Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
In advance of President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba on March 22, there is speculation about whether he can pressure Cuba to improve its human rights. But a comparison of Cuba's human rights record with that of the United States shows that the US should be taking lessons from Cuba.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains two different categories of human rights -- civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.
Civil and political rights include the rights to life, free expression, freedom of religion, fair trial, self-determination; and to be free from torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention.
Economic, social and cultural rights comprise the rights to education, healthcare, social security, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, reduction of infant mortality; prevention, treatment and control of diseases; and to form and join unions and strike.
These human rights are enshrined in two treaties -- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United States has ratified the ICCPR.
But the US refuses to ratify the ICESCR. Since the Reagan administration, it has been US policy to define human rights only as civil and political rights. Economic, social and cultural rights are dismissed as akin to social welfare, or socialism.
The US government criticizes civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans' superior access to universal housing, health care, education, and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.
Meanwhile, the US government has committed serious human rights violations on Cuban soil, including torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention at Guantanamo. And since 1960, the United States has expressly interfered with Cuba's economic rights and its right to self-determination through the economic embargo.
The US embargo of Cuba, now a blockade, was initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Cold War in response to a 1960 memo written by a senior State Department official. The memo proposed "a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Castro] government."
That goal has failed, but the punishing blockade has made life difficult in Cuba. In spite of that inhumane effort, however, Cuba guarantees its people a remarkable panoply of human rights.
Unlike in the United States, healthcare is considered a right in Cuba. Universal healthcare is free to all. Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors to patients in the world at 6.7 per 1,000 people. The 2014 infant mortality rate was 4.2 per 1,000 live births - one of the lowest in the world.
Healthcare in Cuba emphasizes prevention, rather than relying only on medicine, partly due to the limited access to medicines occasioned by the US blockade. In 2014, the Lancet Journal said, "If the accomplishments of Cuba could be reproduced across a broad range of poor and middle-income countries the health of the world's population would be transformed." Cuba has developed pioneering medicines to treat and prevent lung cancer, and prevent diabetic amputations. Because of the blockade, however, we in the United States cannot take advantage of them.
Free education is a universal right up to and including higher education. Cuba spends a larger proportion of its GDP on education than any other country in the world. "Mobile teachers" are deployed to homes if children are unable to attend school. Many schools provide free morning and after-school care for working parents who have no extended family. It is free to train to be a doctor in Cuba. There are 22 medical schools in Cuba, up from only three in 1959 before the Cuban Revolution.