Cuba’s repression is the worst in 20 years. It should not be invited to Summit of the Americas | Opinion

·4 min read

As ridiculous as it sounds, Mexico, Argentina and Chile are asking the Biden administration to invite the Cuban dictatorship to June’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, despite credible reports that the regime is committing its worst human-rights violations in more than 20 years.

According to Human Rights Watch, Cuba is holding about 1,000 political prisoners, including about 700 who were arrested during nationwide peaceful protests in July 2021.

“We haven’t seen these levels of repression in Cuba in at least 20 years,” Juan Pappier, a Latin American specialist with Human Rights Watch, told me.

There has been a mass exodus of Cubans as the crackdown intensifies. About 115,000 Cubans, more than 1% of the island’s population, have fled the country just in the past seven months, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data.

It is “undoubtedly the largest exodus from Cuba in the last four decades,” Jorge Duany, an emigration expert with the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, told the Miami Herald.

Among the latest examples of the regime’s crackdown on dissent are the unusually harsh sentences against those arrested during last year’s protests.

Some of the protesters have been condemned to up to 30 years in prison on alleged charges of “sedition.” Many have been sentenced to about one year behind bars for chanting or holding signs reading “Patria y Vida” (“Fatherland and Life”), a protest song that rebutted late dictator Fidel Castro’s motto “Fatherland or Death.”

“The sentences are totally disproportionate to the charges,” Pappier told me.

According to a joint press release by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the regime plans to sentence rap singer Maykel Castillo Pérez, who goes by the artistic name “Osorbo,” and visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on May 30. Both have been in detention for nearly a year, and a Cuban prosecutor has requested that they be sentenced to seven and 10 years in prison, respectively, for their performances and statements criticizing the regime.

At the same time, Cuba’s government-controlled parliament this month approved a criminal code that increases penalties for unauthorized contacts with foreign individuals or organizations deemed to affect “social peace and the stability of our nation.”

And in August last year, only a few weeks after the mass protests, the dictatorship issued Decree No. 35, which orders telecommunications companies to cut internet connections of clients who publish news that the government deems false.

Yet, despite the rise of government repression on the island, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador has been threatening for weeks to boycott the Summit of the Americas unless the Biden administration invites Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Lopez Obrador, who recently visited Cuba, claimed on May 26 that Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel “is a very decent man, with principles.”

Argentina, Chile and more than a dozen Caribbean countries also have asked the Biden administration that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua be invited, but, unlike Mexico, they did not say that they will boycott the summit.

Like Mexico, they are most vocal in their support for Cuba’s attendance, perhaps because Venezuela and Nicaragua’s killings of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators over the past three years are still too fresh in people’s memories.

It’s hard to understand why some Latin American presidents who claim to defend democracy and human rights are making such a big fuss over Biden’s right decision not to invite dictatorships to the summit.

Under a rule approved at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Canada, any unconstitutional break of democratic rule in the region is an “insurmountable obstacle” to the participation of a government in the Summit of the Americas.

What’s even more absurd is that, at a time when Latin America desperately needs to increase its exports and revamp its economy, Mexico and its friends have placed the participation of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua at the center of the summit’s agenda.

They should be using this rare opportunity — this hemisphere-wide summit happens only every three or four years — to seek new regional agreements to bolster trade, investments, technology transfers and education exchanges with the United States, which is still the world’s biggest economy.

Instead of defending Cuba’s decrepit dictatorship, Mexico, Argentina, and their friends should be supporting its victims.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show on Sundays at 7 pm E.T. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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