The international diplomatic community refused yesterday to condemn Cuba's human rights record, demonstrating its growing willingness to defy U.S. efforts to isolate President Fidel Castro's Communist regime.
The 53-member U.N. Commission on Human Rights voted at its annual meeting in Geneva against a U.S.-sponsored measure to criticize Cuba's human rights record and investigate human rights abuses in that country.
It was the first time in seven years that the committee failed to condemn Cuba. The vote also ended the mandate for a U.N. "special rapporteur" to chronicle human rights abuses on the island.
The vote reflected a growing divergence between the United States and the rest of the world community on Cuba policy.
At the 34-nation Summit of the Americas in Chile over the weekend, President Clinton was the odd man out as nation after nation in the hemisphere stood up to demand Cuba's inclusion in the next summit.
And Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who has been an outspoken critic of the Helms-Burton law discouraging foreign investment in Cuba, has announced he will visit Havana next week.
In Havana, Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina yesterday said the Geneva vote "serves the entire world, to show that if we unite against the powerful, we can claim our truth, we can claim justice."
But Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation and has spent eight years in Cuban jails, told reporters in Havana that political and civil rights abuses were still widespread.
"This decision does not vary at all our concern and deep disagreement with the unfavorable situation that continues to predominate here," he said, noting that Cuba's "neo-Stalinist" system "tends naturally to violate civil and political rights."
Human rights groups say between 400 and 600 political prisoners remain in Cuban jails.
In Washington, the State Department said it was deeply disappointed by the vote.
"Some members of the U.N. Human Rights Commission . . . have chosen to turn their backs on the suffering of the Cuban people," said James P. Rubin, State Department spokesman. "The United States will redouble efforts to promote freedom in Cuba."
Conservative anti-Castro members of Congress called the U.N. vote "shameful" and said there could be consequences when the legislative body votes on whether to pay the United Nations about $1 billion in arrears.
"This is a shameful day for the United Nations . . . which was founded to protect democracy and human rights," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.
"The refusal to condemn Castro's repression is a stab in the back to the thousands of political prisoners who linger in Castro's gulag. . . . The U.S. Congress should carefully consider this latest action by the U.N. . . . before it pays any arrears to this organization."
The vote and the Chile summit follow Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Cuba in January, where the pontiff admonished Cuba to "open itself up to the world [and] the world to open itself up to Cuba. …