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Why Cuba Is Getting More Repressive

Raúl Castro’s economic reforms are less significant than his crackdown on dissent.

Jaime Daremblum


April 4, 2013 - 12:13 am
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What exactly is happening in Cuba? Every week, it seems, we read stories about economic reforms implemented by the Communist government. Cubans can now legally work as entrepreneurs in more than 180 different occupations, and they are no longer prohibited from selling their homes or motor vehicles, or from traveling abroad (provided they can secure a passport). Meanwhile, the number of state-sector jobs has declined significantly. In addition, Raúl Castro has promised that his current five-year term as Cuban president (which began in late February) will be his last, meaning he will retire in 2018.

Americans are always on the lookout for signs that Cuba is finally changing, and the changes listed above have prompted many journalists, analysts, and political figures to renew their calls for lifting or at least softening the U.S. embargo. After traveling to the island in mid-February as part of an official delegation of federal lawmakers, Democratic senator Pat Leahy of Vermont expressed his hope for a shift in U.S. policy: “There is a growing sense by many in the U.S. who do not have a Cold War attitude that they would like to see a change.”

But the biggest impediment to closer bilateral relations is not “a Cold War attitude” on Capitol Hill, nor is it the American embargo. It is the behavior of the Castro regime. Indeed, we should not let Havana’s timid economic reforms or its new travel policy distract us from the more important story: In its treatment of human-rights activists, pro-democracy dissidents, and pretty much anyone it considers a threat to Communist rule, the Cuban government is becoming more repressive, not less.

For example:

* During the first nine months of 2011, the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHRNR) documented some 2,784 “incidents of human-rights abuses,” compared with 2,074 in all of 2010.

* In March 2012, Amnesty International reported that, since 2010, there had beena steady increase in the number of arbitrary detentions,” with the Castro regime waging “a permanent campaign of harassment and short-term detentions of political opponents.” One of Amnesty’s Cuba researchers affirmed that “Cuba has seen worsening repression when it comes to human rights.”

* Over the next ten months, between March 2012 and January 2013, the number of political prisoners on the island doubled (from 45 to 90), according to the CCHRNR. Those figures only include prisoners jailed on explicitly political charges; the total number of Cuban political prisoners is much larger, since the regime is holding many dissidents on bogus criminal charges.

* In its latest Freedom in the World report, Freedom House says: “The Cuban government oversaw a systematic increase in short-term ‘preventative’ detentions of dissidents in 2012, in addition to harassment, beatings, acts of repudiation, and restrictions on foreign and domestic travel.”

* Overall, notes Miami Herald correspondent Juan Tamayo, Cuba witnesseda record 6,200 short-term detentions for political motives” last year.

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It seems to me that the Castro's have been using the US's intervening into Cuba's affairs -- from the Spanish-American War, to the Bay of Pigs, to embargo, to sabotage, to hostile rhetoric, to a revanchist Cuban exile community -- as a justified reason to resist the Yankee threat and pose as the defenders of the Cuban people and the Revolution. Until the Cuban people are ready to revolt and initiate reform, I don't think the change will come from the US. I truly hope it comes, as Cubans deserve so much better. As quoted by Yoani Sanchez, a dissident Cuban blogger, "We are imprisoned by censorship, imprisoned by laws, imprisoned on an island that is a prison surrounded by water on all sides." It matters that Cubans are repressed, suppressed and oppressed. It matters a lot. And, it should continue to matter to us less than 300 miles away.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It seems like Castro is following the Chinese model. I doubt we'll have the same effects. The long history of Chinese unity has given the Chinese people a love of authority, prompting the people of China to continue to support the communist government simply because they are THE authority, despite the greater economic freedom.

I doubt Cuba's cultural roots run so deep. Cubans may glimpse hope from the greater economic freedom, and strive for greater personal freedom.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So Cuba is repressive. So what?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"If the Castro regime is truly serious about reform and liberalization, Payá added, it will allow a nationwide referendum on democracy — the type of referendum called for by her father’s Varela Project. "

When Fidel's band of revolutionaries chased Batista out of Cuba on January 1, 1959, he denied any interest in politics and assured people that free and fair democratic elections would follow in a few months. It's been more than 50 years and Cuba has still not seen those elections. Fidel and his brother have continued to rule with an iron fist throughout that time. Anyone who believed that the Castros were democratic at heart should have been disabused of that notion a very long time ago.

Only two things will put an end to the Castro dictatorship: military intervention from outside of Cuba or a revoluton from within, along the lines of Romanians toppling Ceaucescu in 1989. We have long promised not to invade Cuba so it looks like the only honorable thing is to wait for the Cubans to have had enough of Castro and kick his ass to the curb.
1 year ago
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