US Strengthens Civil Society in Cuba

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With its commitment to support human rights, democratic governance, and greater prosperity throughout the hemisphere, the United States today underscored that the Obama administration’s priority is to empower Cubans to freely determine their own future.

On his remark at DC, Assistant Secretary Roberta S. Jacobson

said the most effective tool the US to empower Cubans is by building connections between the Cuban and American people, in order to give Cubans the support and tools they need to move forward independent of their government.

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Fidel Castro laying a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, 1959.

She says U.S. citizens, engaging in well-defined, purposeful travel, are the best ambassadors for our democratic ideals.

The hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans who have sent remittances and traveled to the island since the US eased the way for them early in this Administration are a central part of a strategy to ensure that Cubans have the opportunities which they deserve.

Ms. Jacobson says the administration’s travel, remittance and people-to-people policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information, taking advantage of emerging opportunities for self-employment and private property, and strengthening independent civil society.

“Our policy also recognizes the importance of engaging with the pro-democracy and human rights activists who have been working for years to expand the political and civil rights of all Cubans.” -Ms. Jacobson

She stresses that societies move forward when groups of citizens work together peacefully to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good.

US programs in Cuba provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, support the documentation of human rights abuses, and promote the free flow of information to, from, and within the island, she cited.

The United States consistently supports and highlights the work of people promoting positive change in Cuba.

In 2011, Secretary Clinton recognized Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez with the 2011 International Woman of Courage, and the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) won the State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award.

In 2010 and 2011, the Cuban government, with support from the Spanish government and Catholic Church, released dozens of political prisoners, most on the condition of exile in Spain, Ms. Jacobson noted.

The US government welcomed the release of these political prisoners including the last of the 75 peaceful activists who were unjustly arrested during the “Black Spring” of 2003 for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms.

However, Ms. Jacobson pointed out that their release did not effect a fundamental change in the Cuban government’s poor record on human rights.

The Cuban government has continued to punish political dissent, increasingly using repeated, short-term, arbitrary detentions to prevent citizens from assembling peacefully and freely expressing their opinions, she added.

Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of speech, freedom of the press, access to information, and peaceful assembly and association-issues on which this subcommittee has strongly spoken out, on and for which it has long advocated for in the region, Ms. Jacobson stated.

“That is why we will continue to support an independent Cuban civil society and the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their own future, through both governmental policy and the facilitation of nongovernmental engagement.” -Ms. Jacobson

The Administration has taken steps to support religious groups in Cuba by authorizing U.S. religious organizations to sponsor religious travel, and allowing unlimited remittances to support religious activities in Cuba, Ms. Jacobson noted.

She stresses that enhancing access to communication technology will facilitate Cuba’s process of political change.

U.S. Interests Section in Havana provides free internet access to human rights activists and other Cubans, teaches basic information technology skills, and provides training to independent journalists.

She says although the Cuban government severely restricts the ability of Cubans to access the internet, cell phones were legalized in Cuba in 2008, and since then cell phone usage has more than doubled, enhancing the connectivity of Cuban civil society.

“Activists can now report human rights abuses by SMS and on Twitter.” -Ms. Jacobson

She says to Cuba and other governments across the hemisphere, US message must be clear: nonviolent dissent is not criminal behavior.

Opposition to the government is not criminal behavior, she noted.

She says exercise of free speech is not criminal behavior.

“To the contrary, free speech is a right that must be defended.” -Ms. Jacobson

She emphasized that US policy toward Cuba is focused on supporting Cubans’ desire to freely and peacefully determine their future.

“We will be the first to cheer when a democratically chosen government in Cuba resumes its full participation in the Inter-American system.” -Ms. Jacobson

On October 2011, the United States announced that it is “open to a new relationship with Cuba” if the Cuban government starts taking proper steps to open up its own country and provide the space and the respect for human rights that will allow the Cuban people to determine their own destiny.

The United States, like most Member States, reaffirms its strong commitment to supporting the right, and the heartfelt desire, of the Cuban people to freely determine their future.

The United States strongly asserts its sovereign right, on the same basis as other Member States, to determine its bilateral policies, including its economic relationships with other countries, in accordance with its own national interests and values.

The U.S. economic relationship with Cuba is a bilateral issue, and is not appropriately a concern of this Assembly. The embargo represents just one aspect of U.S. policy toward Cuba, whose overarching goal is to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms – principles to which this organization is also dedicated.

The US asserts that the Cuban government’s own policies – not any action of the U.S. government – are the greatest obstacle to Cuba’s economic development. He stressed these policies concentrate political and economic decisions in the hands of the few, stifling economic growth.

The United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian aid to Cuba. The United States does not restrict humanitarian aid to Cuba. Cubans receive food, medicine, other forms of assistance, and remittances from the United States. In 2010, the United States government authorized $3.5 billion in total sales to Cuba of U.S. goods. In agricultural products alone, the United States exported $361.7 million in goods to Cuba in 2010, including poultry, soy bean products, corn, wheat, feed products, pork, and other items.

The United States has for years been one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. In total, the United States in 2010 also authorized $861million in private humanitarian assistance in the form of gift parcels filled with food and other basic necessities, as well as non-agricultural and medical donations.

The US goverment has called on Cuban government to release unconditionally and immediate the 62-year-old American citizen Alan Gross, whom it sentenced to 15 years in prison for the crime of trying to connect Cuba’s Jewish communities to the Internet.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.