- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

Cuba is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s censure by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights at the group’s annual meeting in Geneva that begins today.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told reporters in Cuba last week that the island nation “expects no Latin American country will play the role of Cain in the Human Rights Commission.”

“No Latin American country will present, sponsor or vote in favor of the resolution, which will only serve to justify Washington’s policy of blockade and aggression against our people, if not the flagrant violation of the human rights of our people.”

Last year, the United States managed to line up enough votes to censure Cuba by getting other Latin American nations to join the effort. The vote was 23-21.

The 53-nation commission includes Zimbabwe, Sudan, Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia and other nations that the West considers some of the world’s worst human rights violators.

Before the commission’s meeting each year, nations lobby for votes by trading diplomatic carrots and sticks.

Mr. Perez said the only human rights abuses on Cuban soil were occurring at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. military base holding prisoners from the war in Afghanistan.

Amnesty International, in testimony submitted to a congressional hearing, said the group recognized 71 jailed Cubans as political prisoners.

Titled “Year Two of Castro’s Brutal Crackdown on Dissidents,” the hearing was held to commemorate the second anniversary of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s mass arrest of 75 democracy activists in March 2003.

The situation in Cuba “is a dark spot on our hemisphere, where democracy and freedom are shared by a mass majority of our countries, but are put down in Cuba,” said Eric Olsen of Amnesty International.

The congressional panel discounted the release of 14 prisoners who were part of what Amnesty called “the largest crackdown on political dissidents in recent history.”

During the hearing, some Democrats criticized what they saw as the lack of a clear policy toward Havana. Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat, called U.S. policy on Cuba “almost a negative policy.”

New rules instituted in June restrict travel to the island by Cuban nationals living in the United States to once every three years, rather than once a year. Visits can last no more than two weeks and the amount of money that can be spent in Cuba or sent to relatives is restricted.

Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said tourism to Cuba only fills the coffers of the Castro regime, which “uses it to finance its repressive apparatus.”

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