Cuba’s human rights record stands in the way of Kerry visit

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A boy wearing a T-shirt with the image of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara watches a performance by U.S. electronic group Major Lazer in Cuba's capital Havana on March 6. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

A boy wearing a T-shirt with the image of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara watches a performance by U.S. electronic group Major Lazer in Cuba’s capital Havana on March 6. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

When President Barack Obama visits Cuba later this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry won’t be going before him. A human rights dialog that was tentatively planned before the president’s visit has been scrapped, according to U.S. officials.

That’s because U.S. and Cuban diplomats couldn’t decide which civil society members and dissidents they could meet with during their trip, reported the Wall Street Journal.

“The secretary is still interested in visiting in the near future, and we are working with our Cuban counterparts and our embassy to determine the best timeframe,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in an email statement.

The human rights issue has been a sticking point in ongoing negotiations between Cuba and the United States, even as headway is made in easing restrictions on travel and trade.

Obama has maintained that he will raise human rights issues with Cuban President Raul Castro during his March 21-22 visit to the island nation.

“This trip can either be the vindication or the refute of Obama’s approach in Cuba,” Christopher Sabatini, editor of Latina America Goes Global and adjunct professor at Columbia University, told the New York Times.

Judy Woodruff talks with William LeoGrande of American University about the latest moves to normalize relations with Cuba.

Josefina Vidal, a senior Cuban Foreign Ministry official, has said the United States and Cuba have “different ideas” about human rights, quoted the Times. She said she hoped President Obama would have a chance to speak with the “real Cuban civil society,” apparently hinting that the dissidents American officials wanted to meet were not legitimate.

The U.S. and regional communities have invited the Cuban government multiple times to join the Organization of American States of the Inter-American Human Rights System, but Cuba has refused, Sabatini said by phone.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were 1,477 politically motivated arrests in November 2015. Amnesty International, which cited the figure in a Dec. 10 report, said the spike was meant to quell protests during International Human Rights Day. Religious organizations also reported crackdowns on their congregations.

In December 2014, around the time President Obama announced the warming of U.S.-Cuban relations, Cuban authorities released American Alan Gross, who had served five of 15 years for illegally importing and distributing Internet equipment, in exchange for three Cubans held in the U.S. for spying.

“While the moves mark a significant change in policy, opinions concerning the normalization of relations between the two nations have been divided, among other things, over the fact that the accord does not require that the Cuban government respect fundamental freedoms,” according to a Freedom House report.

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