WASHINGTON · U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell lobbied Monday for support for Cuban dissidents through the Organization of American States.
“We look to our friends in the OAS to live up to the ideals we share [and] take a principled stand for freedom, democracy and human rights in Cuba,” Powell told the annual conference of the Council of the Americas, which includes politicians, business people and non-governmental organizations.
“We look to them to join us in developing a common hemispheric approach to supporting Cubans dedicated to building a democratic and free Cuba,” he said.
Last week the United States and its allies in the Americas failed to win an OAS resolution condemning rights abuse in Cuba, but said they would come back with a revised text soon.
Reflecting deep divisions within the Americas over Fidel Castro’s Cuba, many OAS members voiced skepticism over the resolution, including Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico.
The proposed text, presented before the OAS’s Permanent Council by Nicaragua and co-sponsored by the United States and Costa Rica, called on Havana to “immediately free all unjustly arrested Cubans.”
Earlier Monday, Powell said the United States was reviewing all aspects of its policy on Cuba in response to the recent crackdown on Cuban dissidents.
In the last month, the Cuban authorities have rounded up 75 dissidents and imprisoned them for terms as long as 28 years. As part of the crackdown, Cuba also executed three men who hijacked a ferry in a failed bid to reach the United States.
The United States has condemned the sentences and Pope John Paul II has written to Castro asking for clemency for the dissidents.
“We are reviewing all of our policies and our approach to Cuba in light of what I think is a deteriorating human rights situation within Cuba,” Powell told reporters after talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.
“I’m very pleased that His Holiness has also commented on the situation.”
Powell gave no details of the review, but a State Department official said it covered “all policy tools at our disposal.” He added: “We are looking for those which best serve our interest in supporting democracy in Cuba.”
Interest groups have given the Bush administration proposals for punitive measures such as bans on remittances and direct travel to Cuba, while others have recommended stepped-up efforts to promote democracy by providing items such as fax machines to dissidents and beefing up U.S. broadcasts to Cuba.
The cash sent to families in Cuba by relatives in the United States is estimated to total as much as $1 billion a year and is vital source of income for many Cubans coping with economic hardship in Cuba since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Powell told the Council of the Americas that Castro had condemned himself by refusing to let a U.N. human rights envoy visit the island to investigate.
“Why would Castro reject scrutiny if he has nothing to hide? We know the reason. He has everything to hide,” he said.