The Backlash to U.S.-Cuba Normalization and the Misuse of Human Rights

In the bitter campaign to reverse the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations that has been driving forward since December 2014, human rights have again entered center stage. Critics of President Obama’s rapprochement with the Cuban government are “claiming vindication this week,” according to yesterday’s front-page article in The Washington Time titled “Cuba’s Communists dig in despite Obama’s outreach.” The article claims that Communist Party hardliners are maneuvering to cement their grip on power once Raul Castro steps down from the country’s presidency in 2018. This charge is based on news that the Cuban leader will nonetheless remain in his post as first secretary of the Communist Party and that fellow “old-line enforcer of party orthodoxy” Jose Ramon Machado will retain his post as the party’s second-in-command. The article cites Ana Quintana, a Latin America and Western Hemisphere policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation and a former student trainee at the Defense Intelligence Agency,[1] who argues that, “by every indicator, in terms of progress, this was a sign of failure.”[2]

Apparently for Quintana, this later development proves beyond a doubt that every last one of President Obama’s overtures of the last two years, from reopening the Cuban Embassy to removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, “have only served to embolden the Cuban government.” As a result of this policy of appeasement, “the Castro government’s treatment of human rights and democracy activists has grown only more harsh.” Yet, the Times hastens to add, not all is lost since Washington “does still hold one key bit of leverage – the continuing U.S. embargo on most direct trade with Cuba.” In the final paragraph the article notes that Republicans in Congress won’t accept an end to the embargo “without clear evidence that the government in Havana has taken steps to improve its record on human rights.”[3]

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