Issues of Cuban Human Rights To Be Discussed by Cuba and United States (Part II)

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence their negotiations regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C.; this was covered in a prior post.

Issues of Cuban human rights that probably will be put on the agenda for further discussions were first examined in a prior post about the recent speech on this subject by Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

In Cuba’s March 26th announcement of the upcoming talks, Pedro Luis Pedroso, Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, referred to “the recognition Cuba received at the last Universal Periodic Review [UPR] by the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the international community praised and commended Cuban achievements in areas such as education, health and access to cultural rights, and the contribution the island has made in those same areas in other countries.”

Therefore, this post will look at that UPR of Cuba while another post will discuss the latest U.S. State Department report on Cuban human rights (the one issued in 2014 for 2013).

The Nature of the UPR Process [1]

In order to assess the recent UPR of Cuba, we first must understand the UPR process, which provides the opportunity for each of the 193 U.N. members, on a periodic basis, to declare what actions it has taken to improve its human rights and to fulfill its human rights obligations.

The UPR process includes a report on all human rights issues from the subject country, compilations of information about the country from various U.N. organizations and from “stakeholders” (non-governmental organizations), a public interactive session of the Human Rights Council about the country, a report by a working group about the proceedings that includes conclusions and recommendations, the subject country’s responses to those conclusions and recommendations and a subsequent evaluation of the UPR by the Council.

It is exceedingly important, however, to know that these conclusions and recommendations are merely a systematic compilation or listing of all those that had been offered by all of the countries participating in the UPR. Hence, there is a lot of duplication and overlapping in this part of the report, which is not similar to an independent judicial body’s reaching certain findings and conclusions based upon an evaluation of often conflicting evidence. Indeed, the Working Group’s report expressly states that the conclusions and recommendations “should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole.” In short, there is no overall “grade” of a country’s human rights performance by the Working Group or by the Council as a whole.

Most Recent UPR of Cuba [2]

The most recent UPR of Cuba occurred in 2013.

1. The Report of  the Working Group.

The key document in figuring out what happened in this UPR is the “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba” that was issued on July 8, 2013. It has the following standard structure, after a brief Introduction:

I. Summary of the proceedings of the review process

A. Presentation by the State under review

B. Interactive dialogue and response by the State under review

II. Conclusions and Recommendations

The “interactive dialogue.” This section of this report states that there was such a dialogue about Cuba involving 132 delegations at the session on May 1, 2013, and sets forth a brief summary of that dialogue in 144 numbered paragraphs. One example is paragraph 31, which states, “ Nicaragua highlighted the commitment of Cuba to human rights despite the blockade, and condemned the [U.S.] convictions against five Cubans.”

The only reference to U.S. comments in this dialogue is in paragraph 77, which states the U.S. “raised concerns for impediments to multiparty elections and freedom of expression and referred to Alan Gross and Oswaldo Paya.” Cuba, according to paragraph 111, responded to this U.S. comment by saying that “freedom of the press was guaranteed in Cuba“ and by “reiterated[ing its] . . . willingness . . . to continue talks with the [U.S.] . . . on the situation of Mr. Gross and of other individuals who were held in detention in Cuba and in the [U.S.].” [3]

Conclusions and Recommendations. This section starts with the following statement: “The recommendations formulated [by all the countries participating] during the interactive dialogue and listed below will be examined by Cuba, which will provide responses in due time, but no later than the twenty-fourth session of the Human Rights Council in September 2013” (para. 170). This section of the Report is concluded by this statement: “All conclusions and/or recommendations contained in the present report reflect the position of the submitting State(s) and/or the State under review. They should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole” (para. 171).

The actual conclusions and recommendations are summarized in 292 numbered subparagraphs of the Report. Those offered by the U.S. are for Cuba to “allow for independent investigations into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero” (para. 170.138) [4], to “release Alan Gross and imprisoned journalists such as Jose Antonio Torres immediately” (para. 170.187) [5] and to “eliminate or cease enforcing laws impeding freedom of expression” (para. 170.176).

