The U.S. will not stop supporting democracy in Cuba, says top diplomat

CQ ROLL CALL/Bill Clark

CQ ROLL CALL/Bill Clark

Much to the chagrin of Cuban authorities, the U.S. says it will continue funding people opposed to communist rule in Cuba

 

The United States has vowed to maintain its support for Cuban dissidents in the island nation despite the formal beginning of a renewed diplomatic relationship with the nation.

When asked by Cuban-American Senator, Marco Rubio, whether or not she would be willing to compromise the U.S. support for human rights in Cuba, Roberta Jacobson, a top U.S.-Latin America official, said she couldn’t see a U.S. embassy in Havana without a firm commitment to human rights.

“We would not curtail the activities we’re doing now,” said Jackobson.

Indeed, she has persistently given her support for Cuban dissidents. At a recent meeting with a pro-democracy group on Jan. 23, Jacobson reaffirmed U.S. support for Cuban activists, annoying the staunchly communist government.

Sen. Rubio was expressing his concern with respect to a recent interview given by Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal, in which it was stressed that Cuban cooperation in reestablishing ties would have to coincide with less support for dissidents on behalf of the U.S.

Vidal has made Cuba’s position on this issue very clear, stating that the United States must scale-down support for Castro’s opposition. “The way those (U.S.) diplomats act should change in terms of stimulating, organizing, training, supplying and financing elements within our country that act against the interests of… the government of the Cuban people.”

She articulated a largely familiar view of the dissidents, holding their beliefs to be unrepresentative of the whole population. “This small group of people don’t represent Cuban society, don’t represent the interests of the Cuban people. So that’s a big difference with the United States government,” said Vidal.

However, Cuba’s dissidents have been no small force in recent years, with the movement expanding its ranks. The largest opposition group, UNPACU, has grown to nearly 10,000 supporters since Dec. 2014, up from just over 5,000 in May 2013.

UNPACU members are also becoming less cautious in their efforts, with current methods including awareness marches and the open distribution of literature on the streets. Some have noted what can be seen as an increased apathy on the part of the Cuban government, despite recent arrests.

“A decade ago, 10 people in the street was a major demonstration,” said Elizardo Sánchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights. “Now there are thousands of us.”

President Raul Castro has said that in no way does Cuba plan on compromising its socialist principles. The future of U.S.-Cuba relations should be one of mutual respect, according to Vidal: “We are neighbours. We have profound differences … but we have seen in the world that countries with profound differences can coexist peacefully and in a civilized way.”

Tension between the two countries began when the Kennedy administration chose to impose an all-encompassing embargo against Cuba in 1962, known as the “bloqueo” (blockade) in Spanish.
This could only be overturned with the support of the Republican-led U.S. Congress, but sentiment toward the issue is at best mixed. However, traditional party ideology has proven less important for some Republicans.

Sen. Jeff Flake has been an adamant supporter of renewed ties, despite the largely-accepted view among Republicans that the thaw in relations would only appease the Castro brothers.

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