Obama's Cuba Visit Comes Amid Record-Setting Human Rights Abuses
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President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba next week follows recent government crackdowns against political dissidents in the communist country.
Human rights advocates want the president to speak out against the abuse and use American might as leverage.
Since the president resumed relations with Cuba in late 2014, government persecution there has only increased.
Since November, political arrests have spiked, reaching more than 1,100 arrests a month. It appears that 2016 is on course to be a record-setting year for human rights abuses.
Ana Quintana, with the Heritage Foundation, said she believes Americans should be concerned.
"I mean, the fact that there are still people being imprisoned in the Western hemisphere, 90 miles away from America, simply for what the believe -- I think all of this should be of great concern," Quintana said.
Critics say the president's move encouraged this attack on basic rights. Dr. Jaime Suchlicki said Cuban President Raul Castro fears this new openness with the United States will embolden his opponents.
"He's (Castro) worried that Cubans will be activated because of this relationship and they'll be trying to defy the regime," Suchlicki said.
Lawrence Haas, with the American Foreign Policy Council, said America didn't use its leverage.
"Once the crackdown began, we should have pulled back and we should have said, 'We're not going to strengthen our relations with you unless you move in the right direction,'" Haas said.
Many questions such as, "What will he say?" and "Who will he meet?" surround the president's historic visit.
"If he gets to meet with dissidents, if he actually speaks out, he can have a major impact," Haas continued. "He can loosen up that society. He can embolden dissidents and he can put that regime on the defensive."
"The fact that our government right now is in a position of greatest leverage -- that the Cuban government wants so much from us -- we can and we should be asking for these improvements," Quintana said.
Others, like Suchlicki, see the president's ability to drive change as limited.
"Obama will tell Raul, 'Look, we need to improve.' Raul will say, 'Sure.' And that's the end of it," he said.
Castro plans to step down in 2018. Suchlicki believes the priority of maintaining conrol and a smooth transition will trump any move to improve human rights.
Obama supporters, however, believe a push toward greater communication and economic ties could lead to political independence one day and improved human rights for now.
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