Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate

– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The U.S. case for isolating Cuba and keeping it out of international meetings such as this week’s Summit of the Americas sounds simple: the country doesn’t have democratically elected leaders, it holds political prisoners, it violates human rights and its citizens can’t travel freely. All perfectly true.

But if the logic used for isolating Cuba were applied consistently, neither China nor Saudi Arabia, for example, should have taken part in the London G20 summit. The U.S. State Department estimates China has “tens of thousands” of political prisoners and describes it as “an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party … is the paramount source of power.”

That has made little difference to the close relationship of mutual dependence between the U.S. and China, the largest creditor of the United States. During U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s February visit to China, pragmatism triumphed over human rights concerns as she urged the Chinese to keep buying U.S. treasury bonds.

In comparison to China’s “tens of thousands,” the State Department’s latest human rights report quotes a Cuban human rights group as saying the government there held at least 205 political prisoners at the end of 2008, down from 240 at the end of 2007.