In late January, a group of politicians, diplomats, journalists, business people, and American and Cuban-American academics gathered in Washington DC, United States, to discuss the rebuilding of relations between the two countries. The group was convened by intellectuals and advocates involved in the Cuba Posible project — a Cuban forum for political debate — and the Cuba Research Center, a US-based non-profit organization.
According to the official Twitter account of Cuba Posible, key topics at the conference included “the diplomatic ties between both countries, the current political challenges on the island, the required improvement of democratic processes in Cuba, the performance of the press, and human rights.”
— Cubaposible (@cubaposible) enero 26, 2015
Human rights in Cuba: a complex perspective
One of the most complex and controversial topics over decades of negotiations between the US and Cuba has been the issue of human rights. During talks that began in Havana on January 22, delegations from both countries stated that they maintain “deep differences” on the matter.
According to Michel Fernández, one of the speakers and a lawyer living in Havana, “topics such as the single party system [and] the limitations of political and civil rights, [tend to] leverage criticism against the Cuban system, and even [raise the question of whether] human rights exist in Cuba.”
Lo cierto es que Cuba tiene un orden constitucional, tiene reconocidos la inmensa mayoría de los derechos que hoy existen, con instrumentos de garantías para estos, y se participa en los mecanismos internacionales de protección de los derechos de los que Cuba es parte.
The truth is that Cuba has a constitutional order, recognizes the vast majority of rights that exist today, with instruments that guarantee them, and is involved in the international mechanisms for the protection of rights of which Cuba is a participant.
But Fernández then acknowledged that “many constitutionally defined rights (such as freedom of speech and press, church-state relations) refer to laws for their enforcement, and in many cases these laws have never been enacted, therefore, we face the phenomenon of rights whose limits and form of exercise are not clearly defined.”
During a recent presentation of the annual Human Rights Watch world report, Latin America director Daniel Wilkinson called on Latin American countries to demand that Cuba respect human rights in the context of the reconciliation between Cuba and the US. The report highlights the increase in short-term arbitrary detentions of dissidents and independent journalists in Cuba.
Roberto Veiga, one of the founders of Cuba Posible, stated that “the issue of human rights in Cuba is a topic that many people incorporate as a condition for developing bilateral relations (…). However, in doing so we must consider the context created by the circumstances that have influenced it. Otherwise, judgments could be wrong and potential solutions more difficult [to come by].”
“The reality is that only without the obstacles emanating from a hostile climate between Cuba and the United States, could we achieve the internal stability needed to cope successfully with the amplification of freedoms, an adequate political openness and a serene setting of national institutions,” says Veiga.
Lenier González, coordinator of Cuba Posible, stressed that “in Cuba, a heterodox and flexible Act of Association that would accommodate the plurality of actors of Cuban society is becoming imperative. In a détente scenario with the United States, the Cuban government has a moral and political imperative to become guarantor of all political and ideological pluralism of the country.”
The debate on human rights in Cuba necessitates, at the same time, a thorough review of the model of democracy in this country. Julio César Guanche, lawyer, researcher and member of Cuba Posible, pointed to outstanding debts:
el reclamo de un mayor espacio jurídico y político a los ciudadanos para crear decisiones políticas y controlar y disputar las ya existentes, una concepción interdependientes de los derechos, un mayor peso del derecho (…) y del derecho a resistir el derecho cuando su aplicación resulta ilegítima, la democratización del acceso a la propiedad, y el fomento de valores e instituciones que favorezcan prácticas de reconocimiento y tolerancia.
the demand for a greater legal and political space for citizens to make political decisions, and monitor and dispute the existing ones, and an interdependent conception of rights, a greater rule of law (…) and the right to resist the law when its application is illegitimate, the democratization of access to property, and the promotion of values and institutions that favor the practices of acknowledgment and tolerance.
The event program also included a gathering with Alex Lee, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Author Elaine Díaz participated in this event, which was closed to the public. All individuals mentioned above gave express permission to be quoted by Global Voices.