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U.S., Exiles Won't Stop Cuba's Election To Human Rights Body By Gnashing Teeth

The United Nations building in New York.

COMMENTARY Cuba's welcome to the U.N. Human Rights Council confirms the organization's hypocrisy. But nations – and exiles – can change that if they try.

It’s always been easy to dismiss the U.N. Human Rights Council as a joke. It wasn’t any harder this week when the body, which could also be called the Human Rights Hypocrisy Haven, handed three-year seats to such oh-so-enlightened beacons of freedom as China, Russia, Uzbekistan – and, damas y caballeros, Cuba.

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The only thing that kept this October HRC election from doubling as a Halloween horror show was the fact that Saudi Arabia – the kingdom that two years ago murdered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi so violently it would have made Tony Soprano faint – was denied membership.

But it’s communist Cuba’s latest welcome to the Council – its fifth election since the HRC was created in 2006 – that’s causing the most teeth-gnashing here in South Florida.

And understandably. Havana’s human rights record – like its latest repressive pastime, rounding up journalists for violating a new decree outlawing information “contrary to the social interest” – remains dismal. And it’s likely to get worse in the months ahead, since the regime is expected to carry out desperately needed economic liberalization measures that usually come with desperate political crackdowns in order to keep everybody on the island in line.

READ MORE: Hey, South Florida Cold Warriors? Why Is the Cuban Regime Still Standing?

Even so, what strikes me is that few if any of the media reports and human-rights-group responses to the HRC balloting have taken something notable into account. Namely, a scathing report last month from a fact-finding mission created by the Council that accuses the brutish socialist regime in Venezuela – Cuba’s most important ally – of nothing less than crimes against humanity. A mission carried out as Venezuela itself sits as a HRC member.

The report accuses authoritarian Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other high-ranking officials of ordering political arrests, tortures and killings over the past six years, as the once oil-rich nation has spiraled into the worst humanitarian crisis in modern South American history. Last year the U.N.’s human rights chief, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, fingered Maduro’s security forces for more than 5,000 killings in 2018, mostly of anti-regime activists.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is not a serious body, but its indictment of Venezuela is a glimpse of what it can do as a result of real diplomatic work — the kind Washington and Miami exiles have always considered insulting when it comes to Cuba.

I’m not pointing to the fact-finding mission’s conclusions as proof that the HRC is a serious human rights agency. It’s not. I’m pointing to it instead as potential – as reason to believe the HRC perhaps could someday become something more than an international punchline obsessed with censuring Israel for breakfast every morning while China throws Muslims into concentration camps and Russia poisons political opponents with impunity. (The U.S. unsurprisingly withdrew from the Council in 2018.)

I’m pointing to the Venezuela indictment as a rare but robust glimmer of what can happen at the HRC as a result of real, shoe-leather diplomatic work – the kind that’s prompted almost 60 countries, led by the U.S., to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president instead of Maduro. The kind that led to the formation of the Lima Group of more than a dozen Latin American and Caribbean nations pressing for Venezuela’s democratization.

The same Lima Group that went to the HRC last year and presented the resolution to create the fact-finding mission to Venezuela, which the Council adopted by an overwhelming margin.


Something similar happened three years ago when the HRC created a fact-finding mission on Myanmar – which last October produced its own scathing report on genocide there.

No one except the most over-the-top Miami exiles are accusing Cuba of genocide. But its prisons are still full of political dissidents; torture continues to be documented inside those prisons, and no party but the communist party is allowed to step on a Havana sidewalk without being tossed into one of those prisons.

Ramon Espinosa
Cuban police arrest a gay rights activist in Havana last year.

If Washington and the Miami exile voters it courts so cravenly want the HRC to drop its decades-long hypocrisy on Cuba and put a fact-finding mission on the Havana beat, why not try the kind of Lima Group-style coalition-building that yielded real ink on Venezuela?

Because teeth-gnashing is so much easier than real, shoe-leather diplomatic work – the kind Washington and Miami have always considered an insulting task when it comes to Cuba. Why should they have to persuade (ugh!) the rest of the world to join their anti-Castro cause?

To which, fairly or not, the rest of the world replies: So why should we stop admitting Cuba to the HRC?