2. Cuba’s Responses to the Recommendations.

In response to the U.S. recommendations and 20 others from other countries, Cuba said they “do not enjoy [its] support . . . on the grounds that they are politically biased and based on false premises; they derive from attempts to discredit Cuba by those who, with their hegemonic ambitions, refuse to accept the Cuban people’s diversity and right to self-determination. These proposals are inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation and respect demanded by the UPR process.” Moreover, said Cuba, they “are incompatible with constitutional principles and national legislation, and whose content is contrary to the spirit of cooperation and respect that should predominate at the UPR.” [6]

The other 20 numbered recommendations that were so summarily rejected by Cuba related to protecting human rights defenders, including journalists, against abusive criminal prosecutions, harassment and intimidation (Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, Germany, Hungary); release of all political prisoners (Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland), end indefinite extensions of preliminary criminal investigations (Belgium); improve freedom of expression (Romania, Estonia, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Canada); repeal laws relating to “pre-criminal social dangerousness” (Ireland); end repression, investigate acts of repudiation and protect targets of intimidation and violence (Netherlands); and end Internet censorship (Australia, Germany).

Cuba, however, did accept 230 of the recommendations while noting, “Many of these . . . have already been complied with, or are in the process of implementation , or are included among future national priorities.” Therefore, these items “will be implemented in accordance with our capabilities and in step with the evolution of the circumstances within which Cuba is pursuing its aim of complete social justice.”

The remaining 42 recommendations were “noted” by Cuba as matters to be examined with the understanding that its “process of ratifying an international instrument is very rigorous;” that is stands ready “to continue cooperating with . . . the UN System’s human rights machinery;” that it is “philosophically opposed to the death penalty: and wants to eliminate it when suitable conditions exist;” that it has an “extensive and effective” system for resolving human rights complaints; that its “system of criminal justice . . . ensures fair and impartial hearings and full guarantees to the accused;” Cuba is working at expanding internet access; and “the right to freedom of expression and assembly . . . [is] enshrined in the Constitution and . . . national legislation.”

3. Human Rights Council’s Evaluation of this UPR. As paragraph 170 of the Report of the Working Group provided, the Council was to review the UPR of Cuba at its session in September 2013 after Cuba had submitted its response to the conclusions and recommendations. That Cuban response was just summarized, and the Council on September 20, 2013, reviewed this UPR and approved, without a vote, a resolution “to adopt the outcome of the universal periodic review of Cuba, comprising the report thereon of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review . . ., the views of Cuba concerning the recommendations and/or conclusions made, and its voluntary commitments and replies presented before the adoption of the outcome by the plenary to questions or issues not sufficiently addressed during the interactive dialogue held in the Working Group.” [7]

Criticism of the Recent UPR of Cuba

It must also be noted that an observer has alleged that Cuba “corrupted and abused” this UPR process by prompting the submission of many “fraudulent” stakeholder NGOs; there was a total of 454 submissions regarding Cuba compared with the next highest, 48 on Canada. As a result, says this observer (UN Watch), “numerous statements of praise taint the UN’s official summary” of stakeholders’ submissions. UN Watch also alleges that the compilation of information from U.N. agencies was unfairly slanted in favor of Cuba. [8]

Another observer (International Service for Human Rights) reported that during the UPR of Cuba, 132 countries, at 51 seconds each, took the floor to ask questions and make recommendations. As a result, Cuba received 293 recommendations, the highest number that a State under review has ever received at the UPR, but 121 of them started with the verb ‘continue,’ thus requiring minimal action to be taken by Cuba. [9]

Conclusion

I do not know whether any of NGO stakeholders at this UPR were “fraudulent,” as alleged, but it does appear that Cuba “stacked” the process to minimize the time available to authentic critics of its human rights record and to maximize the time available to its supporters. It also appears as if Cuba rejected recommendations for improving many foundational human rights.

In any event, because the UPR process does not involve a truly independent fact-finder to assess the human rights record of Cuba or any other country in such a process, I reject the assertion by Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, Pedro Luis Pedroso, that Cuba obtained a laudatory evaluation of its human rights record by the U.N. Human Rights Council. In short, I think this UPR is irrelevant to Cuba’s human rights issues.

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[1] Details about the UPR process are provided on the Council’s website. The process involves a “working group,” which is composed of all 47 members of the Council.

[2] All of the documents about the UPR of Cuba are available on the Council’s website, including the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba, dated July 8, 2013.

