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United Nations
From 1991 through 1997, the U.N. Human Rights Commission approved annual U.S.-backed resolutions condemning human rights violations in Cuba. The resolutions renewed the mandate of a special rapporteur, Swedish diplomat Carl-Johan Groth, who produced several excellent reports on the Cuban human rights situation. On April 21, 1998, the commission defeated the Cuba resolution, ending the special rapporteur’s mandate before Cuba ever granted him permission to enter the country. International resistance to U.S. policy towards Cuba doomed the vote, resulting in an unwarranted easing of U.N. human rights monitoring. (In October 1998, the General Assembly voted to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba for the seventh time.)

Due to its ratification of international human rights treaties, Cuba remained accountable to several U.N. human rights bodies. The Committee Against Torture and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Cuba to comply more fully with its international obligations and to provide more complete reports to the U.N. treaty bodies. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention continued to investigate Cuban cases.

Organization of American States
In April 1998, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a detailed report on human rights abuses in Cuba. While the Organization of American States removed Cuba in 1962, the commission stressed that Cuba still was obliged to protect its citizens’ rights under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

European Union
In 1998 the surge of European trade and investment in Cuba continued. The European Union (E.U.) expressed strong opposition to the U.S. trade embargo while promoting political and economic openings with Cuba. But Havana rebuffed efforts to use European aid as a carrot to induce Castro to implement human rights reforms, leaving European policy in a stalemate. The “common position,” which the E.U. adopted in December 1996 and renewed at six-month intervals, made full economic cooperation conditional on “improvements in human rights and political freedom....” In particular, the E.U. called for “reform of internal legislation concerning political and civil rights, including the Cuban criminal code, and... the abolition of all political offences, the release of all political prisoners and the ending of the harassment and punishment of dissidents....” In June 1998 the E.U. permitted the Castro government to participate as an observer in the negotiations of the Lomé Treaty, which offered preferential trade status to less developed countries. The E.U. conditioned Cuba’s full integration into the group on substantial progress in human rights and political freedom, terms Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina quickly rejected. The E.U member states continued to provide economic cooperation and humanitarian aid on an ad hoc basis through nongovernmental organizations.

Cuba’s refusal to allow workers to organize or bargain collectively made European companies–and all foreign investors in Cuba–complicit in the government’s human rights violations. Foreign investors failed to adopt effective strategies to promote labor rights.

The Canadian government sustained bilateral dialogue with Cuba about human rights in 1998. But Canada’s policy of “effective influence” and its January 1997 joint accord with Cuba, which provided for seminars and training on human rights issues, reaped few benefits. Canada offered humanitarian assistance to the seventeen political prisoners that Cuba forced into exile following the pope’s plea for prisoner releases. But Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s April mission to Cuba focused little attention on political and civil rights, and President Castro dismissed Chrétien’s appeal for the release of the four leaders of the Internal Dissidents’ Working Group. Prime Minister Chrétien’s reticence on human rights suggested a desire to maximize opportunities for trade and investment in Cuba. Canadian companies, like their European counterparts, benefited from Cuba’s tight controls on labor rights.

United States
Washington’s approach to Havana remained defined by the trade embargo. The 1996 passage of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the Helms-Burton law, removed from the president’s authority any possibility of modifying the embargo without passing new legislation. By 1998 the embargo had not only failed to bring about human rights improvements in Cuba but had become counterproductive. And the U.S. was increasingly isolated from likely partners in pushing for human rights improvements–including Pope John Paul II, the United Nations General Assembly, and governments of every political stripe around the world–who had condemned the embargo in unequivocal terms. Furthermore, President Castro regularly invoked the embargo as an excuse for heightened repression.

The embargo continued to restrict the rights to free expression and association and the freedom to travel between the U.S. and Cuba, thus violating Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the United States. In 1998, only diplomats or members of intergovernmental organizations such as the U.N. could travel from the U.S. to Cuba without a special license. Following the pope’s January 1998 visit to Cuba, President Clinton restored direct charter flights from the U.S. to Cuba, which the U.S. had banned in 1996.

Criticism of the embargo’s harsh impact on the Cuban population spurred congressional efforts to ease its indiscriminate effects. Legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress in 1997 to lift restrictions on the sale of food and medicines. In early 1998, Sen. Jesse Helms called for humanitarian assistance to “undermine the policies of Fidel Castro.” The intended distributor of Helms’s assistance, Cuba’s Catholic church, made clear it would not play that role should the bill become law. In October, fifteen senators, led by Republican Sen. John Warner, and several prominent foreign policy experts, including former Secretaries of State Lawrence Eagleburger and Henry Kissinger, called on Clinton to establish a bipartisan commission to reexamine U.S. policy towards Cuba. The U.S. practice of interdicting Cuban refugees continued in 1998, with over 1,000 Cubans repatriated to Cuba since the adoption of the policy in May 1995. But concerns remained about the procedural problems associated with shipboard screenings of traumatized asylum seekers who lacked legal representation.

In a July 1998 article, the New York Times quoted Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles saying the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and its late president, Jorge Más Canosa, for years had financed hotel bombings and other acts of violence in Cuba, an allegation the CANF denied and Posada later disavowed. The Times reported that a Cuban-American business partner of Posada Carriles tried to inform U.S. law enforcement of Posada’s involvement and possible links to Cuban exiles in New Jersey, but the F.B.I. showed little interest. In mid-August, the U.S. reportedly notified Central American governments that it expected them to investigate Posada and prosecute him for any involvement in criminal activities. The same month, U.S. prosecutors filed attempted murder charges against seven Cuban exiles who allegedly plotted to kill Castro.













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