TIME LGBT

The U.S. Has Appointed Its First Ever Special Envoy for LGBT Rights

The former U.S. consul general in the Netherlands has been named in the role

The U.S. appointed its first-ever special envoy on Monday to defend and promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The State Department named Randy Berry, a gay senior diplomat who previously served as U.S. consul general in the Netherlands, to the role, reports Reuters.

In his new role, Berry will work to reduce violence and discrimination against LGBT people around the world, including those in some 75 countries where homosexuality and same-sex relationships are criminalized.

“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally — the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

[Reuters]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. To salvage democracy in Afghanistan, leaders must make the next election really work.

By Tabish Forugh in Foreign Policy

2. In a U.S. first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans.

By Noelle Swan in the Christian Science Monitor

3. As rich nations plan the next decade’s agenda for global development, they must bring human rights and accountability to the fore.

By the United Nations News Centre

4. Science and the media need each other. They just don’t know it yet.

By Louise Lief in the Wilson Quarterly

5. This simple Lego contraption allows scientists to safely handle insects.

By Emily Conover in Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME celebrity

The World’s Obsession With Amal Isn’t About Her Accomplishments

Lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney attends the hearing in the case Perincek vs Switzerland, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, Jan. 28,2015.
Sandro Weltin/Council of Europe/EPA Lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney attends the hearing in the case Perincek vs Switzerland, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, Jan. 28, 2015.

Charlotte Alter covers lifestyle, crime, and breaking news for TIME in New York City. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

They're real, but the gushing isn't

Amal Clooney is at it again— doing something celebrities don’t usually do, and looking like a movie star while doing it.

This time, she’s arguing in the European Court of Human Rights against a Turkish politician who denied the existence of an Armenian genocide 100 years ago in which more than 1.5 million people were brutally murdered. That’s, like, sooo impressive… but who is she wearing?

When a reporter from The Telegraph asked her, she cheekily replied “Ede and Ravenscroft,” the legal robes maker that has been selling drab back judge costumes since 1689, the year Benjamin Franklin’s parents met.

Once she did that, the focus shifted from the history of the Armenian genocide to Amal’s sense of humor and fashion choices. The global reaction to her comments was proof that jig is up: it’s time to stop pretending you care about what Amal Clooney is doing, when you really just care about how she looks while doing it.

The public obsession with Amal Clooney has been outwardly focused on her professional accomplishments, and with good reason. She’s represented high-profile clients like Julian Assange and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, fought for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to Greece, and worked to free three Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt. She’s done more in the last ten years than many lawyers do over their entire career.

It sounds great, and it is. But the gushing adoration in the media about her work is false appreciation that crumples under scrutiny. How many other human rights lawyers inspire anything close to Amal-mania? Look at Samira al-Nuaimy, the Iraqi human rights lawyer who was executed by ISIS last year. If the tabloid-buying American public so obsessed with human rights, why wasn’t she on the cover of InTouch?

MORE Lawyer Who Led Challenge of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law: ‘Long, Long Way to Go’

Let’s face it: no matter how real Amal’s accomplishments are, the breathless celebration of her legal triumphs is just a thinly veiled infatuation with how she looks.

When placed in the glare of celebrity, Clooney’s binders of legal documents and folders of case material become accessories to her shiny hair and perfect manicure, instead of the other way around. What’s worse, there’s something grotesque about using serious work on behalf of genocide victims as a pretense for a fixation on her looks, her clothes, and her marriage to one of the world’s most eligible actors.

Amal’s beauty is the unspoken end of every sentence about her legal career, the sub-head to every headline about her human rights work. Even if the coverage is ostensibly focused on Turkish politics, or the Elgin marbles, or sexual violence in conflict zones, the substance get inevitably lost in the subliminal hum over what Amal’s wearing, how Amal’s hair looks, and the fact that Amal is married to George Clooney. It even happens when there’s nothing to report—the Armenian genocide case was overshadowed by Amal’s non-outfit (she was wearing essentially the same thing as all the other lawyers in the room).

It’s also a weird over-correction to the common sexist problem of focusing on women’s looks over their careers. Instead of focusing on the looks of an accomplished woman (like Kirsten Gillibrand), the media is loudly proclaiming how not-sexist they are by obsessively trumpeting Amal’s professional accomplishments, then mentioning her beauty as a super-conspicuous after-thought.

