Message to CFR's Julia Sweig

Monday, May 4, 2009
The Council on Foreign Relation's ("CFR") Julia Sweig argued in yesterday's Washington Post for the unilateral transfer of the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro.
 
Ms. Sweig feels that the recent gestures by President Obama easing Cuban-American travel and remittances were insufficient "carrots," thereby justifying the Cuban regime's refusal to release Cuban political prisoners, even minimally respect human rights, or allow Cubans to enjoy the fruits of their relative's labor without confiscating a third of every dollar remitted. 
 
Regrettably, Ms. Sweig ignored the arrest this week of young, Cuban pro-democracy leaders, Nestor and Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, who are precisely being held in the Castro's Guantanamo State Security prison.  It would be sadly ironic for the U.S. to make a new prison facility available to the Cuban regime so they have more room to imprison dissidents.  
 
President Obama is absolutely right to expect the Cuban regime to make tangible efforts to respect their people's democratic hopes and aspirations before any further unilateral concessions. Perhaps this position was best encapsulated earlier in the year by England's PEN Club:
 
Time to close Cuba's other prisons

The Guardian, United Kingdom

16 February 2009

Today is a momentous day for Cuba. Fifty years ago, on 16 February 1959, Fidel Castro brought about the fall of the US-backed dictatorship of Batista and created the western hemisphere's first communist state. 2009 has been a doubly significant year for Cuba, due to President Obama's orders for the closure of Guantánamo Bay. Within a year, the horrific prison conditions against which there have been worldwide protests for the last seven years will cease to exist.
 
However, there are reportedly over 300 other prisons on the island, many of which are notorious for the ill treatment of political prisoners, who are often deprived of food and water, while guards are known to abuse them both physically and mentally. Many are drugged, left naked for weeks on end or kept in cages. Some resort to self-mutilation in the hope of an early release.
 
Such treatment has contributed to the rapid decline in health of the many cases of concern to English PEN. In fact, one of the 21 writers, journalists and librarians still detained almost six years after the 2003 Black Spring crackdown on dissidents, reportedly greeted Obama's announcement by saying "When will the world open its eyes and say that the other Guantánamos should be closed?"
 
To mark the anniversary, we are launching our 2009 Cuba Campaign, calling for the early release of these prisoners, and for immediate improvements to their prison conditions, including access to visitors and medical treatment, and removal from hard labour.

Writers in Prison Committee
English PEN
 
Lisa Appignanesi, President
Jonathan Heawood, Director
Carole Seymour-Jones, Chair