Cuba Libre: Next Step for Island Should Be Democracy
No sooner than the ink was dry on Fidel Castro's farewell tome, and pundits started theorizing about the future of Cuba -- many talking heads wistfully, hopefully suggesting that Cuba's next step could be shaping itself to the "Chinese model."
What a perfectly normal baby step, went the punditry, suggesting that a slightly freer market would compensate for the fact that human beings are still treated like chattel by the communist state.
What a gross insult to the Cuban people.
As long as Fidel Castro is alive and his brother Raul is still in power, the brothers might -- the stress on "might" -- seize the opportunity to gradually open up the island in economic terms. This could put them on a plane that would earn the praise of the deluded admirers of China's allegedly freer communist regime.
But if Cuba is following the Chinese model, they need to start by throwing some more dissidents in prison, adding on to 2003's "Black Spring" crackdown in which 75 human-rights activists, Castro opponents, democracy proponents and independent journalists were tossed behind bars for infuriatingly lengthy terms.
As of today, China has 31 journalists in jail and Cuba has 23, according to Reporters Without Borders. Granted, the population difference is night and day, but isn't China supposed to be the progressive model of an evolved communist society?
In addition, China has at least 49 cyberdissidents locked up; that is what would follow in Cuba if they let Joe Citizen have a computer and then followed the Chinese model of a heavily policed "Internet" that's actually an intranet. Who knows, Yahoo might even help Raul nab some free-thinkers in the interest of taking advantage of new economic opportunities!"
In aspiring to be like China, they could churn out low-quality junk in sweatshop conditions while wooing American firms with low labor costs. Just don't use the toothpaste or feed your pets the vittles.
If, like China, Cubans began to get greater tastes of freedom, they'd likely be inspired to use their God-given voices and rally peacefully for the God-given right of self-determination -- like China, to be met with a fierce military crackdown a la Raul and the wizard still lurking behind the curtain, Fidel. And like Shi Tao -- Yahoo's Chinese catch -- they could then go to prison for daring to even spread reports on government warnings against news coverage of the massacre's anniversary.
Whether it's China's "new" communism or the old-school status quo, it's still a one-party, totalitarian system that tramples basic human dignity in the name of consolidated power.
Of course, talk of greater, limited openness for Cuba must be music to the ears of Castro's protege Hugo Chavez, who undoubtedly has been eagerly waiting to take the Marxist mantle from the old man.
Chavez's tenure has been about correcting the isolationist flaw of Castro's communist vision, traveling the globe and building alliances with nefarious regimes that could be useful to him in terms of military and economic issues, and getting cozy with the U.N. Security Council's "authoritarian veto" -- China and Russia. He doesn't want his Bolivarian Revolution stuck in a situation where its one friend, the Soviet Union, falls to glasnost and ceases to be his nanny.
And if the "Chinese model" of continuing to be the world's leader in executions in a dubious judicial system where capital offenses include tax fraud has thus far earned the plaudits of progressives and opportunist capitalists everywhere, the new Latin American leftist kingpin would be happy to see Cuba go in that direction.
Should we tell Jose Oscar Sanchez Madan, a journalist for Cubanet arrested and convicted on April 13, 2007, on the charge of being a "pre-criminal social danger," that the Chinese model -- where even more of his colleagues languish in prison -- is acceptable change in Cuba?
Or how about Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, one of the dozens arrested during the "Black Spring" and serving a 25-year sentence for being director of the Independent Journalist Association of Camaguey? "My health is horrible," Gonzalez wrote on Oct. 23, 2007, in a diary smuggled out of his prison and provided to Bloomberg. "The intestinal pain and cramps are unbearable. In the last four days I have lost 3 kilograms (6.8 pounds) ... My God, don't abandon me. Help me, please!"
The cries of the Chinese are no less harrowing. So when envisioning a model for Cuba's future, why lean on tunnel vision of minute free-market reforms?
Why settle for anything less than democracy?
Bridget Johnson (Bridgetjohnson.org) is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.