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Cuba Summons Biden Envoy to Complain About ‘Flagrant’ Human Rights Abuses in U.S.

By FRANCES MARTEL

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, at the State Department in Washington, DC on March 30, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, at the State Department in Washington, DC on March 30, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Ministry of Foreign Relations (Minrex) of Cuba confirmed Monday that it had summoned the top American diplomat in the country, Embassy Chargé d’Affairs Timothy Zúñiga-Brown, to protest “flagrant and systematic violations of human rights in the United States.”

The accusation followed the publication of the U.S. State Department’s 2020 report on international human rights, which detailed the situation in every country on earth. Cuba’s profile in the 2020 report was typically unflattering given the consistent use of state violence to silence dissidents, the lack of free speech and assembly provisions, and widespread abuses of power by state security.

The Communist Party of Cuba’s protest followed repeated, public declarations of alleged human rights problems in the United States by the world’s most repressive regimes, primarily the Communist Party of China, which is currently overseeing the genocide of its Uyghur Muslim population in the nation’s west. At a meeting with President Joe Biden’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Alaska last month, senior Communist Party official Yang Jiechi claimed the United States “is not qualified to speak to China from a position of strength” because of its own alleged wrongdoings.

Minrex made clear that it had lobbied the same protest against Washington in a diatribe delivered to Zúñiga-Brown.

Cuba’s director-general for American affairs, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, told the American diplomat that “flagrant and systematic violations of human rights in the United States and on the part of the government of that country are well-known and documented,” according to a Ministry press release. “This refers to racism, xenophobia, police brutality, torture of prisoners, extended imprisonment, the use of secret prisons, antisemitism, McCarthyism, and other forms of religious and ideological intolerance,” Minrex explained. The ministry did not cite any examples of instances of these alleged crimes — nor, of course, did it note that the Communist Party of Cuba faces documented allegations of committing nearly every single one.

Fernández de Cossío reportedly used the fact that Cuba — along with other human rights criminals such as China, Venezuela, and Pakistan — sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council as evidence that Cuba “enjoys international prestige in the realm of human rights.” He also allegedly dismissed the State Department’s documented evidence of human rights abuses on the island as “arbitrary and unilateral.”

Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodríguez, Fernández de Cossío’s boss, took the nation’s campaign against the facts in the State Department report to social media, condemning the United States on Twitter.

“We reject the deceitful and politicized allegations about Cuba in the State Department report on human rights 2020,” Rodríguez wrote. “The opportunistic, arbitrary, and unilateral report lacks truth. We demand the government of the U.S. cease its campaign of discrediting and interference.”

The Communist Party appears to be attempting the summoning of the U.S. envoy as a victory against America, as the top story on Tuesday at Granma, the official state newspaper of the Communist Party, proclaimed, “Cuba’s Prestige in Human Rights Disqualifies U.S. Accusations.” The article repeats the claims in the Minrex press release about what the Cuban diplomat relayed to his American counterpart at Monday’s meeting.

The Cuban government notably did not refute the individual cases documented in the State Department’s human rights report, such as the death of dissident Sandi Fernandez Ortiz in police custody, the imprisonment of opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer, and the police raid of the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement in November, a dissident artist collective.

The State Department listed among Cuba’s greatest crimes “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy.”

The State Department additionally accused the Communist Party of limiting religious freedom, denying citizens free and fair elections, “official corruption,” and human trafficking.

Cuba’s denial of human rights abuses arrives as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), believed to be the country’s largest dssident organization, is engaging in an ongoing mass hunger strike demanding the end of the Castro regime. Ferrer, the group’s leader, and several family members are among the dozens who have spent 18 days on hunger strike as of Tuesday. On Tuesday morning, Ferrer used his Twitter account to warn that police had surrounded the headquarters of the organization in Santiago, eastern Cuba, making it impossible for the hunger strikers to communicate with locals in the neighborhood.

“Greater presence of repressive forces around the main headquarters of UNPACU in [Santiago],” Ferrer wrote in a post including photos of the hunger strikers. “The activists remain incommunicado and very deteriorated.”
Police arrested Ferrer’s 16-year-old daughter and wife on Monday, detaining them for three hours to prevent them from offering the hunger strikers care, according to the U.S.-based Radio Martí.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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