09 July, 2010

So what now for Cuba?

By Jorge Reyes

When Raúl Castro took on the reigns of power Cuba, many people though skeptical actually had hopes that some political opening would take place in Cuba. I, like them, were wrong.

The Cuban government under him has continued to harass and jail political dissenters—even as the blogosphere, egged on by TV stations in Miami, provides new ways for some Cubans to express their criticism.

A couple of days ago, the Cuban government announced that fifty-two political political prisoners will be released, after a decision made after the archbishop of Havana and the Spanish foreign minister interceded directly with Raúl Castro himself. The announcement is good news and a welcome relief to many observers, not to mention the prisoners' families. They have been through enough since their arrest in 2003.

According to Freedom House, this is a welcome posture but don't forget that there are 167 other political prisoners of whom very little has been spoken about. 

Is this a new willingness by Castro to tolerate dissent? To stop harassing people whose only crime is simply to act and think differently?

Some have seen this as a major concession by the Castro government, and in many ways it is. Whatever this may ultimately lead to, let's see what this is not about.

Throughout the years, there have been many negotiated releases with very little political change. 

In 1984, Jesse Jackson convinced Fidel Castro to release twenty-six political.  In 1996, Bill Richardson secured the release of three.  In 2002, Jimmy Carter got one prisoner released. In 1995, the Human Rights Watch managed to get half a dozen released after six grueling hours of negotiation with Fidel Castro in 1995. Pope John Paul II has been the most successful negotiator thus far, who in 1998 obtained the release of eighty jailed dissidents.

Those prisoner releases were also welcome news at the time each occurred. But they did not bring an end to repression in Cuba. The government never stopped locking up its critics and stifling dissent on the island. There is little reason to think this time will be different. Since Raúl Castro took over from his ailing brother in 2006, the Cuban government has jailed scores of political prisoners, including journalists, human rights defenders, and ordinary citizens engaged in “counterrevolutionary” activities. None of these newer prisoners are among the fifty-two the government now plans to release.

In any case, for now, only five of the fifty-two will actually leave prison—and apparently not for their homes, but rather for forced exile to Spain. “They will go directly from the prisons to the planes,” Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote on Wednesday, citing “a gentleman who keeps his ear glued to the radio” listening to “the prohibited broadcasts from the North.

"The ability to rid themselves of the inconvenient," she continues, "the skill to push off the island platform anyone who opposes them, this is a talent in which our leaders are quite adept…. [S]o many Cubans find themselves caught between the walls of prison and the sword of exile.”

Also, Yoani's sentiments are equally shared by many editorials worldwide.  As Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of Freedom House said: "we’re concerned that these prisoners are being forced to leave Cuba as a condition of their release and, in this way, the Cuban government is trying to physically remove political opposition from the island. The Cuban government should respect the right of its citizens to return home.”

There are no easy answers when it comes to Cuba.

I, for one, has stopped thinking of possible scenarios. What is true is that the release of political prisoners won't do anything to solve any of Cuba's political problems. I was always of the belief that by simply opening an immigration valve allowing Cubans to leave the island, we were doing more harm against the cause of Cuba's freedom than not.  It doesn't solve anything.  It leaves a vacuum for any meaningful and strong dissent. 

Now these 52 released political prisoners are forced to leave Cuba and live somewhere else, like thousands of other dissidents have done. The other political prisoners will remain locked up, their voices muffled, and the dissident movement as weak as ever.

That has always been the problem that has plagued the Cuban nation; those who should stay behind and fight leave by choice or are forced to leave. Others simply remain to whatever they can do to solve a seemingly intractable situation; their voices barely audible in a din of repressive revolutionary distopia.


Anonymous said...

Jorge, I agree with you. Cubans have taken the easy way out by simply leaving Cuba and fighting for change in their country from afar. In order to bring political change to any country you have to do it from the inside, not from Miami, Spain, or another foreign soil.

I also agree with you. Castro's favorite tactics have been two-fold:
1) Force strong dissident movements to leave Cuba;
2) Manipulate the whole embargo thing to his benefit.

Let's face it, there isn't a true embargo against Cuba and there never will be. However, this is the kind of clap-trap Cubans on both sides have fallen for, perpetuating the myth of an embargo.

Maddie_Lutz said...

The Cuban embargo is a total failure and a stupidity perpetuated and manipulated by everyone across the Caribben straits. It has been used as a propaganda tool by Castro and as a political advancement platform by those cronies who represent Cuban-Americans in the US Congress.

The US keeps alliances with other murderous regimes, including the Chinese. Let's face it, no matter how demonic Cubans in Miami want to portray Castro, he's not nearly as evil as the Chinese government. Yet, I'm sure that many of these same Cubans buy "made in China" products without even once stopping to think the double-standard. Would they do the same if it said "made in Cuba"?

My strong support goes to the people in Cuba, not to the Cubans living in Miami still as exiles. I wish Cubans in Cuba the best!

Mitch TGam said...

The Cuban embargo (if you want to call it that) has nothing to do with human rights. The United States has been and still is "Friends" with some of the worlds most murderous human rights violators. Mr Castro's regime doesn't even come close in terms of shear barbarity to them. This is about money, pure and simple. Members of the US Mafia, masquerading as business men want the money and property they owned (stole) in Cuba returned to them. Revolution any revolution is nasty and blood by nature. And Castro's counter revolution (reversing the overthrow of the legitimate government by Batistia in 1950) is no exception. The Castro's while nothing more then street thugs are not the villains here we are for continuing not to look at the full situation and history of Cuba.

Anonymous said...

The only winners are the Castros and their regime, they have used their old tactic of kicking out of the country who ever oppose them and they cannot kill. The people in Cuba have gained nothing, most of them are not even aware of the dissident and of what is going on, because the totally controlled media does not inform the population to avoid unrest.
And regarding the land distribution, it is not given to the farmers, it is given to military or ex-military well compromise with the dictatorship, it is part of the political apartheid.
You are either too na�ve or a very well prepared agent to brainwashing.

Anonymous said...

I am not naive. Dictators do not give up power easily or overnight. But look at the real change in Cuba in just 1 year. The Ladies in White march weekly without (major) incidents. Letter writes routinely criticize the government (respectfully). Unused land is being "given" to farmers to grow what they want. NO its not the United States but it never was and Cubans might never enjoy what we have here. But then few countries in the world have the freedoms we do. Be patient and positive. Stop focusing on the negative and look at the positive change and nurture it. The glass can be half full or half empty depending on how one looks at it.

Yque said...

Read the Editorial in the Washington Post titled "Cuba's Marginal Gesture" to get a true read on the Masters cynical actions. They are forcing the Dissidents to leave, and giving their Families the Boot as well.