Human rights as weapon

Published : Apr 27, 2002 00:00 IST

The United States tries to persuade other Latin American countries to introduce a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Commission meet at Geneva, condemning alleged human rights violations in Cuba.

THE Bush administration, which has many avowed anti-Cuba personalities in high-ranking positions, is again on a diplomatic overdrive against Havana. For the past several years, Washington has been trying to get Cuba censured at the annual United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) meet in Geneva. As the United States was excluded from the UNHRC in 2001, the task of introducing the resolution against Cuba this year was assigned to the Czech Republic. However, Prague has evidently had an eleventh-hour change of mind; it has announced that it will not do the bidding of the U.S. this time.

The Bush administration had expended a lot of diplomatic effort and time to rope in some Latin American countries into its anti-Cuba machinations. According to Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, the Bush administration has been "using a lot of stick and a little carrot" to get one or several Latin American countries to sponsor the anti-Cuba resolution at Geneva. It wants the Latin American countries "to introduce a resolution based on the OAS (Organisation of American States) charter, focussing on the human rights situation and calling for a visit to the island to investigate the situation".

In a confidential note sent to some Latin American governments, the Bush administration stressed that such a resolution sponsored by Latin American nations would "have the best chances of success" at Geneva. It has now been confirmed that the role of "Judas" is being played by Uruguay, which will introduce the resolution drafted in Washington at the UNHRC meet. The resolution calls for the dispatch to Cuba of a representative of the UNHRC, despite the fact that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights had visited Cuba in the mid-1990s. Cuba has pointed out that neither the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights nor her personal representative has ever bothered to make a visit to the U.S.

Cuban authorities point out that they have been scrupulously responding to the requests of information on alleged cases of violation of human rights through the various procedures and mechanisms of the UNHRC. In contrast, the U.S. has refused to be a party to the equally important Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

THE hyperactivity of the Bush administration vis-a-vis Cuba can, to a large extent, be ascribed to the debt of gratitude Bush owes to the Cuban exile community in Florida. The leadership of the "Cuban mafia", as the extreme right-wing Cuban exile community is described in the Latin American media, played a key role in the electoral skulduggery in Florida that led to the coronation of George W. Bush as President of the U.S.

Moreover, the Cuban emigre vote is essential for the re-election of the President's brother, Jeb Bush, as the Governor of Florida. Jeb Bush is facing a tough challenge from the former Attorney General in the Clinton administration, Janet Reno. Reno had neutralised the "Cuban mafia's" attempt to politicise the "Elian Gonzalez case". Elian, the Cuban boy found in a boat off the Florida coast, was allowed to return to Cuba to stay with his next of kin much to the consternation and anger of the Cuban exile community (Frontline, July 21, 2000).

The "Cuban mafia" has its representatives in the highest echelons of power in Washington. For instance, Otto Reich, now Under Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs in the Bush administration, that is, the official in charge of the U.S. government's policies on Latin America, was implicated in terrorist activities against the Cuban government. Reich had helped Orlando Bosch, who masterminded the mid-air explosion of a Cuban passenger plane in which 73 people on board were killed, gain entry into the U.S. Reich also played an important role in the Iran-Contragate scandal as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency-financed Public Diplomacy Office.

Reich's deputy, Lino Guiterrez, was involved from the early 1980s in cloak-and-dagger activities for the CIA. He has been working overtime to prevent the return of the Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua and to destabilise the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Both Reich and Guiterrez belong to right-wing Cuban emigre families who left the island immediately after the 1959 revolution.

Other key players in the Bush administration whose brief is to destabilise the Fidel Castro-led government in Cuba are Elliot Abrams and John Negroponte. Abrams escaped a jail sentence thanks to a presidential pardon from George Bush Senior. He played a major role in masterminding the Iran-Contra conspiracy. Currently, he is on the U.S. government's National Security Council, with the responsibility to promote "democracy and human rights". Abrams played an important role in the bloody events that took place under CIA supervision in Central America, including the propping up of right-wing death squads. Negroponte is the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. As the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, he sponsored the persecution and execution of thousands of people in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In Nicaragua, the CIA backed the Contras fighting against the Sandinista government, and in El Salvador the right-wing government and paramilitary forces against left-wing guerillas.

Ironically, the same Bush administration officials are trying to persuade the UNHRC to censure Cuba on the issue of alleged human rights violations. It is to give its devious goals a modicum of credibility that the Bush administration is trying to enrol the services of some Latin American nations. Washington feels that the resolution condemning Cuba on human rights would get more credibility if it is sponsored by a Latin American nation. If such a move materialises, it would also break the traditional unity of Latin American countries on the issue. The majority of Latin American countries, like most of the developing countries, are loath to see the issue of human rights being used as an instrument by the U.S. to implement its own agenda for the region and the world. They also find it surprising that Washington prefers to focus on Cuba and other Third World countries while turning a blind eye to the rampant human rights abuses committed in the developed Western world. For instance, the U.S. is the country with the largest number of people incarcerated in prisons. On the other hand, Cuba has the fewest political prisoners among all Latin American countries.

Foreign Minister Roque has called on the U.N. to "democratise" the functioning of the UNHRC. Recently, in a speech in Geneva, he said that what the world needed was a "Commission at the service of everyone's interest and not hostage to the designs of the minority or as becomes obvious every day, to the whims of the mightiest". He pointed out that the UNHRC saw it fit to adopt resolutions and declarations criticising the human rights situation in 18 Third World countries in 2001. However, there was not a single instance in which human rights violation occurring in the developed world was criticised. "It is absolutely necessary to banish double standards from this Commission. Did those who today question the legitimacy of the elections in an African country utter a word when, scarcely a year ago, amid a scandal, we had to wait almost a month to learn who would be the President of the United States?" asked Roque.

The Cuban Minister said that instead of arbitrarily passing judgment on Third World countries, the UNHRC should recognise the right of developing countries to overcome poverty and to guarantee health care to their people. Roque said: "Cuba considers that despite the differences in beliefs, ideologies and political positions amongst us, there is nevertheless a common danger facing us all: the attempt to impose a world dictatorship that serves the interests of the mighty superpower and its transnational corporations, clearly stating that you are either with them or against them."

Interestingly, the U.S.-led attempt to victimise Cuba comes at a time when the Israeli government is using jets, helicopters and tanks supplied by the U.S. to ride roughshod over the Palestinian people. The world is witness to the tacit support extended to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by the Bush administration in the attack on a sovereign people. In his address to the UNHRC, the Cuban Foreign Minister asked: "Why do we not demand that the American administration cease its unconditional support for and complicity with the genocide of the Palestinian people perpetrated by the Israeli Army? Why do we not demand that it relinquish its attempts to turn the Untied Nations into a tool that serves its interests?"

Washington's hypocrisy on the issue of human rights and good governance in Latin America was once again exposed by the stand it took after the democratically elected government in Venezuela was overthrown for a brief period in a right-wing military coup. Although Washington is a signatory to the "Democracy Charter" along with other Latin American states, there was no talk of violations of human rights or civil liberties when ordinary Venezuelans who rallied to restore the presidency of Hugo Chavez were killed.

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