HAVANA – Cuban foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque (search) on Monday rejected a recent U.S. State Department report criticizing the island's humans rights record, saying the United States has no moral authority to judge other countries after its own scandals over treatment of terror suspects.
"We exhort American authorities to worry about their own problems," Perez Roque told a news conference. The American report, he said, "has no credibility."
"Cuba recognizes that there are violations of human rights in our country, but they are at the Guantanamo Naval Base, in territory occupied against Cuba's will," Roque said of the U.S. base used as a giant prison for terror suspects.
The Feb. 28 report on human rights practices in Cuba acknowledged there had been no extrajudicial killings or disappearances of opponents on the island last year. But it took Fidel Castro's government to task for violations of civil and political rights such as freedom of speech, press, assembly, as well as the imprisonment of dissidents.
Perez Roque noted that the U.S. State Department (search) had not issued a report on the United States, and the ongoing complaints by international rights groups about prisoner conditions and treatment at the Guantanamo base and earlier scandals at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq.
The news conference was called to discuss the annual spring meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission (search) in Geneva, where a U.S.-backed resolution to condemn Cuba's rights record is presented every year.
So far, no resolution targeting the island has emerged. But Cuba expects that such a proposal will eventually be presented and voted on around mid-April.
"The United States needs this resolution like a fish needs water because it needs it to justify the blockade," Perez Roque said, referring to more than four decades of continuing U.S. trade sanctions against the communist-run country.
Perez Roque said Cuba had not decided yet if it would present a resolution of its own, condemning the United States for the prisoner abuse scandals. Cuba last year presented such a resolution, but later suspended it when it became clear it did not have enough support on the 53-member commission.
The foreign minister said human rights was among the themes likely to come up later Monday during an afternoon meeting with British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell, who is visiting the island through Tuesday.
Perez Roque said Cuba's position on human rights will also likely be discussed on his trip to Europe later this week as Cuba prepares for the U.N. commission meeting.
The European Union earlier this year dropped measures that were designed to punish Cuba for a spring 2003 crackdown on dissidents.
The 25-member European block in January agreed to restore normal diplomatic relations with Cuba's government while pledging to increase contacts with the opposition and continuing to raise human rights issues.
Neither the Cuban government nor most of the dissidents were completely happy with the EU's decision. Cuban authorities were irritated the policy change was temporary, to be reevaluated in the summer.