Cuba: Top 5 other Dictatorships with which US has Diplomatic Relations

By Juan Cole | —

The US sanctions on Cuba were justified by their supporters with reference to the Communist government’s human rights record. That record, bad as it is, however, cannot explain the sanctions. They are rather pique that Cuba defied American hegemony and corporate domination. The sanctions have not overthrown the government of Fidel Castro. They have imposed some hardships on ordinary Cubans.

Let’s consider dictatorial countries with which the US has diplomatic relations; some of them are actually very warm friendships, despite all the arbitrary arrests, censorship, etc. Some of them are even Communist! With Cuba, it had to be personal.

1. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which doesn’t even allow political parties or any kind of public dissent.

Human Rights Watch reports:

“Saudi Arabia stepped up arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents, and forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrations by citizens in 2013. Authorities continued to violate the rights of 9 million Saudi women and girls and 9 million foreign workers. As in past years, authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention. In 2013, courts convicted seven human rights defenders and others for peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms.”

None of the opponents of diplomatic relations with Cuba has even once suggested that the US break off relations with Saudi Arabia over its medieval human rights practices. I therefore conclude that human rights does not drive this issue.

2. Zimbabwe. The US has diplomatic relations with the notoriously dictatorial government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and actually has given the country $400 million in humanitarian aid.

Human Rights Watch reports:

“Both the power-sharing government prior to August 2013 and the new administration have failed to amend repressive laws, such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, which severely curtail basic rights through vague defamation clauses and draconian penalties. Failure to amend or repeal these laws and to address the partisan conduct of the police severely limits the rights to freedom of association and assembly.

Sections of AIPPA and POSA that provide criminal penalties for defamation, or for undermining the authority of, or insulting the president, have routinely been used against journalists and human rights defenders. Police often misuse provisions of POSA to ban lawful public meetings and gatherings. Activists and journalists continue to be wrongly prosecuted and charged under these laws. For instance, on May 7, police arrested Dumisani Muleya, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, and Owen Gagare, its chief reporter, following the publication of an article on the security forces. The two were detained for eight hours, then charged with “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State.” ”

3. Belarus, a small eastern European country with a population of 9.5 million, which never made the transition to democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. We have an embassy in Minsk, though the post of ambassador is right now unfilled (there is a charge d’affaires).

Human Rights Watch says:

“The human rights situation in Belarus saw little improvement in 2013. The state suppresses virtually all forms of dissent and uses restrictive legislation and abusive practices to impede freedoms of association and assembly. Journalists are routinely harassed and subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention. Eight political prisoners remain jailed. Those who have been released continue to face restrictions, ranging from travel limitations to inclusion in law enforcement agencies’ ‘watch lists’. Civil society groups cannot function freely. Belarusian courts sentenced two more people to death during 2013.

Media Freedom, Attacks on Journalists

Most media are state-controlled, and authorities harass the few independent journalists and outlets that remain. In 2013, police arrested 25 journalists as they covered public protests. Courts sentenced at least four to short-term detention following convictions on misdemeanor charges. The authorities frequently prohibit reporting on public marches and open court hearings.”

4. Sultanate of Brunei: The US has warm diplomatic relations and a US embassy there, despite its disregard for basic human rights

5. We actually have an embassy in Vietnam of all places: Human Rights Watch writes:

“The Vietnam government systematically suppresses freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and persecutes those who question government policies, expose official corruption, or call for democratic alternatives to one-party rule. Police harass and intimidate activists and their family members. Authorities arbitrarily arrest activists, hold them incommunicado for long periods without access to legal counsel or family visits, subject them to torture, and prosecute them in politically pliant courts that mete out long prison sentences for violating vaguely worded national security laws.

In 2012, police used excessive force in response to public protests over evictions, confiscation of land, and police brutality.

Land confiscation continues to be a flashpoint issue, with local farmers and villagers facing unjust confiscation of their lands by government officials and private sector projects. Those who resist face abuses from local authorities.”

If the US recognizes Vietnam and has an embassy there after all that happened between the two countries, it seems like a minor thing to have diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Related video:

Euronews: “A brief history of US-Cuba relations”

15 Responses

  1. Human Rights is an abstract, aspirational concept, a subdivision of the concept of ‘Good’. Abstract aspirational concepts are important, they are like one side of a coin, without them there couldn’t be a coin, but they can’t exist on their own.

    The US is happy with any political system that supports its hegemonic aspirations and it’s moot whether it utters more blind hypocrisy about ‘human rights’ or ‘democracy’.

    Mortals should not seek too high perfection… if more good than evil is within thee who are but human then you shall do full well. Euripides Hippolytus

    • As for Cuba, Obama said that sanctions haven’t worked, by which presumably he means they didn’t achieve their purpose of regime change. Being practical he therefore now lifts them and will shortly start to foster the sort of political opposition which seems to be working in Ukraine. Who knows, it may not even cost 5 billion.

  2. Other countries which deserve to be on this list: Syria (tortured prisoners “rendered” by the U.S.), Egypt (ditto), U.K. (faciltitated rendering-of course it is a partial democracy), France (my country, used torture techniques much admired by the CIA-also a partial democracy except for certain minorities, for instance gypsies), Israel (well, I need not give details). A good number of other countries too of course.

