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Amnesty's swipe at Obama on eve of CELAC summit in Cuba

ANALYSIS

RICKEY SINGH

Sunday, January 26, 2014    

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PRESIDENT Barack Obama may have to cease speaking with a forked tongue on the continuing misuse of the Guantanamo Naval Base as a detention centre for political prisoners from other countries and also wake up and smell the 'political coffee' over the spreading and deepening relations with Cuba by hemispheric governments and international organisations.

As the Government in Havana was completing arrangements to host this week's second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Amnesty International issued a call last Wednesday for the Obama Administration to "end its human rights hypocrisy" by its much unfulfilled promise to close the base as a detention centre for political prisoners without a court trial.

Amnesty rebuked the US president for dishonouring his own expressed commitment made five years ago, on January 22, 2009, to issue an executive order for the closure of Guantanamo as a detention centre and arrange for court trials in the USA for prisoners.

"Five years later, this promise of change has become a human rights failure that threatens to haunt President Obama's legacy, just as it has his predecessor's (President George W Bush)", Erika Guevara Rosas, director of Amnesty International's Americas Programme, said in a statement.

After a dozen years in detention since the first of hundreds of political prisoners were brought to Guantanamo — "strapped down in planes like cargo", said Amnesty — more than 150 men are still there, most of them without charge or trial, with a few subjected to trial "under a military commission system that does not meet international fair trial standards..."

Last year Cuba, which, since its 1959 revolution, has been protesting the US military presence at Guantanamo, reminded a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council that the torture of political prisoners at the naval base has been internationally condemned.

The continuing US military occupation of Guantanamo and its misuse as a detention centre for political prisoners is expected to surface among issues to be addressed during the January 28-29 CELAC summit.

Caricom's involvement

Prior to the summit of heads of state and government, foreign ministers and national experts from various sectors are scheduled to participate in two days of meetings, the first of which was scheduled to begin yesterday.

Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque, who will be among participants, said in our brief telephone conversation that he expects "a significant presence" from the 15-member community for the CELAC summit. He pointed out that the Caribbean was actively involved from the inception in the creation of the hemispheric body.

Among the distinguished special guests to be greeted by President Raul Castro will be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the secretary general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza.

Established in 2011 in Caracas as an initiative of the now late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, CELAC has defined itself as "a counterpart of the OAS". It held its first formal summit in 2013 in Santiago, Chile, the outgoing chair, now to be succeeded by Cuba.

A feature that distinguishes CELAC from the OAS is that both the USA and Canada have not been considered for membership from the time of conception.

The Havana summit will mark the first-ever official visit by an OAS secretary general to Cuba which, under US pressure following the Fidel Castro-led revolution of 1959, had been excluded from membership — a position that the Caribbean island state has since showed no interest in regaining.

Cuba's Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno, in briefing the media on the CELAC summit, said he was optimistic that it would "yield very positive results for Latin America and the Caribbean", consistent with shared objectives in the strengthening of co-operation for deepening integration.

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