The United Nations' top human rights body kept up the pressure on Cuba over its rights record today by urging the communist state to accept a visit by a U.N. envoy to probe alleged abuses.
But the 53-state Human Rights Commission spurned a tougher resolution from Costa Rica, backed by Washington and the European Union, demanding freedom for about 75 dissidents recently given lengthy jail terms.
Presented by four Latin American countries -- Peru, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Uruguay -- the approved text merely called on Cuba to accept the commission's decision last year that the envoy should visit.
Cuba has so far refused to let French magistrate Christine Chanet into the country because it says the U.N. should focus instead on the U.S. Guantanamo naval base, where Washington is holding terrorist suspects. The United States, welcoming the resolution, said Cuba should be denied a seat next year on the commission, saying that no state should sit on the body if it "purposely and consistently undermines the spirit and purpose of the Commission."
The White House statement stressed a multilateral U.S. approach. "We will work with friends and allies to find new ways to effect a peaceful democratic transition in Cuba," it said.
Mexico, which voted in favor of the resolution, called it a "procedural" measure aimed only at winning cooperation from Cuba, where Fidel Castro has run a one-party state for more than 40 years.
"The Mexican vote will be consistent with its principles not to condemn or to criticize Cuba," said Mariclaire Acosta, Mexico's deputy minister for human rights and democracy.
But Cuba, which sees the vote as interference in its domestic affairs, lashed out at the four Latin American countries behind the resolution, calling them "disgusting lackeys" who had bowed to "shameful" pressure from Washington.
"The sole object has been to concoct a pretext to justify the genocidal blockade and policies of aggression that the United States has practiced for 40 years," ambassador Jorge Ivan Mora Godoy told the commission.
Human rights groups said the U.N. resolution was too mild because it overlooked the recent arrests of dissidents. The crackdown has brought widespread international condemnations.
"It is a completely inadequate resolution. It has no teeth and does not reflect the recent crackdown, the most serious set back in decades in Cuba in terms of rights abuses," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch director for the Americas.
Votes on Cuba are traditionally among the most politically charged at the annual meetings of the 53-state commission, with Latin American countries, even those most closely aligned with Washington, feeling that they have to tread carefully.
Argentina and Brazil both abstained, while Venezuela joined Cuba in voting against the motion. It was approved by 24 votes to 20, with nine abstentions.
The decision came only after the defeat of the Costa Rican amendment condemning Cuba for sentencing dissidents to up to 28 years in prison. The commission also rejected a Cuban draft attacking the U.S. economic embargo.