But discussing Amal Clooney’s human rights work in the same tone as Kim Kardashian’s workouts or Jennifer Lawrence’s pizza cravings isn’t just awkward— it’s bizarre. Imagine if other human rights activists were treated the same way. Next it’ll be “Watch Ban Ki-Moon Go to the Gym Without Makeup” or “Malala’s Celebrity Crush: REVEALED!”

MORE Malala Condemns the Killing of School Children in Peshawar

Some celebrities use their existing fame to shine a light on problems in the world, like Amal’s husband’s best friend’s wife Angelina Jolie, who recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times demanding improved conditions in Syrian refugee camps. But that’s a different story, because Jolie came to activism after she got famous. She’s getting her picture taken in refugee camps and giving impassioned speeches at the U.N. precisely to direct those who are interested in her hair and clothes towards something more important.

But Amal’s just doing her job. Her work isn’t celebrity activism or a publicity stunt. Yet when it’s put in the context of celebrity fodder, Amal Clooney’s work on behalf of marginalized people gets reduced to just another thing a woman does while being beautiful.

So stop gushing. Stop with the headlines that trumpet Amal as a goddess for doing her job. Stop with the shock and awe that someone so beautiful could be so smart as well. Just let Amal keep doing her thing.

Read next: Amal Alamuddin Clooney and the Rise of the Trophy Husband

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Human Rights

Amal Clooney Begins Next Big Human Rights Case

FRANCE-EU-ARMENIA
Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty Images Lawyers Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertso, arrive on Jan. 28, 2015 to attend the appeal hearing in Perincek case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

She'll represent Armenia's interests in a landmark genocide trial

After playing the role of red-carpet date for her husband, George Clooney, at the Golden Globes, Amal Clooney is taking off the white gloves and getting down to business.

Her latest mission: representing Armenia’s interests in a landmark trial before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, beginning Wednesday.

The case is an appeal of a 2013 ruling by the ECHR – described as the Supreme Court of Europe – in which the court decided that a Swiss law prohibiting the public denial of the Armenian genocide is a violation of freedom of speech.

Switzerland is now appealing the verdict, and the outcome of the trial could have ramifications for other European nations, such as France, which have also attempted to outlaw genocide denial.

For her part, Clooney, 36, will attempt to refute testimony from countries, like Turkey, which do not accept that the mass killing and forced deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1923 was an act of genocide.

The appeal is Clooney’s first big case of 2015. Last year, she represented Greece in the country’s bid to have the Elgin Marbles returned from the British Museum.

More recently, she represented one of three Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt.

This article originally appeared on People.

Read next: Amal Alamuddin Clooney and the Rise of the Trophy Husband

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TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Guards Drank Wine With Human Gallbladders, Says Genocide Survivor

Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province
Chor Sokunthea—Reuters Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a Killing Fields memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh on March 28, 2009

Horrific testimony made at atrocity trial

In the 1970s, Khmer Rouge guards would drink wine infused with human gallbladders, according to a survivor of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields.

Former detainee Meas Sokha told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Khmer Rouge (ECCC) — a special tribunal created to investigate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime — that guards at a prison in Takeo province would dry out the gallbladders of inmates and steep them in wine, reports the Cambodia Daily.

“Whenever there were killings, the guards would drink wine with a gallbladder. I could see gallbladders drying in the sun and I knew these were from human beings,” said Meas Sokha, who was imprisoned for three years in 1976. “There were so many [gallbladders] dried by the fence, it was put in wine for drinking and to make people brave.”

Sokha also told the U.N.-backed ECCC that he witnessed between 20 and 100 killings in a single day.

In some East Asian medical traditions, the use of animal bile in drinks — usually snake or bear bile — is thought to promote virility.

From 1975 until 1979, Cambodia experienced one of the most savage genocides of the 20th century, during which around 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — perished as the Khmer Rouge, the nation’s communist party led by the French-educated Pol Pot, pursued its agrarian utopia.

The court is currently investigating genocide charges against Khieu Samphan, 83, the regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, 88. Both were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in August.