[3] As discussed in a prior post, Alan Gross was released from a Cuban prison on December 17, 2014, and returned to the U.S. as part of the U.S.-Cuba agreement to re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

[4] Paya was a Cuban political activist, a leader of the political opposition to the to the Cuban government. He was the founder and organizer of the Varela Project, which collected enough signatures to present to the government a request for changes in legislation. He was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Human Rights of the European Parliament in 2002. On July 12, 2012, Paya was killed in an automobile crash in Cuba under suspicious circumstances; Harold Cepero, a youth leader, was also killed in the crash. Many people believe they were murdered by government agents.

[5] Torres, a correspondent for the Cuban government newspaper, Granma, wrote an article about alleged mismanagement of a Santiago Cuba aqueduct project and of the installation of the Cuba-Venezuela fibre-optic cable. Afterwards he was charged and convicted of spying and sentenced to 14 years in prison and cancellation of his university degree in journalism.

[6] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba: Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendation, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review [Cuba] (Sept. 2013).

[7] Report of the Human Rights Council at its 24th session (Para. 24/114) (Jan. 27, 2014).

[8] UNWatch, Massive Fraud: The Corruption of the 2013 UPR of Cuba.

[9] Int’l Service for Human Rights, Unprecedented challeng to the Universal Periodic Review (May 31, 2013)  See also Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Alleged Fraud During Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review, Human Rights Brief (Oct. 24, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba’s Reactions to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Determining the overall reactions of Cubans to the December 17th announcement of their country’s embarking on a path of reconciliation with the U.S. is difficult for anyone, much less a non-Cuban living in Minnesota. Nevertheless, I will attempt to do so based upon generally available information filtered through my having been to Cuba on three church mission trips over the past 12 years, my listening to others from my church who have been on other such trips, my talking with Cubans on the island and in the U.S. and following carefully the news on this subject during these years. My analysis also endeavors to put myself in the shoes of Cubans in this historical moment.

This analysis focuses first on the actions of the leaders of the Cuban government and  then on the reactions of the Cuban people.

The Cuban Government

First, the Cuban government over 18 months conducted secret negotiations with the U.S. government to achieve the breakthrough on December 17th when President Raûl Castro announced this important development to the Cuban people.

At that time Castro said, “We need to learn to live together in a civilized way, with our differences,” He also exulted in the release of the three Cuban agents from U.S. prison, saying it was  a cause of “enormous joy for their families and all of our people.” He praised President Obama with these words””This decision by President Obama deserves respect and recognition by our people.”

Subsequently President Raûl Castro has made other statements reiterating his government’s commitment to the process of reconciliation while also emphasizing some of the difficulties in achieving complete normalization.

  • In his December 20th speech to Cuba’s National Assembly, President Castro said, “The Cuban people are grateful [for Mr. Obama’s decision] to remove the obstacles to our relations.” He also stated, “”In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours.”
  • At the January 28th CELAC conference in Costa Rica, President Castro stated, “The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process of . . . normalization of  bilateral relations, but this will not be possible as long as the [U.S. embargo or] blockade exists, or as long as the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is not returned, or radio and television broadcasts which violate international norms continue, or just compensation is not provided our people for the human and economic damage that they have suffered.” In essence, he said, “Cuba and the United States must learn the art of civilized co-existence, based on respect for the differences which exist between both governments and cooperation on issues of common interest. . . . [In doing so Cuba will not ] renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.” Raul Castro continued, “If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States makes no sense.”

Raúl’s brother, Fidel Castro, belatedly voiced his guarded approval. On January 27th, Fidel said,“I do not trust the politics of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this is not, in any way, a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts. Any peaceful or negotiated solution to the problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latin America that doesn’t imply force or the use of force should be treated in accordance with international norms and principles. We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries.” His brother, Fidel said, had “taken the relevant steps in line with the prerogatives and authorities awarded to him by the National Assembly and the Cuban Communist Party.”

Moreover, the Cuban government has fulfilled its obligations under the accord with the U.S. to release from its jails and prisons Alan Gross, a U.S. spy and 53 Cuban dissidents.

In addition, Cuba hosted a visit of a delegation of U.S. Senators and Representatives led by Senator Leahy and the January 21-22 diplomatic conference in Havana to discuss additional steps of normalization. Although no significant agreements were reached on specific issues, both governments spoke of the spirit of respect and cooperation that was present in those sessions. The diplomatic conference was discussed in posts before and after the sessions.

The day before this conference, a senior official from Cuba’s foreign ministry told reporters that it was “unfair” to keep Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and that Cuba “cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations” while Cuba remains on that list.”

