International Human Rights and Cuba: Was Imposing an Embargo and Severing Political Ties the Answer?

BY FERNANDO J. VALLE — The Beginning: When Fidel Castro and his supporters overthrew the Batista regime in Cuba in 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally recognized the new government. However, as the new Castro regime began nationalizing U.S.-held assets, the United States imposed more and more economic sanctions, ultimately resulting in a trade embargo that forbade U.S. corporations from engaging in any business with Cuba. The point of the embargo was obvious – to place economic pressure on Cuba in an effort to curb its behaviors.

When Cuba moved towards a one-party communist system, the United States ended all diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation. Since then, Cuba has continuously repressed “virtually all forms of political dissent.” Cuba routinely imprisons political dissidents, subjecting them to detention without trial and subjecting them to retaliatory violence. In the rare circumstance where the government agrees to release a political prisoner, that person is subjected to exile as a condition of release.

Total Loss of Control and Influence: By pulling out of Cuba both politically and economically, the United States effectively threw Cuba into the arms of the USSR, relinquishing what influence the government still had in Cuban affairs. Shortly after the United States severed its ties with Cuba, the country had its membership in the Organization of American States suspended. As a result, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has no jurisdiction over the island nation, despite the court’s numerous findings of human rights abuses.

The severance of diplomatic ties caused U.S.-Cuban relationships to fall into a vicious cycle – without U.S. influence, Cuba, allied with the Russians, turned to repression. The United States responded to the repression by stating that U.S.-Cuban relations would not be restored until Cuba put an end to its Human Rights abuses.

Nothing New: Questioning the United States’ policy towards Cuba is nothing new. John F. Kennedy, while campaigning for President, criticized Eisenhower’s policy towards Cuba, saying “while we were allowing Batista to place us on the side of tyranny, we did nothing to persuade the people of Cuba and Latin America that we wanted to be on the side of freedom.” While the United States not-so-secretly broadcasts propaganda to Cuba via Radio Marti in an effort to show the Cuban people the value of democracy, it still refuses to address and negotiate with Cuba in an official capacity, effectively perpetuating the abuses that happen in Cuba on a daily basis.

Sometimes remaining silent is more effective than talking, but other times just the opposite is true. Perhaps if the United States formally recognized the Cuban government and engaged in diplomatic talks with the country, the world would see an improvement in Cuban civil rights. Perhaps the opposite is true. But after fifty years of silence with little-to-no results, the government should ask itself – is silence the answer?

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