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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2003

Toward a free Cuba

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights should not wait for the United States to seek the ouster of Cuba from its 53-member panel.

Members should be so committed to human rights that they do it themselves. That more enlightened path would keep the U.S., which the rest of the world sees with its own human rights problems, from yet more criticism.

Cuba today maintains that the dissidents it jailed were conspiring against it, or its leadership, with Americans, whom Cuba in recent years has been welcoming to the country, if not via direct flights then circuitously from Central American countries.

So what? Dissidents everywhere confer with supporters at every opportunity. A political leader who can't tolerate dissent, the cook averse to heat, should quit the game. Hokey trials and long prison sentences in this day and age are as reprehensible as they are bush league. A dictator who employs them parodies himself.

Last September, Human Rights Watch said the Human Rights Commission was in crisis, because it was dominated by governments who didn't want the world looking at how they abused their citizens.

It remains in crisis as long as nations like Cuba, who give not a damn for individual rights, are allowed to set its standards. Membership should be limited to those with proven rights records.

Cuba could care less what the world thinks. It's crackdown on dissent came as the commission was scrutinizing it. And why not? The Human Rights Commission's response to Cuban atrocities was to ask the nation to admit a United Nations human rights observer.

This minimal response is due in part to the U.N.'s reliance on consensus, which it was unable to achieve here because of Central and South American nations' unwillingness to chide Cuba. Not because Cuba wasn't wrong, but because they are angry at U.S. interference in and blockade of Cuba, and they are angry at our pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

Theirs is self-destructive behavior but it suggests that Bush Administration hawks, who have developed a taste for blood, should be temperate in their response.

Cutting off family visits to Cuba, one proposal, smells too much like North Korea keeping families apart for years.

Banning the transmission of money to Cubans from their kin in this country will create hardship and desperation on powerless individuals. But it will not unseat Castro, whose days, thanks to his age, are already numbered.



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