National Security

Obama Seeks Détente with One of World’s Worst Human Rights Violators

Cuban government in 2013: Freedom of speech 'incompatible with constitutional principles and the internal judicial order'

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that the United States would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country whose Communist government has been condemned for half a century’s worth of gross human rights violations.

Obama also touted an easing of travel and financial restrictions on Cuba after the U.S. government swapped three convicted Cuban spies for imprisoned U.S. agency subcontractor Alan Gross. What the president did not mention is that President Raul Castro’s regime continues to imprison or harass dozens of political dissidents.

According to Freedom House, more than 100 political dissidents are either behind bars in Cuba or on parole and under heavy surveillance. Authorities also harass enemies of the Castro regime with short-term detentions and beatings.

While the Cuban government accepted some of the recommendations provided by the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2013, it refused to guarantee freedom of speech and peaceful assembly rights to human rights activists, journalists, and government critics. Those recommendations were "politically biased, constructed on false bases, and incompatible with constitutional principles and the internal judicial order," it said.

Cuban security agents have been accused of causing a 2012 car crash that killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, two of the leading opposition figures in the country at the time. Yoani Sanchez, a prominent Cuban dissident blogger, also had her new website hacked in May just an hour after its launch. Cubans visiting the site were transferred to rebukes of Sanchez by pro-Castro writers.

Additionally, Cuba attempted to transfer 240 tons of weapons to North Korea last summer—including two anti-aircraft missile systems and 16 engines for Mig-21 jets concealed under tons of sugar—in violation of UN sanctions before the ship was intercepted.

Obama instructed Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday to review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.