- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The White House yesterday denounced the United Nations for re-electing Cuba to its Human Rights Commission, saying the move "is like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security."
"Cuba does not deserve a seat on the Human Rights Commission," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters moments after the re-election. "Cuba deserves to be investigated by the Human Rights Commission."
Later, a U.S. diplomat walked out of a meeting of the U.N. body that announced Cuba's spot on the human rights panel.
The tough talk came one day after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called Cuba an "aberration in the Western Hemisphere" and hinted of retaliation for the worst human rights crackdown in a decade.
In recent weeks, dictator Fidel Castro has imprisoned 75 dissidents, journalists and librarians, while summarily executing three men who tried to flee the island by hijacking a ferryboat.
"We're reviewing all of our policies and our approach toward Cuba in light of what I think is a deteriorating human rights situation," Mr. Powell told reporters.
Even traditional supporters of Mr. Castro, including leftist writers and artists who have defended him for decades, are abandoning the communist leader in the wake of the crackdown. The few die-hards who continue to defend the regime are coming under fire from U.S. officials.
"For those who are proposing to remove some of the trade restrictions that exist on Cuba, we remind them that Cuba remains a very repressive regime, as proven by its actions in the arrest of these leaders, who simply want to speak out, journalists who want to write the truth," Mr. Fleischer said.
"And this is a reminder to these groups that want to liberalize or open up trade with Cuba, that this repressive regime will use that money to further their dictatorship, not to help the people," he added.
Human Rights Watch condemned the re-election of Russia, as well as Cuba, to the commission. Moscow has refused to allow U.N. monitors to investigate its army's conduct in Chechnya.
"Cuba and Russia each have very serious human rights problems and have failed to cooperate with the commission, despite many resolutions against them," said Joanna Weschler, the group's representative at the United Nations. "It's outrageous that they should be rewarded for this performance with another term on the commission."
Cuba and Russia were among three uncontested seats on the 53-member commission, which has Libya as its chairman. Both countries will now serve another three years on the commission, the members of which are appointed by the U.N. Economic and Social Council.
But Cuba was the country singled out for criticism by Democratic and Republican members of Congress yesterday. The lawmakers were also highly critical of the United Nations.
"Cuba's re-election to the U.N. Human Rights Commission makes a mockery of the body's mission and is a slap in the face to freedom-loving people everywhere," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, who is running for president.
"By punishing his people for expressing their consciences, the Cuban dictator once again proves he has none," he added. "Now is the time for all Americans to stand united against Castro's crimes and against any weakening of the sanctions against Cuba."
Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, said re-electing Cuba "is like honoring Saddam Hussein with the Nobel Peace Prize." He vowed to introduce a resolution calling on the United Nations to nullify Cuba's re-election.
The Bush administration, which had lobbied against keeping Cuba on the panel, yesterday expressed disgust that its advice had not been followed.
"There are some things that happen at the United Nations that it's very hard for anybody to explain," Mr. Fleischer said.
At the United Nations, Sichan Siv, U.S. ambassador to the Economic and Social Council, walked out of the council's chamber as Cuba's re-election was announced and again about 90 minutes later when the Cuban representative got up to speak.
"It was an outrage for us because we view Cuba as the worst violator of human rights in this hemisphere," Mr. Siv told reporters.
"This is a country that for 40 years has not held an election," he said. "It's a country that arrests people and puts them in jail at the whim of a dictator."
Although the administration stopped short of taking action against Cuba, its rhetoric yesterday recalled the kind of tough talk that until now had been reserved for Saddam and Osama bin Laden, both of whom were targeted by the U.S. military.
"Fidel Castro is an outright, absolute dictator who has no interest in the lives or the suffering of his own people," Mr. Fleischer said. "He only has interest in keeping himself in power at the expense of those people."
The administration's criticism of the United Nations also recalled the president's efforts to persuade the world body to take action against Iraq earlier this year.
"You cannot get around it," Mr. Fleischer added. "The United Nations Human Rights Commission cannot expect to have Libya be its chair, to re-elect Cuba and not have people wonder if they really do stand for human rights or not."
Similar conclusions are being reached by former Castro defenders among artists and intellectuals across the globe, including Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning novelist Jose Saramago.
"From now on, Cuba can follow its own course, and leave me out," Mr. Saramago said earlier this month. He added that Cuba has "lost my trust, it has damaged my hopes, it has defrauded my illusions."
In Spain, 50 prominent artists issued a statement this week calling Mr. Castro's crackdown an "attack on freedom and life." The signatories included Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodovar, philosopher Fernando Savater, actor Javier Bardem and Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso.
American left-wing intellectual Susan Sontag even publicly berated Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez for not criticizing the crackdown, calling the silence of the Colombian author and Castro friend "unpardonable."



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