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Slap on the Wrist for Cuba

April 18, 2003

Refusing to face reality, much less grow a spine, the United Nations Human Rights Commission voted Thursday in Geneva to give Fidel Castro nothing more than a gentle slap on the wrist for his brutal surge of new human rights violations in Cuba.

The commission had a choice. A resolution amendment, soundly voted down, had been presented by small, democratic Costa Rica. That text expressed "concern about the recent detention, summary prosecution and harsh sentencing of numerous members of the political opposition" and called for them to be released.

The text that was finally approved mildly urged Castro to allow a representative of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to visit the island. Cuba has refused to allow a U.N. investigator to visit, alleging that would infringe on its sovereignty.

Even the Costa Rican version made no mention of the summary executions of three Cubans accused of hijacking a boat in an unsuccessful attempt to flee the island. Arguing for an outlandish notion of neutrality and "fairness," Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela either abstained or voted against that mild amendment.

Some among the amendment opponents incongruously argued that the U.S. embargo imposed on the island four decades ago was illegal and just as much a human rights violation as the practices of the Cuban regime. The embargo is certainly worth arguing about, but the equation above is not worth the breath used to express it.

Another factor that influenced the vote was a vigorous antipathy to President Bush. An old ghost of anti-Americanism has made a furious comeback after the U.S. struggle with the Security Council and the subsequent war in Iraq. Members grumbled that they didn't want to justify any U.S. actions against Cuba.

Tentative bursts of freedom in Cuba followed the 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II and last year's visit by former President Carter. But since mid-March, Castro has imprisoned the most effective advocates of free speech and democratic reform, handing down long sentences for their daring to call for freedom of expression, press and association.

What U.N. commission members did, in the false name of political parity, was to make Cuba's newly brutalized human rights advocates pay for the perceived sins of the U.S. president. Shame.

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