By Matt Kennis, AIUSA Board of Directors
President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March marked a key turning point in U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations. The president’s visit follows a series of efforts made by the Clinton and Obama Administrations to remove sanctions against Cuba. Although strides have been made to strengthen diplomatic relations, the economic embargo against Cuba still stands and continues to undermine human rights in Cuba.
Amnesty International has for decades called on U.S. leaders to lift the U.S. embargo. The organization has emphasized the negative impact of the trade and financial sanctions on the provision of health care in Cuba. The embargo has undermined human rights in Cuba, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, preventing ordinary Cubans from accessing medicines and other basic commodities.
Additionally, the Cuban government has used the U.S. sanctions as an excuse to impose severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and movement. Thousands of cases of harassment of government critics, including journalists and human rights activists, and arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported last year. In November 2015 alone, there were over 1,400 politically motivated detentions in Cuba, the highest number in years.
Amnesty International USA board members recently sent a letter to Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs expressing their concern regarding the negative impact of the U.S. embargo, and noting the importance of strengthening ties in order to open the door to greater scrutiny and transparency, so that eventually, independent organizations such as Amnesty International can access the country for human rights monitoring. The letter called on the Members to exercise their leadership to ensure the embargo against Cuba is lifted during this Congressional session.
There are currently several bipartisan bills in Congress, including H.R.664/S.299 The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015. If passed, these bills would help lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba, allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, and help advance respect for human rights in Cuba.
You can also join AIUSA’s board and call your Member of Congress to co-sponsor The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015.