Human Rights Hypocrisy: US Criticizes Cuba
Saturday, 19 March 2016 00:00
By Marjorie Cohn, Marjorie Cohn's Blog | News Analysis
In advance of President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba on March 20,
there is speculation about whether he can pressure Cuba to improve its human
rights. But a comparison of Cuba's human rights record with that of the
United States shows that the US should be taking lessons from Cuba.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains two different categories
of human rights - civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic,
social and cultural rights on the other.
Civil and political rights include the rights to life, free expression,
freedom of religion, fair trial, self-determination; and to be free from
torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention.
Economic, social and cultural rights comprise the rights to education,
healthcare, social security, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave,
equal pay for equal work, reduction of infant mortality; prevention,
treatment and control of diseases; and to form and join unions and strike.
These human rights are enshrined in two treaties - the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United States
has ratified the ICCPR.
But the US refuses to ratify the ICESCR. Since the Reagan administration, it
has been US policy to define human rights only as civil and political
rights. Economic, social and cultural rights are dismissed as akin to social
welfare, or socialism.
The US government criticizes civil and political rights in Cuba while
disregarding Cubans' superior access to universal housing, health care,
education, and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.
Meanwhile, the US government has committed serious human rights violations
on Cuban soil, including torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention
at Guantanamo. And since 1960, the United States has expressly interfered
with Cuba's economic rights and its right to self-determination through the
The US embargo of Cuba, now a blockade, was initiated by President Dwight D.
Eisenhower during the Cold War in response to a 1960 memo written by a
senior State Department official. The memo proposed "a line of action that
makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to
decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the
overthrow of the [Castro] government."
That goal has failed, but the punishing blockade has made life difficult in
Cuba. In spite of that inhumane effort, however, Cuba guarantees its people
a remarkable panoply of human rights.
Unlike in the United States, healthcare is considered a right in Cuba.
Universal healthcare is free to all. Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors
to patients in the world at 6.7 per 1,000 people. The 2014 infant mortality
rate was 4.2 per 1,000 live births -- one of the lowest in the world.
Healthcare in Cuba emphasizes prevention, rather than relying only on
medicine, partly due to the limited access to medicines occasioned by the US
blockade. In 2014, the Lancet Journal said, "If the accomplishments of Cuba
could be reproduced across a broad range of poor and middle-income countries
the health of the world's population would be transformed." Cuba has
developed pioneering medicines to treat and prevent lung cancer, and prevent
diabetic amputations. Because of the blockade, however, we in the United
States cannot take advantage of them.
Free education is a universal right up to and including higher education.
Cuba spends a larger proportion of its GDP on education than any other
country in the world. "Mobile teachers" are deployed to homes if children
are unable to attend school. Many schools provide free morning and
after-school care for working parents who have no extended family. It is
free to train to be a doctor in Cuba. There are 22 medical schools in Cuba,
up from only 3 in 1959 before the Cuban Revolution.
Elections to Cuba's national parliament (the National Assembly) take place
every five years and elections to regional Municipal Assemblies every 2.5
years. Delegates to the National Assembly then elect the Council of State,
which in turn appoints the Council of Ministers from which the President is
As of 2018 (the date of the next general election in Cuba), there will be a
limit of no more than two five-year terms for all senior elected positions,
including the President. Anyone can be nominated to be a candidate. It is
not required that one be a member of the Communist Party (CP). No money can
be spent promoting candidates and no political parties (including the CP)
are permitted to campaign during elections. Military personnel are not on
duty at polling stations; school children guard the ballot boxes.
Cuban law guarantees the right to voluntarily form and join trade unions.
Unions are legally independent and financially autonomous, independent of
the CP and the state, funded by members' subscriptions. Workers' rights
protected by unions include a written contract, a 40-44-hour week, and 30
days' paid annual leave in the state sector.
Unions have the right to stop work they consider dangerous. They have the
right to participate in company management, to receive management
information, to office space and materials, and to facility time for
representatives. Union agreement is required for lay-offs, changes in
patterns of working hours, overtime, and the annual safety report. Unions
also have a political role in Cuba and have a constitutional right to be
consulted about employment law. They also have the right to propose new laws
to the National Assembly.
Women make up the majority of Cuban judges, attorneys, lawyers, scientists,
technical workers, public health workers and professionals. Cuba is ranked
first in Save the Children's 'Lesser Developed Countries' Mother's Index.
With over 48% women MPs, Cuba has the third highest percentage of female
parliamentarians in the world. Women receive 9 months of full salary during
paid maternity leave, followed by 3 months at 75% of full salary. The
government subsidizes abortion and family planning, places a high value on
pre-natal care, and offers 'maternity housing' to women before giving birth.
In 2013, the World Health Organization listed life expectancy for women in
Cuba at 80; the figure was 77 for men. The probability of dying between ages
15 and 60 years per 1,000 people in the population was 115 for men and 73
for women in Cuba.
During the same period, life expectancy for women in the United States was
81 for women and 76 for men. The probability of dying between 15 and 60 per
1,000 people was 128 for men and 76 for women in the United States.
A study by Cornell Law School found no one under sentence of death in Cuba
and no one on death row in October 2015. On December 28, 2010, Cuba's
Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Cuba's last remaining death row
inmate, a Cuban-American convicted of a murder carried out during a 1994
terrorist invasion of the island. No new death sentences are known to have
been imposed since that time.
By contrast, as of January 1, 2016, 2,949 people were on death row in state
facilities in the United States. And 62 were on federal death row as of
March 16, 2016, according to Death Penalty Information.
In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a leading global environmental
organization, found that Cuba was the only country in the world to have
achieved sustainable development. Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the
WWF report, said, "Cuba has reached a good level of development according to
United Nations' criteria, thanks to its high literacy level and a very high
life expectancy, while the ecological footprint is not large since it is a
country with low energy consumption."
Stop Lecturing Cuba and Lift the Blockade
When Cuba and the US held talks about human rights a year ago, Pedro Luis
Pedroso, head of the Cuban delegation, said, "We expressed our concerns
regarding discrimination and racism patterns in US society, the worsening of
police brutality, torture acts and extrajudicial executions in the fight on
terror and the legal limbo of prisoners at the US prison camp in
The hypocrisy of the US government in lecturing Cuba about its human rights
while denying many basic human rights to the American people is glaring. The
United States should lift the blockade. Obama should close Guantanamo and
return it to Cuba.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not
be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Marjorie Cohn is professor of criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence and
international human rights law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. A former
president of the National Lawyers Guild, her most recent book is Drones and
Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Follow her on
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
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