After the conference, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, said, “One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in. Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable.” She also objected to allowing U.S. diplomats on the island to have liberty to go anywhere until they conducted themselves with total respect for Cuban laws. The last point was in response to the U.S. insistence that its diplomats in Havana have the unrestricted ability to travel within the country and to meet with whomever it wants, including Cuban dissidents. Vidal re-emphasized this position in an extensive February 2nd interview in Granma, Cuba’s only newspaper. 

The Cuban People [2]

As there are no national public opinion polls in Cuba, assessing such opinion relies on a melange of sources.

Immediately after the December 17th announcement of the detente, Granma reported that the Cuban people were “overjoyed to the two great events of the day, year and century: the return to the country of three Cuban heroes who were previously incarcerated in U.S. prisons, and the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S.”

The day after the announcement a Western journalist reported that “many Cubans expressed hope . . .  that it will mean greater access to jobs and the creature comforts taken for granted elsewhere, and lift a struggling socialist economy where staples like meat, cooking oil and toilet paper are often hard to come by. That yearning, however, was tempered with anxiety. Some fear a cultural onslaught, or that crime and drugs, both rare in Cuba, will become common along with visitors from the United States. There is also concern that the country will become just another Caribbean destination.”

Another western journalist, William Neuman, this last Christmas made a 17-hour car trip around the island and observed that in his “conversations with Cubans about the lifting of parts of the American embargo and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, what they talked about most was that they hoped it would breathe life into the economy and eventually lead to a better standard of living.”

In early January an Associated Press journalist interviewed 10 of the 53 Cuban dissidents who were released from jail or prison by the Cuban government as part of the December 17th announcement, and eight of them “expressed confidence the decrease in tensions with the U.S. will improve life in Cuba and make their activism easier. Only one had a negative view of the deal.”

More recently, on January 23rd in Havana U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson hosted a meeting in Havana of certain Cuban dissidents, as discussed in a prior post. Some of those in attendance were opposed to the detente while others supported it. (The Cuban government was very unhappy over this meeting.)

On February 3rd a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing about the detente. Four of the witnesses were the following Cuban dissidents. 

  • Berta Soler, President of Cuban Ladies in White, testified about the continued arrests and harassment of dissidents by the Cuban government.
  • Mrs. Miriam Levia, a human rights advocate and independent journalist, testified, “While many dissidents and opponents support the new approach of the American Administration in the relations with the Cuban government, others do not. Nevertheless, the objective is the same: defense of human rights, democratic values, and friendship and assistance to the Cuban people. Likewise in the opposition and dissidence, we all seek the wellbeing and progress of the Cuban people and our country.” She added, “Reestablishing relations will grant a better environment for the American diplomats in Cuba, their contacts with the Cuban population and the civil society, and their ability to access a direct channel to the national officials, among other issues. Normalizing the 56 years long estrangement will take a long time. But there is now a unique opportunity to assist the Cuban people and it must not be wasted. . . .The American policy towards the Cuban government has disserved it for 56 years, so it must be changed. The embargo must be lifted for the benefit of our peoples and nations.”
  • Manuel Cuesta Morúa, representing the Progressive Arc and Coordinator of New Country, testified, “Do not believe that the change in U.S. policy will bring us freedom, which would be the best outcome. The freedom of Cuba is exclusively a matter for Cubans. But believe me, that new policy will give us better options for us to obtain it by ourselves.”
  • Rosa Maria Paya, a member of Christian Liberation Movement and Daughter of Slain Dissident Oswaldo Paya Sardińas, testified,  ““Your government must move forward and extend a hand to the people and government of Cuba, but with the request that the hands of Cuban citizens not be tied. Otherwise, the opening will only be for the Cuban government, and will be another episode of an international spectacle full of hypocrisy. A spectacle that reinforces oppression, and plunges the Cuban people deeper into the lie and total defenselessness, seriously damaging the desire of Cubans for the inevitable changes to be achieved peacefully. The pursuit of friendship between the United States of America and Cuba is inseparable from the pursuit of liberty. We want to be free and be friends.” God bless and protect our peoples.”

