Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Cuba calls embargo ‘obstacle’ to rights

PASSING THE BUCK? The Cuban government said its human rights shortcomings stem from having to defend itself from the US’ five-decade effort to topple its government

AGENCIES , HAVANA AND CARACAS

Cuba has blamed the long-standing US trade embargo for limiting human rights on the communist-run island, in a report to the UN released on Friday.

“The policy of hostility, blockade and aggression by successive US governments against Cuba has been a serious obstacle to full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental liberties of Cubans,” said the report, which Cuba submitted to the UN Human Rights Council.

It said such things as the right to live in peace and to free will were damaged by the embargo, which the US imposed against Cuba almost 47 years ago.

It went on to say that Cuba respects, among other things, the right to health and education and to religious freedom.

Cuba is often criticized for suppressing political dissent, free speech, a free press and the right to travel. Opponents say more than 200 dissidents are currently in Cuban jails.

The Cuban government blames many of its human rights shortcomings on having to fend off five decades of US attempts to topple its government.

Dissident Elizardo Sanchez, head of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission on Human Rights, criticized the report, which the UN council will use when it reviews Cuba’s rights situation next month.

“The government of Cuba needed more than 10,000 words to try to hide the real situation of civil, political and economic rights that have existed in Cuba for decades,” he said.

The report was released a day after Cuba freed one of 75 dissidents who were arrested and jailed in a 2003 government crackdown.

Reinaldo Labrada, 46, was released after serving his full six year sentence, said fellow dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who was among the 75 arrested but is now free.

“This man served his sentence and they released him. There’s no political gesture here,” Chepe said.

Fifty-four of the 75 remain behind bars, with sentences up to 28 years for what the government said was conspiring with the US against Cuba.

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro is working, writing and staying on top of world affairs, his friend Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday amid speculation about the former Cuban leader’s health.

The 82-year-old Castro has not appeared in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006, and a month-long halt in his regular essays has raised renewed concerns about condition.

On Friday, Venezuela’s presidential press office confirmed that Chavez had said Fidel Castro “is working, writing” and following international affairs. The socialist Venezuelan leader — who often communicates with Castro — made the comment to a reporter on the sidelines of a meeting with Brazil’s president in western Venezuela.

Concern about Castro’s health grew after he failed to send any message beyond a one-line salutation to the Cuban people on his revolution’s 50th anniversary on Jan. 1.

The speculation also stems from Chavez’s statement last Sunday that it is unlikely Fidel Castro will be seen in public again.

Cuban officials have not commented on Castro’s current health, and his condition and exact ailment have been state secrets since the 2006 surgery, when he ceded power to his younger brother Raul.

Since then, the government has released occasional photographs and videos of Fidel Castro. Essays penned by Castro have been published by state media, but the last one appeared on Dec. 15.

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