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Why Cuba Is Getting More Repressive

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

by
Jaime Daremblum

Bio

April 4, 2013 - 12:13 am
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Then there is the story of Oswaldo Payá, a world-famous Cuban dissident and founder of the Varela Project who (along with fellow dissident Harold Cepero) died last July after a highly suspicious car accident. As Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O’Grady has written, Payá’s daughter, Rosa María Payá, believes that his carwas intentionally rammed from behind by another car,” and that her father’s death was “a probable murder.” In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Spanish politician Ángel Carromero, who was driving the car carrying Oswaldo Payá, said that they were rammed by a government vehicle whose occupants were “staring at [them] aggressively” before the collision. Carromero also said that, after the crash, he was drugged and threatened by Cuban authorities, who subsequently convicted him of manslaughter. (In December, Carromero was repatriated to Spain, and he has since been paroled.) Florida senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has urged the United Nations to launch “a thorough independent investigation of the events leading up to Payá’s death.”

The death of Payá and the broader campaign of repression against Cuban activists are troubling enough. But for U.S. officials hoping to abolish or ease sanctions, the elephant in the room is the ongoing detention of USAID contractor Alan Gross, a Maryland resident who has been held in a Cuban prison for more than three years on ridiculous espionage charges. It is hard to argue that Havana either deserves or desires warmer relations with Washington when it continues to hold an American hostage. Gross, who turns 64 in May, has seen his health deteriorate, and has reportedly lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration.

His only “crime” was to help boost Internet access for Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. But the Castro regime fears greater Internet access because it fears losing its monopoly on information. It fears that Cubans will become more willing to challenge the status quo and demand real reforms. And, indeed, that is exactly what’s been happening. As dissident-blogger Yoani Sánchez told the Post last month, “People are losing their fear, moving from silent to open, from wearing a mask to showing their real face in public.” Havana’s growing concern over political unrest explains the imprisonment of Gross, and the crackdown on the Ladies in White, and the harassment of activists across the island.

Simply put: Cuba is becoming more repressive because the dictatorship is increasingly afraid of a homegrown democracy movement. That would seem to be a much bigger story than a few cosmetic economic reforms designed to keep the regime in power.

Appearing last month on Spanish television, Rosa María Payá said that Raúl’s reforms are mainly a PR stunt, and not a serious attempt to improve human rights. They “are designed to win over international public opinion,” she said. “The conditions Cubans live in has not changed.” 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. The government’s refusal to hold such a referendum shows just how little Cuba has actually changed.

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Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

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All Comments   (5)
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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
Why Cuba Is Getting More Repressive?

The new PJM editors moved there recently.
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
1 year ago Link To Comment
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