This January David Adams of Reuters reported that “most Cubans firmly oppose U.S. policies and the long economic embargo . . .  but admire U.S. culture. Many have relatives living in the United States, Cuban teenagers listen more to rap and hip hop than to home-grown son and salsa, and baseball is the country’s most popular sport.”  Adams cites three examples:

  • Miguel Barnet, a poet and anthropologist and a member of Cuba’s powerful Council of State,  “fondly recalls his teenage years in the 1950s, attending one of Havana’s elite private schools, singing in the Episcopal church choir and performing in American musicals.‘I love North American culture, I was shaped by it.’”
  • The official historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal, added, “We never burned an American flag in Cuba. We Cubans don’t have our hands soaked in American blood. There is no anti-American hatred here.”
  • Camilo Martinez, the operator of a small Havana bed and breakfast, said, “Everyone wants to see what the future will bring. They can taste the consumer benefits in the future. No one can stop this. Everyone wants to work with people in the United States, we all have friends and relatives there …. Everyone can see the future: McDonald’s, Home Depot, Walmart.”

A first-time visitor to Cuba reported in January  that If you ask [Cubans] about politics, the response often starts with a deep breath or shrug. Cubans are mostly interested in economic improvement, one invariably hears, and an intangible ‘normal’ in their lives.”

Another measure of the Cuban people’s desperate economic conditions and their reactions to the detente was a post-December 17th surge in the number of U.S. Coast Guard interdictions of Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. illegally in rafts. They apparently were motivated in part by fear that the detente would mean an end to the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” immigration policy allowing Cubans who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country.

Conclusion

The Cuban government clearly has concluded that an accord with the U.S. was in Cuba’s national interest. It potentially reduces, if not eliminates, a feared hostile U.S. intervention. It should lead to increased U.S. investment in Cuba and increased U.S. tourism, all benefiting the Cuban economy and the economic lives of many of its citizens. Such positive impacts will be enhanced by the anticipated abolition of the U.S. embargo or blockade of the island. These considerations for Cuba presumably were enhanced by the increasing economic troubles, if not possible  implosion, of Venezuela, which has been a major Cuban benefactor.

On the other hand, the Cuban government has recognized, as has the U.S., that there are many difficult problems that have accumulated over the last 50-plus years that must be addressed, but will not be easy to resolve.

I concur in the observations of the previously mentioned journalists that most Cubans have warm feelings toward the American people and culture and are hopeful that the accord will result in improvements in their daily lives.

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[1] Reuters, Cuba’s Castro Hails New Era of Living Together with U.S., N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Cave, Raúl Castro Thanks U.S., but Reaffirms Communist Rule in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014);  Reuters, Cuba Says U.S.Must Respect Its Communist System, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014); Assoc. Press, Cuba Digs in Heels on Concessions as Part of Better US Ties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 25, 2015); Burnett, Fidel Castro Shares Views on Warming of Relations, N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2015); President Raúl Castro speaks to third CELAC Summit in Costa Rica, Granma (Jan. 29, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro: US Must Return Guantanamo for Normal Relations, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2015); Reuters, Raul Castro Warns U.S. Against Meddling in Cuba’s Affairs, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2015), Escobar, The blockade has not ended, Granma (Feb. 2, 2015) (extensive interview of Josefina Vidal); Reuters, Cuba Sounds Warning Ahead of Next Round of U.S. Talks, N.Y. Times (Feb. 3, 2015); Reuters, Exclusive–U.S. Pressing Cuba to Restore Diplomatic Ties before April: Officials, N.Y.Times (Feb. 6, 2015).

[2] Assoc. Press, Hope and Some Fear in Cuba Amid Thaw with US, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Hernandez, Cuba overjoyed, Granma (Dec. 18, 2014); Assoc. Press, Coast Guard Reports Surge in Cubans Trying to Reach Florida, N.Y. Times (Jan. 5, 2015); Neuman, Cuban Road Trip: Reporter’s Notebook, N. Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015); Assoc. Press, Freed Cuban Dissidents Praise Detente, Pledge Push for Change, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2015); Adams, Cubans Look Fondly to U.S. as Talks to Resume Relations Start, N.Y. Times (Jan.21, 2015); Assoc. Press, For First-Time Visitor, Havana Is Charming-And Complicated, N.Y. Times (Jan. 24, 2015); DeYoung, As normalization talks begin, Cubans begin anticipating challenges to come, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2015); Miroff, Fear of immigration policy change triggers new wave of Cuban migrants, Wash. Post (Jan. 27, 2015); U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Hearing: Understanding the Impact of U.S. Policy changes on Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba (Feb. 3, 2015).