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Relations with the US may be better, but human rights are still hard to come by in Cuba


Relations with the US may be better, but human rights are still hard to come by in Cuba

WATCH | The state of U.S.-Cuba relations is largely irrelevant to Cubans dealing with human rights abuses. 

With news of Trump preparing to potentially roll back Obama's outreach to Cuba, stakeholders are trying to figure it how it will affect them.

For the tourism industry, it could mean a business loss.

"The Obama administration allowed U.S. companies to manage properties in Cuba," said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

The economic impact of opening relations was at least $11 billion, according to Kavulich.

But U.S.-Cuba relations have little to no effect on Cubans on the island who are part of the resistance, especially when it comes to their rights, human rights activists in Cuba say.

"As long as the people of Cuba can't express nor participate in the political or economic decision-making, then in Cuba, everything is going to remain the same," said Laritza Diversent, a Cuban lawyer who fled to the U.S. last month.

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Diversent is shown Skyping with Circa from Tennessee, where she now lives. (Fernando Hurtado/Circa)

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Diversent said that during the five years she operated her business, she interacted a lot with government agencies but never had any issues -- until she got involved in politics.

It doesn't matter that we re-establish U.S.-Cuba relations.
Laritza Diversent

Diversent was a lawyer in Cuba who provided free legal help out of her house. For five years, she ran her non-profit without any issues with the Cuban government. That changed after she and her colleagues proposed changes to the electoral process for the island nation.

"It was after those propositions that we started to feel that repression," she said.

A surveillance video she has shows the moment police showed up at her door last year with a search warrant. Diversent says she was suspected of "illegal economic activity." When Diversent, a seasoned lawyer, explained they couldn't come into her house without a warrant for a specific thing, the state agents said they would have to break in.

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Surveillance footage from Diversent's house in Cuba shows the moment state police showed up at her door with a search warrant. (Diversent/Cubanet)

"I told them, 'Well, you're going to have to break in because if I'm not above the law, then you as an authority are not either,'" she said.

Diversent told Circa that an investigation found that she was using foreign money to pay her employees, so they threatened to confiscate her home and imprison her for up to 22 years.

Fearing jail time, she applied for political asylum with her son and co-workers.

"If you criticize publicly, you're a mercenary. You're a terrorist," Diversent said.

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Next year, the communist nation will be under the reign of someone else. For the first time in 40 years, a non-Castro will take power.

According to the CCDHRN, a human rights watchdog group in Cuba, as U.S.-Cuba relations moved closer to normalization a year after the opening of the U.S. embassy, the number of political prisoners doubled.

In May 2017, there were reportedly 140 political prisoners. There were 70 last year.

It's difficult to tell what impact Trump's plans for U.S.-Cuba relations will have on the Cuban people, but Kavulich said it likely won't have too big an economic impact.

"The Obama administration sought to move as many bodies into Cuba as possible," said Kavulich.

He doesn't think travel to Cuba will be banned, but getting in and out of Cuba may become as tedious as it used to be with customs enforcements.

For Diversent, these "bodies" are what she thinks caused the uptick in political prisoners.

"The increase in outside influences in the country (Cuba) with Americans coming in made the Cuban government more uptight," she said.

Diversent has been in the U.S. for just a month after getting political asylum. She says that regardless of what Trump does with U.S.-Cuba relations, the Cuban government is what rules the lives of the Cuban people -- not U.S. airlines or hotels.

"Defending human rights in Cuba comes with high risks," said Diversent. "And it's not very valued at all, really."

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