Is U.S. Hampering Cuban Political Rights?

Christine Chanet, a French magistrate who serves as a special United Nations human rights envoy, said yesterday she was alarmed at allegations of treatment of dissidents in Cuban jails and blamed the United States economic embargo against the Castro government was hampering attempts to improve Cuba’s respect for political rights.

"The extreme tension between Cuba and the United States has created a climate which is far from conducive to the development of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," Chanet told the Reuters news service.

In a new report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Chanet said her main concern was still the detention of dozens of dissidents whose arrest while working as journalists, writers and members of associations in March and April 2003 caused an international uproar.

She said she was "alarmed at the allegations of ill-treatment in detention" submitted by prisoners’ families.

"Food and hygiene are substandard and medical care either unavailable or inappropriate," Chanet told Reuters.

She also believes more people have been arrested over the past year for expressing opinions against the Castro government. Chanet has not yet been allowed to visit Cuba.

Reuters also said Chanet, whose report was posted on the commission’s website, as pointing to a number of "positive" developments in the areas of economic, social and cultural rights, especially in education and health.

Infant mortality had been lowered and life expectancy extended. All Cuban children attended school and illiteracy had been virtually eradicated, she added, despite the U.S. economic embargo against the Castro government that Chanet believes has "had disastrous economic and social effects as well as causing harm to civil and political rights."

"In 2005 more people were arrested and given disproportionate sentences for expressing dissident opinions," she said.

Chanet issued 10 recommendations to the Cuban government, including a call to "release detained persons who have not committed acts of violence against individuals and property."

Chanet also urged Cuba to halt the "prosecution of citizens who are exercising" freedoms such as those of expression, religion and assembly guaranteed under articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald and other wire service reports said those Cuban migrants who landed on an abandoned bridge on the Florida Keys and then were sent home began filling out paperwork at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in hopes of getting permission to return to the United States.

The action comes after Miami-based U.S. District Judge Judge Federico Moreno ruled that the federal government should not have ordered 15 Cubans back to Cuba after they landed at that abandoned Florida Keys Bridge with hopes of gaining freedom in the United States.

The 15 migrants, including women and children, were found on an old bridge called the "Seven Mile Bridge," south of Marathon Key in the Florida Keys. But Washington officials decided that the bridge was not connected to land so the U.S. Coast Guard decided to send the Cubans back. Had they landed a 100 yards away on the new bridge, the U.S. Coast Guard would likely have allowed them to stay.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1965, those Cubans who reached American shores are allowed to stay, while those stopped at sea are returned to Cuba.

The Castro government has criticized the act for many years saying the act encourages Cubans to undertake dangerous and illegal journeys with the hope of reaching U.S. soil and obtaining legal residency.

But there is no guarantee that the migrants would be allowed to return to the United States. Cuba’s Castro government requires its citizens to get special government permission in order to leave.

"We stepped on American soil, we shouldn’t be here,” Ernesto Hern??¡ndez told reporters after meeting with consular officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee argued during the hearing before Judge Moreno that the Coast Guard’s decision to send the migrants home was reasonable. The U.S. government could still appeal the judge’s ruling.