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Document Illustrates Cuba's Distaste for Political Reform

May 25, 1997|JUANITA DARLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAVANA — While the U.S. government skirmishes with Canada and Europe over the best way to press for political reform in Cuba, a lengthy document published here Saturday on human rights and democracy indicated that Cuban hard-liners are unwilling to accept any change.

Human rights has been an important test issue for Europeans and Canadians intent on proving that more can be accomplished in Cuba by engagement than by the long-standing U.S. policy of isolation. They have argued that foreign investment and aid give the international community an opportunity to encourage the government of President Fidel Castro to allow more individual rights.

But the eight-page document, published in the Communist Party daily Granma to serve as a basis of discussion at October's Communist Party Congress, showed how difficult influencing Cuban policy can be.

The party congress, the first since 1991, is expected to chart Cuba's course into the 21st century. Previous congresses have announced important reforms and expanded individual liberties, in one instance allowing religious believers to join the party. The document published Saturday, however, showed no willingness to allow more political freedom.

"The government is still insisting on continuing a neo-Stalinist model," said Cuban human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez.

The document repeated the Cuban view that the most important human rights are health care, education, work, housing and lack of racial and gender discrimination. It also noted, as international human rights activists agree, that torture, atrocities and murder are not taking place in Cuba.

"The capitalist world has underestimated the importance of economic and social rights and has emphasized political rights," said Cuban political analyst Aurelio Alonso.

"The most compelling issue in Cuba is that there is no concept of freedom of expression," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, who visited the country two years ago, representing Human Rights Watch. Rights such as freedom of expression and association and due process were not addressed in the document.

Instead, it staunchly defended Cuba's one-party system, drawing on historic examples and pointing to the oft-raised threat of U.S. hostility to this socialist country 90 miles from Florida.

"The enemy fights our party not because it is the only one, but because its existence and work guarantee the unity of our people," the document stated. "The mass organizations, social and professional groups and other associations have given a place and [lines of communication] for the interests and concerns of all sectors of our socialist civic groups."

"While the document itself does not propose transformations, we have to wait to see what comes out of the congress and the discussions leading up to the congress," Alonso said. Those public discussions could push the party toward more reforms, he said.

The document was published amid a 14-month crackdown on human rights groups that had begun to cautiously organize an umbrella group and contact the more conciliatory members of the Cuban American community two years ago.

Europeans and Canadians have fought provisions of a new U.S. law that punish them for ignoring the three-decade American embargo against Cuba, arguing that the embargo itself has been ineffective. But human rights activists note that the policy of engagement has not achieved results either.

"They built leverage but are unwilling to use it," Vivanco said of the Europeans.

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