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Americas: Create Unified, Effective Approach to Cuba

Summit Is Opportunity to Replace Failed Policies of Isolation and Uncritical Engagement

WASHINGTON - Heads of state gathered at the Summit of the Americas should work together to create a new, unified approach to Cuba that will be more effective toward dismantling Cuba's repressive machinery, Human Rights Watch said today.

Several of the participating leaders have pledged to raise the issue of relations with Cuba at the summit, from April 17 to April 19, 2009, in Trinidad and Tobago. Human Rights Watch called on the leaders to find a targeted, multilateral approach toward Cuba, with human rights at its core, to take the place of the failed policies of the past several decades.

"Any discussion of engagement with Cuba needs to take into account that Cuba is the last country in the hemisphere that represses nearly every form of political dissent," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Those who lament Cuba's absence from the summit should remember that the Cuban government systematically denies its people even the most basic freedoms."

The Cuban government continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, physical violence, and surveillance. More than 200 political prisoners languish in Cuba's jails. The dismal state of human rights in Cuba has not improved since the handover of power from Fidel Castro to Raúl Castro in July 2006.

Neither the US policy of isolation nor the Latin American policy of uncritical engagement has worked to address these violations.

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"The pursuit of these contradictory strategies has undermined the effectiveness of both, and the only beneficiary has been the Castro government," said Vivanco.  

On April 13, President Barack Obama ended all restrictions on Cuban Americans' travel and remittances to Cuba.

"President Obama has shown his willingness to break with a policy that has failed to produce any change in Cuba," said Vivanco. "Obama should bring the same approach to the rest of the US's policy toward Cuba, which has isolated the US more than it has isolated the Cuban government."

Latin American and Caribbean leaders should also re-evaluate their strategy of uncritical engagement with Cuba, which has done nothing to address the human rights violations by the Castro government.

"The Latin American leaders should recognize that turning a blind eye to Cuba's repression has done nothing to improve the lives of the Cuban people," said Vivanco. "The sooner the US and Latin America acknowledge that none of their policies have improved human rights in Cuba, the sooner they can find a shared policy that will succeed."

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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