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Time to End the U.S. Embargo on Cuba

President George Bush should terminate the economic embargo on Cuba, Human Rights Watch said today. Describing the embargo as a failed policy, Human Rights Watch said that it imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and impedes democratic change.

On Monday, President Bush will reportedly give a speech reaffirming his administration's support of the embargo. In its current form, the embargo bars nearly all U.S. trade with Cuba, and prohibits U.S. citizens from visiting the island unless they can show that they fall into certain narrow categories.

"If the goal is to improve human rights conditions in Cuba, then the embargo should be ended," said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "The embargo has proved itself ineffective and even counterproductive to the human rights cause."

Human Rights Watch recommended that after ending the embargo the U.S. government should adopt a more calibrated policy, one that would respond to incremental changes in the Cuban government's human rights practices. "The embargo is a sledgehammer," said Vivanco. "Washington needs a smarter approach."

Human Rights Watch pointed out several serious flaws in the more than forty-year-old policy. First, it is an all-or-nothing approach aimed at overthrowing the Castro government, which does not allow for any relaxation in response to measurable improvement in Cuban human rights practices. It therefore does nothing to encourage such improvements, instead providing the Cuban authorities with a convenient justification for their repressive policies.

Second, the embargo is indiscriminate, hurting the Cuban population as a whole. By eliciting a nationalistic response from Cubans, it helps the government shift blame for the country's problems.

Third, the embargo alienates Washington's potential allies in the effort to bring about change in Cuba. For the past ten years, it has been condemned in the General Assembly of the United Nations by an overwhelming margin. Resentment of the embargo dissuades other governments from being more vocal about Cuba's poor human rights conditions.

Finally, the embargo's travel ban, which only contains narrow exceptions for journalists, people with relatives in Cuba, and certain other groups, violates the rights of U.S. citizens by limiting their ability to share information and ideas with Cubans. As the visit of former President Jimmy Carter exemplified, U.S. visitors may be the emissary of democratic values and ideas, enriching Cuba's relatively closed society.

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