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Don't lift Cuban sanctions
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One of Cuba’s longest-serving political prisoners was released late last month after 17 years behind bars.
Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as “Antunez” was jailed because he once stood in a plaza in his hometown and called for democratic reform — a crime, under the Cuban legal system.
Just as bad as the repressive laws is the government’s disregard for any law.
Antunez, for instance, finished serving his sentence March 15. Why did he serve 37 extra days? Because the Cuban government ignores its own laws when it feels like it.
It’s a similar case with the trials of two other dissidents in the past month, a lawyer named Rolando Jimenez Posada and independent journalist Oscar Sanchez Madan. They were convicted of writing against the government and of “disrespecting” Fidel Castro, in secret trials that lasted one day each, without a defense attorney and without having notified the families.
Why did the government not allow defense lawyers? Why did it not notify relatives until after Jimenez Posada was sentenced to 12 years and Sanchez Madan to four?
Because it can do that. So it did.
Prisoners freed capriciously and dissidents jailed arbitrarily. That’s what passes for a legal system in Cuba. And rather than condemn it, voices are raising to reward it.
Last month, Spain’s socialist Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos visited Felipe Perez Roque, his counterpart in Havana, looking for reasons to lift sanctions the European Union imposed after the 2003 crackdown in which 75 peaceful dissidents were sentenced to long terms in jail.
A joint statement said both ministers agreed to “political consultations, including a dialogue on human rights.”
But during a press conference, Perez Roque said their talks had not touched on the subject of political prisoners, because “this is not a matter we discuss with other countries.”
Moratinos said nothing. All except two of the best-known dissidents felt betrayed and refused to meet with him. He was also lambasted by political opponents in Spain’s Partido Popular.
Late last month, former Czech President Vaclav Havel urged the EU to keep the sanctions when ministers meet in June to decide.
On this side of the ocean there are also voices calling for the end of the much stricter U.S. embargo. But when it comes to Cuba, the aim of diplomacy — European, American or Latin American — should be to stand with the millions of Cubans who want to be governed by a system that obeys its own laws and allows basic freedoms.
It does not help when the Spanish foreign minister just sits there while Cuba’s top diplomat reneges on an agreement both had just signed, or when American congressmen want to loosen sanctions without evidence of a Havana move toward democracy.
As Havel put it, when international diplomacy deals with Cuba, attention must be paid to “(e)verything that serves human rights and freedoms.”

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
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