    But all that is normal, what kind of democracy is the U.S. (also my country)? Ask any poor black American, ask any whistleblower, etc.

    • But the US can do what you criticize because we are “exceptional” and talking out of both sides of our mouths is a national tradition from before the US was a nation.

    • Re Israel:

      Fidel Castro has been fully supportive of the Palestinian cause, labeling events in Gaza a genocide:

      link to

      Conversely, Cuban-Americans in U.S. Congress are among the staunchest supporters of Israel. This would include Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Ilena Ros Lehtinen of Florida; both are Republicans.

      On the other hand, Justin Amash, a GOP Congressman of Michigan, who is the son of Palestinian immigrants to the U.S., has recently urged a normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

  3. About time a US President took reasonable steps towards Cuba. From everything I have read about Castro and the overthrow of Batista. He and his comrades had their ideas wrapped around taking Cuba in a socialist direction. That the US almost immediate embargo pushed them towards Russia and Communism.

    Did you see Colberts segment on Obama’s announcement about Cuba? Classic

  4. “We actually have an embassy in Vietnam of all places……”

    This is not surprising. The Vietnamese Embassy is in D.C. and they have consular offices in Houston and San Francisco.

    The U.S. conducts $20 billion in bilateral trade with Vietnam and there was a May 2012 visit of then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the former Cam Ranh Bay naval station, once constructed by America and later leased to the Russian government for $200 million per year until they could not afford the base’s rent anymore.

    There are vast crude oil and natural gas reserves beneath the South China Sea that are subject to disputed claims by the governments of Vietnam, China, and other adjacent countries. The U.S. has sold “defense equipment” to Vietnam for maritime purposes so that Vietnam’s oil and gas rights can be enforced – although the State Department denies the arms are envisioned to be used against China.

    President Clinton initiated the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam – and Vietnamese-Americans do not have a cohesive community eager to use force against their former country as the politically influential Cuban-American community does.

    Remember what the Cuban-American community did in Florida in the 2000 presidential race after the Clinton administration supported the return of Elian Gonzales to Cuba – it cost Al Gore the presidency.

  5. Your description of Vietnam sounds exactly like the present day USA, so of course it is a fellow-democracy.
    All the Latin American nations which the USA used to support also conformed to your description, and are now vilified and sanctioned eg Venezuela. Nobody can truthfully claim the USA is a force for good.

    • You can go on all day about our vast crimes in the 3rd World, but you should remember what condition Japan and Western Europe were in back in ’45, and why it only took 10 years to repair it (aided by socialists). Our country was a force for good for a brief time, and we ought to look at the reasons that time came and went instead of the wacky Ghost Dance of hoping that an endlessly good Communism will rise from the grave to wipe out an endlessly evil America. We will likely be wiped out by something worse unless we think of something genuinely new and better right now.

  6. Don’t Forget China. Most of the Cuba’s opponents receive campaign money from large corporations that are gladly using Chinese slave labor to build their products.

  7. It is unlikely that anything good will come of the alleged diplomacy. The US will establish an embassy (read CIA base) there and proceed to infiltrate and bribe with “regime change” the sole object. The scoundrels of oligarchy do not suddenly have nice intentions with no evidence thereof. Especially with hundreds of millions simultaneously going to West Ukraine to suppress the aspirations of East Ukraine.

    Cuba is like most small states with socialist governments: they cannot be more open politically because they must fight constant sabotage and subversion by the US, multinationals, and their domestic opportunists and militarists.

    Castro sought diplomatic relations with the US right after their revolution and was rejected by VP Nixon. Yet there had been fewer casualties than in the US 1898 takeover of Cuba, and the need for property redistribution was obvious to anyone but the US oligarchy. So of course we must fear Communism despite its zero attacks on the US, for without an external threat we would have no need for the right wing.

    With friends like our right wing, who needs enemies?

  8. Cuba, unlike any other former commie nation I have visited, has a substantial portion of its population who think of themselves as revolutionary socialists. I would urge them to be very cautious about US penetration of their economic, social, cultural, and heck even sports institutions.

  9. Another attempt to corner Putin, especially that Putin gave to the Cuban debt to Russia a 38-billion rebate lately… And then he made more diplomatic and economic progress with Brazil and other Latino countries by signing deals for providing Russia with beef and other food products that the West decided to cut Russia off through sanctions…, all while the US has lost more of its “exceptionalism” in the whole of Central and South America for the past decades. As for Canada’s, Harperland’s, participation into the VERY NEW Cuban-US love affair, it’s mainly to ensure that TransCanada Keystone XL Alberta-Texas (China) pipeline will be a GO… If it doesn’t work, Harper will push all his political buttons and various other hidden means to have two TransCanada pipelines built in British Columbia with ports in the richest flora and fauna BC waters, and if those two pipelines meet too much dangerous electoral opposition, he’ll keep claiming that the projected and pushed forward TransCanada pipeline, Energy East…, going through Québec and New Brunswick, will create lots of jobs. In New Brunswick, it will provide Irving more black poisonous goo to refine, and in Québec, it would ONLY require the construction of a port facility for huge tankers, the type that will sail on a major part of the Saint Lawrence River, where shoals are numerous, dangerous and real possible spill accident causes… We’ve seen in the Gulf of Mexico how disastrous such spills can be for fauna, flora and the fishing industry. Harper’s reelection, planned for next October, MUST be worth such a high price to pay…

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