WASHINGTON -- The European Union's policy of investment in Cuba and engagement with its government is not morally justifiable unless its nations press Havana for concrete political reforms, a human rights group asserted Friday.
At the same time, the group, Human Rights Watch/Americas, criticized U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba as ineffective, and said its 34-year-old economic embargo has been motivated more by domestic U.S. politics than by human-rights concerns.
The critique represents some of the most aggressive positions taken on policies toward Cuba by an internationally recognized rights watchdog.
Most striking in a two-page article written by Jose Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of Human Rights Watch/Americas, is the call for the European Union to demand reforms from Havana.
Political dialogue and economic investment in Cuba are not in themselves a human rights accomplishment, Vivanco said in an interview Friday.
``You have to use the leverage that you have been able to build,'' he said.
Human Rights Watch/Americas specifically called on the European Union to demand three steps: that Cuba grant unconditional access to a U.N. human rights special rapporteur, who has been barred from the island since 1992; that Havana allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to have full access to Cuba's prisons, a privilege revoked in 1989; and that Cuba repeal legislation that criminalizes the exercise of internationally protected rights such as freedom of speech and association.
``Profiting from this shameful arrangement can be justified only if investors press Castro to repeal laws that violate the basic international principles governing modern labor relations,'' Human Rights Watch/Americas said.
Frank Calzon, the Washington director of Freedom House and a longtime advocate for rights in Cuba, said he was gratified that influential human rights groups now appear more willing to give the same scrutiny to Cuba that they have given to right-wing dictatorships in the past.
``The human rights issue in Cuba, China or anywhere else is not a matter of right or left,'' Calzon said. ``It's a matter of human decency.''
© 1996 The Miami Herald.