TIME Philippines

Pope Francis and the Mystery of Manila’s Vanishing Street Children

A homeless child in the streets of Manila in 2014.
Noel Celis—AFP/Getty Images A homeless child in the streets of Manila in 2014.

Was the Philippine capital really purged of unsightly urchins for the Pope's recent visit, as media reports allege?

Pope Francis took the helm of the Catholic Church last year, vowing to refashion the institution “for the poor.” Yet during his recent five-day visit to the Philippines, where he presided over Mass for more than six million rapturous worshippers, it appeared many of the nation’s most impoverished were cruelly banished from view.

As the Pontiff touched down in Asia’s most Catholic nation, reports emerged that street children had been rounded up and caged in order to sanitize Manila’s streets. Local authorities vehemently denied this was a case, pointing out that the accompanying photographs of an emaciated toddler and young girl handcuffed to a metal pole had in fact been taken months earlier.

However, rumors continued to swirl as more anecdotal evidence arrived. So was the Philippine capital purged of unsightly urchins? In a word, yes, although only a small fraction of this was anything new.

According to local activists, street children are constantly being rounded up across this sprawling metropolis of 12 million. This is generally for vagrancy and petty crime — they are often scapegoats for the deeds committed by organized gangs — and, although numbers are hard to pin down, the Pope’s visit seemed to herald a slight uptick.

“There’s definitely been a ramp up,” Catherine Scerri, deputy director of the Bahay Tuluyan NGO that helps street children, tells TIME. “They were definitely told not to be visible, and many of them felt that if they didn’t move they would be taken forcibly.”

Those detained end up a various municipal detention centers sprinkled all over Metro Manila, says Father Shay Cullen, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated founder of the Preda Foundation NGO. These local adult jails each adjoin euphemistically named “children’s homes,” which, like the adult facility, has bars on the windows.

Children are summarily kept for anything up to three months without charge, with little ones sharing cells with young adults. Many fall prey to serious sexual and physical abuse: Kids just eight-years-old are often tormented into performing sex acts on the older detainees, says Cullen. (Amnesty International documented such abuses in a December report.)

“They are locked up in a dungeon,” says Cullen, explaining that some 20,000 children see the inside of a jail cell annually across the Philippines. “We keep asking why they put these little kids in with the older guys.”

Nevertheless, Philippines Welfare Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman explicitly denies that homeless children were rounded up for the Papal visit, highlighting that they were, in fact, central to the 78-year-old Pontiff’s reception. Some 400 homeless kids — albeit in bright, new threads — sang at a special event (and posed awkward theological questions.)

Any children detained, explains Juliano-Soliman, were “abandoned, physically or mentally challenged or found to be vagrant or in trouble with the law, and we are taking care of them.” Father Cullen’s allegations, Juliano-Soliman suggests, are a sympathy ploy to win donations “One can’t help but think it’s a good fundraising action,” she says wryly.

However, Juliano-Soliman did confirm that 100 homeless families — comprising 490 parents and children — were taken off the street of Roxas Boulevard, the palm-fringed thoroughfare arcing Manila Bay along which Pope Francis traveled several times, and taken about an hour and a half’s drive away to the plush Chateau Royal Batangas resort. Room rates there range from $90 to $500 per night.

This sojourn lasted from Jan. 14, the day before Pope Francis’s visit, until Jan. 19, the day he left. It was organized by the Department of Social Welfare’s Modified Conditional Cash Transfer program, which provides grants to aid “families with special needs.”

Juliano-Soliman says this was done so that families would “not be vulnerable to the influx of people coming to witness the Pope.” Pressed to clarify, she expressed fears that the destitute “could be seen as not having a positive influence in the crowd” and could be “used by people who do not have good intentions.”

For Scerri, though, this reasoning doesn’t cut it: “It’s very difficult to believe that children and families who have lived on the streets for most of their lives need to be protected from what was a very joyous, very happy, very peaceful celebration.”

In fact, families involved were only told two days prior that they were to make the trip to Chateau Royal Batangas. “Many felt that if they didn’t participate that they would be rounded up,” says Scerri, adding that those who returned to their usual digs by Malate Catholic Church found large signs had been painted in the interim that prohibited sleeping rough.

