Monday, March 21, 2016

Cuba Meeting Between Obama and Castro Reveals Old Grievances

(Photo Obtained from the Associated Press)

President Obama met President Raúl Castro today to discuss normalization, though the meeting revealed lingering tensions of a historic thaw, especially concerning the topic of humans rights. The two presidents engaged with reporters and with each other in the first meeting between the two governments in 88 years, including an awkward cross between a handshake and a revolutionary fist.

When asked about political prisoners, Castro had to say: “Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately. Just mention the list. What political prisoners?” Humans rights groups quickly produced rosters of people who said they had been imprisoned for challenging the Cuban government and distributed them through social media. According to the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, 79 are still behind bars—40 of which are being held for peaceful protest. In response, however, Castro rebuked the United States for not providing universal health care, equal education, and equal pay; therefore, “it’s not right to ask...about political prisoners.” In response to a second question concerning humans rights, Castro added, “How many countries comply with all 61 human rights? Do you know? I do. None. None.”

Obama also assured Castro that the United States had no intentions to dictate Cuba’s future: “I affirm that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation. Cuba is sovereign and rightly has great pride, and the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else.” Though Obama did not respond to Castro’s demands for Guantanamo to be returned to Cuba, he was optimistic about the end of the embargo: “The embargo’s going to end. When, I can’t be entirely sure.” He also said that direct flights to Cuba would begin this year, and regular tourism could happen very soon.

Castro summarized the significance of the meeting and expressed hope for continuing improving relations with the United States: “We agree that a long and complex path still lies ahead. What is most important is that we have started taking the first steps to build a new type of relationship, one that has never existed between Cuba and the United States.

Though this historic meeting perhaps marks the end of over 80 years of tension, lingering sentiments revealed impediments to the end of the thaw. It seems that both leaders are taking steps to end the decades-long conflict, but it may still be awhile before total normalization, especially concerning humans rights issues and Gitmo.

(Interesting Side-Comment: When a reporter asked Castro if he favored the election of Trump or Clinton, Castro simply smiled and said, “I cannot vote in the United States.”)


To what extent can we trust Castro’s promise to release political prisoners, given his reluctance to address the issue?

What if the U.S. and Cuba cannot come to agreement on issues of human rights? Then what?



Carolyn Ku said...

I think that the negotiations for the release of political prisoners comes hand in hand with the negotiation to close Guantanamo. I think hat Castro recognizes that the political prisoners are a card he can play to convince the US into closing Guantanamo permanently, and so he will put off releasing the prisoners as soon as possible. In regards to human rights, I think it is ironic that the US is giving Cuba a hard time about human rights, given the accusations that we have violated human rights in Guantanamo.

Huayu Ouyang said...

I agree with Carolyn that I don't think Castro will release any political prisoners especially because the U.S. still holds Guantanamo and has been accused of human rights violations there. I think that either way, just starting the first step towards rebuilding the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is good even if not all the issues between the two countries have been resolved. I'm not sure what will happen if the U.S. and Cuba fail to come to an agreement on the issue of human rights but I think that for now they should focus on lifting the embargo first and then dealing with human rights issues

Emily Shen said...

I think it was a very interesting comment Castro made about how no country fully complies with human rights. Some may argue that Cuba actually does better on that front because they provide universal health care (then again, their population is much smaller compared to the United States's). I agree with Huayu — talking about issues like these might take a while to resolve, but the embargo is something that can be addressed immediately.