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United Nations

At its April session, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights voted once again to censure Cuba for its human rights abuses. The resolution passed by a wider margin than in previous years, but did not make provision to appoint a special rapporteur to monitor human rights conditions. Sponsored by the Czech and Polish governments, the resolution criticized Cuba's treatment of political dissidents and urged the Cuban authorities to allow visits by U.N. human rights investigators. Cuba retaliated the vote by staging a mass demonstration outside the Czech embassy in Havana and temporarily recalling its ambassador from Argentina. (Argentina was among the twenty-one countries that supported the resolution.)

In February, just prior to the commission's session, U.N. Special Rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy released her report on violence against women in Cuba. The report, which was fair, objective, and comprehensive, was the fruit of an unprecedented mission to Cuba undertaken by the special rapporteur in June 1999. (The Cuban authorities had once allowed the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to visit the island, but had otherwise consistently denied access to U.N. human right monitors, including thematic rapporteurs and mechanisms.) While criticizing the U.S. embargo for its adverse impact on Cuban women, the report urged the Cuban authorities to undertake legal reforms to deal more effectively with the problems of domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment. It also denounced the arbitrary detention of women whose political views are unacceptable to the government.

The report evoked a stridently defensive response from the Cuban authorities, who sent a note verbale to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that complained that the special rapporteur's visit was "manipulated" by the U.S. government, and that challenged the applicability of the special rapporteur's "bourgeois democratic-liberal concept of human rights." The Cubans also vociferously attacked Human Rights Watch, whose 1999 book on Cuban human rights conditions was among the sources cited in the special rapporteur's report. It erroneously asserted that Human Rights Watch received substantial U.S. government funding, when, in fact, the organization accepts no funding from any government, either directly or indirectly.

Ibero-American Countries

The Ibero-American Summit brought the Spanish king to Cuba, in what was the first visit to the island by a reigning Spanish monarch, as well as high officials from twenty-one countries. Heads of state from all over Latin America were in attendance, although a few declined to participate because of Cuba's lack of progress on democracy and human rights. In a welcome break from the usual protocol, a number of officials, including Spain's Prime Minister José María Aznar and Portugal's President Jorge Sampaio, took advantage of their visit to meet with prominent dissidents such as veteran activist Elizardo Sánchez.

The summit culminated in the adoption of a series of documents, including the Havana Declaration, in which signatory states expressed a commitment to democracy and human rights and called for the U.S. to end its embargo against Cuba.

Organization of American States

Latin American political leaders had a further opportunity to collectively assess their engagement with Cuba during the thirtieth Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, held in Windsor, Canada, in June. While a number of Caribbean countries spoke up for Cuba's reintegration into the OAS-Cuba was suspended from the regional grouping in 1962-no concrete steps were taken toward this end.

European Union

The European Union's relationship with Cuba remained formally defined by its 1996 Common Position, which conditioned full economic cooperation on human rights reforms. But in 2000 there were indications that the E.U.'s approach to Cuba was changing. In February, Cuba formally requested integration into the multilateral grouping established under the Lomé Convention, a trade and aid agreement linking the European Union to African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The application sparked considerable debate regarding whether Cuba's association would be consistent with the agreement's criteria on democracy and human rights. In April, however, just after the adoption of the U.N. human rights resolution supported by many E.U. states, the debate was mooted by Cuba's decision to withdraw its application. The Cuban government also cancelled an ambitious visit planned for late April by senior E.U. officials. Yet, in August, once again, Cuba reportedly expressed interest in associating with the E.U.'s aid pact, now called the Cotonou Agreement.

Although Cuba remained the only Latin American country not to have entered into a formal development and cooperation agreement with the European Union, the regional bloc still provided the largest amount of international aid to Cuba. European trade and investment in Cuba also continued to flourish, with countries such as Spain, Italy and France being among Cuba's most significant partners in the areas of tradeand finance. With several bilateral agreements being signed in recent years, all E.U. member states had official bilateral economic relations with Cuba.

United States

The issue of the decades-old economic embargo on Cuba received renewed congressional attention in 2000, and steps, albeit small ones, were taken toward easing it. After months of debate in congressional committees, both houses of Congress passed legislation in October to allow limited food and medicine sales to Cuba. Farmers, agricultural interests and pharmaceutical companies had lobbied heavily for access to the Cuban market.

But the practical impact of the legislation was likely to be less than its symbolic importance. While it signaled the first significant rollback of U.S. sanctions against the island in nearly four decades, the package was unlikely to yield more than a small volume of actual business. Because of compromises with conservative lawmakers opposed to loosening trade restrictions, no U.S. export credits or private financing would be allowed on food sales. Indeed, as the bill reached a final vote in the House of Representatives and Senate, Havana denounced its conditions as "humiliating and unjust." An editorial published on the front pages of the Communist Party daily Granma promised that Cuba would "not buy a single cent of food or medicine from the United States."

And in a step backwards, the bill contained provisions codifying the rules that generally banned U.S. tourism to Cuba. To travel legally to Cuba, Americans had to obtain a license, available only to narrow categories of visitors, or be invited by a non-U.S. group that met the costs. By limiting travel to Cuba, these restrictions violated article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party.

U.S. authorities continued to detain and repatriate Cuban asylum seekers aboard vessels intercepted at sea, giving them only on-board screening interviews to determine whether they had a "credible fear" of persecution in their homeland. As exemplified by the case of Elián González, whose mother died attempting the voyage, large numbers of Cubans continued to risk their lives at sea in the hope of reaching and obtaining asylum in the United States.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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