Ultimately, whether jailed or stashed in a resort, “there’s nothing new,” says Father Cullen. “Every time dignitaries come it’s a common phenomenon for more children to be locked up.”

So where did Manila’s street children go? The truth is that most people didn’t really care, just as long as they did.

Read next: Pope Calls Out Philippines on Corruption and ‘Scandalous’ Inequality

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TIME Media

Amal Alamuddin Clooney and the Rise of the Trophy Husband

When George drags his human rights lawyer wife to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are

It started when she arrived on the red carpet, the star of the Golden Globes show, the woman who came across as the big winner at last night’s ceremony. The funny thing is, she wasn’t nominated for anything. She has never even been in a movie or TV show or even a high school musical. But the Guardian got it exactly right when it said, “Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her husband have arrived.”

It’s not an overstatement to say everyone fell in love Sunday night with Amal Alamuddin Clooney, the woman who finally nabbed confirmed bachelor George Clooney.

I can’t say it better than Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (can anyone say anything better than these two?), who joked, “Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria and was selected for a three-person U.N. commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So tonight her husband is getting a lifetime-achievement award.”

MORE Watch George Clooney Pay Tribute to Wife Amal in Golden Globes Speech

On the red carpet, when asked what she was wearing, Amal didn’t discuss the designer who made her dress (it was Dior), perpetuating the marketing scam in which celebrities, the richest people around, are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by billionaire designers to get attention for their gowns. No, she pointed out that there was a “Je Suis Charlie” button on her purse to show solidarity with the men and women of Charlie Hebdo who were killed by terrorists for exercising their right to free speech. She couldn’t care less about the garment industry; there are real-world issues that she wants to give attention to.

She wasn’t the only celebrity to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Paris, but she was one of the few wearing gloves on the red carpet, a choice many of the professional fashion advisers thought was tacky. But Amal does not care. Those gloves said, “O.K., fine, I will play along and get dressed up in formal wear for this event, but I think these gloves are cute and I’m wearing them, and I don’t care how many episodes of Fashion Police I’m on because I don’t even own a television set, so there.”

When George finally had his big moment, he tried to make it not about himself but about his wife and the Charlie Hebdo attacks. “Amal, whatever alchemy brought us together, I couldn’t be prouder to be your husband,” he said, before reminding people about what was going on in France. Clooney’s speech tried to take away the importance of his movie roles (remember Leatherheads, anyone?), and instead focused on what is important—and that is Amal. Even George defines himself not as a movie star but as a man who is married to an amazing woman. He could have settled for Stacy Keibler or Renée Zellweger, but instead he married an Oxford graduate who could probably beat Hillary Clinton for President, if only she were American.

MORE Review: From Cosby to Charlie, This Golden Globes Had Something to Say

Husbands were getting ignored all over the place Sunday night. Channing Tatum, currently one of the biggest box-office draws in Tinseltown, was on “train patrol” for his wife, the much-lesser-known Jenna Dewan Tatum, fanning out her long dress for the wide shots on the red carpet. When Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber walked down the red carpet, he was generally ignored next to his wife, even though they were both nominated. That’s what being on television will do to you, Liev. Reese Witherspoon’s power-agent husband was with her at her table inside the event, but Cheryl Strayed, the woman she played in Wild, was the one who walked beside her when they stood next to Ryan Seacrest.

Maybe Reese’s man just didn’t want any part of the spectacle. When the camera would cut to her at any time during the evening, it was like she was considering all the things she would rather be doing with her time, like fighting for civil rights and making the world a better place. For her part, Amal looked like she was barely tolerating being there, like a wife dragged to her husband’s boring work dinner. And that’s all this was with her in attendance: someone else’s professional convention.

In fact, having Amal at the ceremony certainly threw the whole thing into perspective and threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the proceedings. We’re being duped into thinking that very rich people who are given every advantage in life, getting more accolades and awards, is somehow news. That it is something that should be covered rapturously by every news outlet in the world, with even more slide shows and reviews than the protests in Paris or Ferguson or wherever they’re happening these days.

MORE Golden Globes 2015: See All the Winners

When George drags Amal to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are, just more of Hollywood breaking its arm patting itself on the back and duping us into buying more movie tickets, watching more shows, consuming more commercials, feeding the consumerist beast that Amal Clooney is trying to fight back into a cage every damn day. We always thought that she was the woman who finally snared George Clooney, but it’s the other way around. And we’re all better off for it.

