Few nations follow US in condemning Cuba

Campaign News | Monday, 22 January 2007

Bush administration plans to get more international condemnation of Cuba is failing

Published in the Miami Herald

WASHINGTON - Shortly after an ailing Fidel Castro handed power to his brother Raúl last summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos.

With Havana seemingly on the edge of change, Rice hoped the European Union would issue a statement urging Cuba to adopt democratic reforms. As the leader on Latin American affairs within the EU, Madrid had the clout to make such a declaration happen, diplomats familiar with the outreach say.

The Spaniards declined.

To this day, the EU and most Latin American democracies have been conspicuously quiet on Cuba despite a stepped-up U.S. effort to garner those kinds of declarations on Cuba. Diplomats and analysts say the silence shows that many nations are both unwilling to be associated with U.S. policies toward Cuba and reluctant to anger Havana by criticizing its communist government.

"The embargo focus of U.S. policy [toward Cuba] has been ineffective," said Kenneth Roth, president of Human Rights Watch, a group critical of both U.S. sanctions on Cuba and the island's repressive ways. ``It's driven away natural allies who otherwise might be willing to help promote human rights."


Bringing international attention on Cuba was a priority for the Bush administration even before Castro temporarily handed power to his brother and six top aides on July 31. A few weeks earlier, a big interagency policy report on Cuba said that Western democracies ``should take a leading role in guiding Cuba on a path . . . to representative democracy."

U.S. officials with Latin American responsibilities often discuss Cuba on their trips abroad.

The State Department's Cuba Transition Coordinator, Caleb McCarry has traveled to Spain, Finland -- which then held the EU's rotating presidency -- and Germany, which currently holds it.

Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Thomas Shannon has traveled widely in Latin America as well as China, Spain and Canada. And Kirsten Madison, who among other duties oversees the Cuba desk at the State Department, has been to France, Italy and Belgium.

The State Department says it is not only out to convince others on the merits of U.S. policy on Cuba.

"This is not us giving them information only," spokesman Eric Watnik said. ``We want to know what they are doing to help the Cuban people and see if we can work together in supporting a democratic transition."

So far, the administration has little to show for its efforts. Only a handful of formerly communist nations in Central Europe and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias have called for a democratic transition in Cuba. The Cuban foreign ministry later blasted Arias, a Nobel Peace prize winner, as a ``vulgar mercenary."

The reluctance of other nations to speak out is dismaying Cuban Americans.

U.S. ambassador to Spain Eduardo Aguirre last month told a group of Spanish reporters that he'd ``like the European Union at some time to make a simple statement, that they'd like to see democracy in Cuba."

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said many nations are eager to condemn alleged U.S. violations in the Guantánamo Bay prison but unwilling to speak out on the plight of Cuban political prisoners.

"After almost 50 years of this double standard of silence toward Cuba's lack of freedoms, I am not very surprised by the lack of international support," she said.


European diplomats interviewed by The Miami Herald, many of whom declined to be identified because Cuba is a delicate subject, say all its members want democracy in Cuba. But some governments like those in Spain, France and England feel that condemning Havana at this time would prompt the communist government to dig its heels rather than embrace change.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the three Baltic states are pushing for a EU pronouncement, the diplomats say. Hungary's ambassador to Washington, András Simonyi, said Europe is "edging" towards a common position on Cuba, which he said is a "special case" because of its history and its ``present situation."

"Hungary has a clear view that we have been through a democratic change and, of course, we would like to see as many countries as possible" take a democratic path.

In Latin America, most big democracies like Argentina and Brazil have long held that they cannot interfere in the internal affairs of another country. Mexico's new conservative President Felipe Calderón has said he will seek to promote democracy in the region, but so far has not mentioned Cuba.

There's also resentment against the U.S. Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which punishes foreign companies that invest in Cuban properties seized from U.S. citizens, as well as the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

U.S. officials say they understand that other nations oppose Washington's "tactics" but that the two sides should work together to achieve democracy in Cuba.

But that's "not how things work," said José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch. ``They also need to open the whole policy agenda for debate."


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