Amnesty urges Obama to lift Cuba sanctions
News from Cuba | Tuesday, 1 September 2009
Reporting by Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama should lift sanctions against Cuba this month in a step towards dismantling the U.S. embargo against the island, rights groups Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
The provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act, among a raft of U.S. sanctions against Communist-run Cuba, expire on Sept. 14 and the president has the power extend them for another year or stop them.
"This is the perfect opportunity for President Obama to distance himself from the failed policies of the past and to send a strong message to the U.S. Congress on the need to end the embargo," Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary-general, said in a statement.
"The U.S. embargo against Cuba is immoral and should be lifted," Khan said. "It's preventing millions of Cubans from benefiting from vital medicines and medical equipment essential for their health."
Obama has taken steps towards a more open relationship with Havana than the Bush adminstration, including lifting restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island.
But Obama has said the near half-century trade embargo, which the Cuban government blames for many of its problems, will stay in place until Cuba releases political prisoners and improves human rights.
Cuba has said it is willing to discuss everything with Washington but has ruled out unilateral political concessions or any shift to capitalism.
The Trading with the Enemy Act prohibits any type of trade or financial transaction, including those related to travel, transportation or business in times of war or when a national emergency has been declared in relation to specific country.
In its report "The U.S. embargo against Cuba: Its impact on economic and social rights", Amnesty said the restrictions severely limited Cuba's ability to import medicine, medical equipment and technology essential for treating life-threatening disease and maintaining public health programmes.
Citing data from the U.N. children's agency UNICEF because Amnesty does not have access to the island, the group said 37.5 percent of Cuba's under-3s had iron deficiency anaemia in 2007.
The commercial barriers have also hindered the renovation of hospitals, clinics and care centres for the elderly, it said. (Writing by Alison Williams; Editing by Louise Ireland)