Noting the hostile rhetoric of President Donald Trump in his Miami speech and saying the United States was in no position to be giving lessons on human rights, Cuba still extended an olive branch and said it wanted to continue a dialogue with its neighbor to the north.
“The government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to continue a respectful dialogue and cooperation on themes of mutual interest, as well as negotiations on pending bilateral matters, with the government of the United States,” the Cuba government said in a statement issued Friday night.
But it also made clear that any U.S. strategy aimed at “changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba … will be doomed to failure.”
During the Obama years, the statement said, the two countries have shown that they can “cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, respecting their differences, and promoting that which benefits both nations and peoples.”
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The statement came on the heels of Trump’s Friday appearance in Miami where he slammed Cuba’s human rights record and signed a national security presidential memo that makes some changes to the policy on Cuba of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Although Trump kept in place many important Obama-era elements, such as reestablishing diplomatic relations, reopening embassies and rescinding the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, he did bar most U.S. business dealings with companies controlled or owned by the Cuban military, made it clear that U.S. travelers to Cuba would be closely monitored to make sure their trips to the island weren’t disguised tourism, and eliminated individual, educational people-to-people trips to the island by Americans.
U.S. officials see that category as “ripe for abuse” by people who just want to take beach vacations and engage in tourism instead of the “purposeful” travel and exchanges with the Cuban people that are allowed.
Cuba denounced these new measures as “hardening the embargo” and said they would fail.
In measured tones, the Cuban statement noted the changes and said Trump’s announcement went against the wishes of the majority of Americans who prefer lifting the embargo altogether and supported the extremist view of a minority of Cuban Americans.
A recent Morning Consult poll found that 65 percent of Americans support keeping the policy changes put in place since the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba began on Dec. 17, 2014.
Trump’s presidential memo used Cuba’s continued human rights abuses as a justification for taking a harder approach in the relationship.
“The Cuba people have long suffered under a Communist regime that suppresses their legitimate aspirations for freedom and prosperity and fails to respect their essential human dignity,” it said. “In Cuba, dissidents and peaceful protesters are arbitrarily detained and held in terrible prison conditions. Violence and intimidation against dissidents occurs with impunity.” It went on to cite other violations of human rights and civil liberties.
The United States is in no condition to give us lessons.We have serious worries about the respect for and guarantees for human rights in that country.
Cuban government statement, reacting to President Trump’s speech in Miami on Friday
Repeatedly chiding Obama’s opening toward Cuba, Trump said in the speech: “You will no longer have to witness the embarrassing spectacle of an American president doing the wave at a baseball game with a ruthless dictator.” It was a reference to Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016 that ended with him and Cuban leader Raúl Castro attending a baseball game.
Noting Trump’s speech “laden with hostile rhetoric,” Cuba said the events in Miami on Friday constituted a “step backwards in the relations between the two countries.”
“The United States is in no condition to give us lessons,” the Cuban statement said. “We have serious worries about the respect for and guarantees for human rights in that country.”
It went on to cite police killings and brutality, racial discrimination, child labor, high numbers of firearm deaths, a goal of imposing a new U.S. healthcare system that would leave 23 million Americans without health insurance, salary inequality between men and women, the marginalization of refugees and migrants, the desire to wall out the Mexican neighbors of the United States, and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Some analysts say Cuba needs to improve its own human rights record, but that rolling back U.S.-Cuba relations is not the best way to do it.
“It is inexcusable that the Cuban government could be holding anywhere from 75 to 95 political prisoners,” said Jason Marczak, of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. “But pushing the Cuban government into the hands of countries like Russia will not lead to an improvement in human rights. Change comes through engagement.”