Moylan is a writer and pop-culture junkie who lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Gawker, Vice, New York magazine and a few other safe-for-work publications.

Read next: Great Storytelling Was the Real Winner at the Golden Globes

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TIME conflict

Global Arms Treaty Comes Into Force on Christmas Eve

STR—AFP/Getty

But the U.S., China and Russia have still not ratified it

A global arms treaty aiming to cut off the weapon supply for human-rights violators comes into force Wednesday, and campaigners vow to enforce its implementation.

“For too long, arms and ammunition have been traded with few questions asked about whose lives they will destroy,” Anna Macdonald, director of the Control Arms coalition of NGOs, told Agence France-Presse. “The new Arms Trade Treaty which enters into force this week will bring that to an end. It is now finally against international law to put weapons into the hands of human rights abusers and dictators.”

A total of 60 countries including France, Great Britain and Germany have all pledged to adhere to the the treaty, while 70 others, including China, Russia and the largest exporter of all, the U.S., have approved but are yet to ratify it.

Campaigners note that much work remains to implement regulation of the $85 billion global weapons trade, and a first meeting between the signatory states will be held around September.

ATT, as the treaty is known, is the first major arms accord since the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996.

TIME Argentina

In Argentina, a Court Grants Sandra the Orangutan Basic Rights

An orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo
Marcos Brindicci—Reuters An orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo, December 8, 2010.

The ape has spent the last 20 years in a zoo

An orangutan named Sandra has been granted certain legal rights by a court in Argentina.

Lawyers for Argentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) argued that Sandra was a “non-human person” and was being detained illegally in Buenos Aires’ zoo, the BBC reports.

The case rested on whether the court decided the orangutan was a “person” or a “thing” and after judges rejected the writ several times, they finally ruled the ape had rights that needed protecting.

In a similar case earlier this month, a New York court decided that a chimpanzee did not have legal personhood and therefore was not entitled to human rights.

If Sandra’s case isn’t appealed, the orangutan will live out her days enjoying greater freedom in a sanctuary in Brazil.

[BBC]

TIME foreign affairs

Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim

Many tourists visit Cuba despite embargo
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images The number of U.S. citizens increase despite embargo laid on since 1960 in Havana, Cuba on 2 May, 2014.

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

The status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to garner sympathy abroad

President Obama’s new approach to Cuba diplomacy is a breath of fresh air and a chance to make some real progress on human rights if the U.S. government uses the policy wisely.

Some critics contend that President Obama’s decision to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba means that the United States has abandoned its commitment to protect human rights in the island. Some even argue that Obama’s new approach actually rewards Cuba, giving up leverage the United States allegedly had against the Cuban authoritarian government. This view is profoundly mistaken.

The confusion arises from the U.S. government’s own misguided rhetoric to maintain a costly embargo. For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and democratic change in the island. In fact, though, the embargo did nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. Instead, it imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and provided the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for its abuses.

Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies.

Not surprisingly, advocates in Cuba and abroad, as well as a majority of countries in the UN General Assembly —188 out of 192 in an October resolution — have repeatedly called for an end to the U.S. embargo.

Meanwhile, despite some positive reforms in recent years, the Cuban government continues to engage in systematic abuses aimed at punishing critics and discouraging dissent.

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political prisoners on condition that they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, the Cuban government has relied less on long prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.

But the Cuban government uses other tactics to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days.

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of limited access to – and the high cost of – the Internet.

Let’s be clear: the responsibility for the crackdown on dissent in Cuba lies with the Cuban government. Yet, the status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to portray itself as a victim.

Empirical evidence shows that it was irrational to continue insisting on a policy that never achieved its proposed objectives. The unilateral approach, a relic of the Cold War, has been ineffective for decades, and that’s precisely why this new policy by the White House provides a golden opportunity.

To promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections, independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights. It seems that Obama gets it.

No one should be under the illusion that the human rights situation in Cuba will improve overnight. On the contrary, it will be a long and frustrating process. But there is no doubt that with Obama’s new approach toward Cuba we are in much better shape to go in the right direction.

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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