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Amnesty International Criticizes Extension of Cuba Sanctions; Calls on Congress to End a ‘Misguided Embargo’
LONDON - September 8 - Amnesty International criticized President Barack Obama's recent decision to extend U.S. sanctions against Cuba under the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA), saying that he failed to take a long overdue step toward dismantling an ineffective and detrimental policy.
Amnesty International has consistently called on President Obama not to extend the exercise of his authorities under TWEA and for the United States to lift the embargo against the island. In an August 12 letter, Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), strongly urged the president "to depart from a five-decade-old policy that has proven detrimental to human rights in Cuba."
The Cuban government has repeatedly used the embargo as justification for maintaining restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. In the June 2010 report, Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Cuba, Amnesty International described how the embargo and political antagonism with the United States continue to be a pretext for curbing dissent and criticism of the Cuban government. As a result, independent journalists and political and human rights activists are continuously harassed and intimidated. Many face criminal prosecution.
Amnesty International's 2009 report, The US embargo against Cuba: Its impact on economic and social rights, concluded that sanctions -- which the United States has imposed since 1962 -- are negatively affecting Cubans' access to medicines and medical technologies and endangering the health of millions. United Nations agencies and programs operating in Cuba, such as UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNFPA, have reported that the U.S. embargo has undermined the implementation of programs aimed at improving the living conditions of Cubans.
"Legislators should not feel hamstrung by the president's short-sighted actions," noted Kathryn Striffolino, Americas Advocacy Director for AIUSA. "It is the U.S. Congress that has the ultimate authority to repeal a misguided embargo that hampers U.S. business and has a devastating impact on the lives of everyday Cubans. Passing HR 4645 and S 1089, effectively ending the travel ban, would be a step in the right direction that could embolden members of Congress to end the embargo outright."
President Obama does have the power to reverse his recent decision at any time with a new presidential determination. Amnesty International will continue to call for the reversal of the antiquated stance, adopted during the Cold War, which proves detrimental to the enjoyment of human rights both for Cubans and U.S. citizens.
Economic sanctions against Cuba were conceived under the TWEA in 1963. Application of the TWEA in relation to Cuba would have expired in mid-September, had President Obama not extended it until September 2011. The embargo against Cuba is embedded in U.S. legislation mainly through the Torricelli and the Helms-Burton Acts. The Helms-Burton Act, adopted in 1996, states that sanctions can only be lifted if Cuba starts a process of democratization.
Since assuming office, President Obama has taken some positive steps to ease specific limitations, including by lifting restrictions on Cuban Americans who wish to travel to the island or send remittances to their relatives. However, President Obama renewed the application of sanctions against Cuba under the TWEA both in September 2009 and, more recently, on September 2, 2010.