subject.“Cuba believes that from this momenton, it will be more difficult to hide theshameful situation there,” he said.A spokesman for the U.S. StateDepartment, Richard Boucher, viewed theCuban proposal as nothing more than apolitical jab. He told the AFP wire servicein Washington, D.C., “Cuba has beenforced to withdraw the resolution becauseof a lack of support.”BOUCHER added that the UnitedStates is “conforming to the demands of theGeneva Convention for prisoners of war.”According to the International RedCross, 660 people of all ages from 40countries have been detained in the basefor more than two years after having beenarrested – the majority in Afghanistan – onsuspicion of terrorist activity.Amnesty International has called thebase a “legal abyss” for the prisoners, whohave not been formally accused of crimesand are being held indefinitely.COSTA Rican political analystsagreed there is a problem in Guantanamo.Part of the problem, analyst EdgarCascante told The Tico Times, is that theUnited States has not allowed the RedCross to inspect the prisoners, therebyflaunting established international protocolfor human-rights protection.The gravity of the issue is overshadowedperhaps only by the sting of CubanMinister Pérez’s verbal darts from thepodium.Pérez heaped scorn on Costa RicanForeign Minister Roberto Tovar, as well ason the representatives of other countriesthat did not pledge support for Cuba’s proposalto investigate U.S. actions inGuantanamo.THE United States had proposed amotion for non-action to waylay the vote,and Costa Rica was expected to supportit.Refuting Tovar’s explanation for sidingwith the United States – that there hadnot been any time to study the subject –Pérez mentioned the numerous reports onGuantanamo, including publications byAmnesty International and the InternationalRed Cross.“That is how the Foreign Minister ofCosta Rica met Costa Rica’s commitmentto the cause of human rights and… to therights of the hundreds of people that are inthe naval base,” Pérez continued.In response, Minister Tovar said CostaRica is committed to human rights and“the Foreign Ministry does not find itappropriate to speak of a subject that was,in the end, not formally discussed” by theU.N. commission.President Abel Pacheco confirmed thisweek that ambassadorial relations betweenthe two countries would not be on theagenda any time soon.Rodríguez, the Cuban consul in CostaRica, declined to comment on the matter.ON April 27, Cuba requested the supportof Honduras for a revised version ofthe same resolution it had withdrawn. Atpress time, Honduras had not replied.Pérez said Cuba’s resolution againstU.S. actions in Guantanamo Bay exposedthe hypocrisy of members of the UnitedNations.Costa Rican political analyst AntonioBarrios agreed the country was in a bindbefore Cuba withdrew its resolution.As a proclaimed human-rights advocate,“it cannot be possible that Costa Ricacondemns Cuba without saying anythingabout Guantanamo, but also it cannot sayanything against the United States,”Barrios said.He pointed out that while Cuba is consistentlycondemned, other Latin countriescommit “atrocities” against people and areleft out of such resolutions.CUBA may have met its goal of makingthe United States appear hypocriticaland foolish, according to Costa Ricanpolitical analyst Luis Guillermo Solís.However, “it remains an issue simplybecause there is a problem that the nationshave not addressed,” he said.“I don’t think it’s fair play to jokearound with human rights issues. Gettinginto a screaming match regarding humanlives that are at stake is not funny. It’s serious,”Solís added.


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