The Time to Help Cuba's Brave Dissidents Is Now: Why the Embargo Must Not be Lifted

The presence this week in the United States of dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, the most well-known of Cuba’s brave dissident community, has again brought to the forefront the reality of the situation facing the Cuban people in the Castro brothers’ prison state.

Last week, Sanchez spoke at both Columbia University and New York University, where she recalled how different things were a decade ago during what Cubans refer to as the “Black Spring,” when independent journalists were given a summary trial and large jail sentences. It was the arrest of these opponents of the regime that led to the Ladies in White, the wives and mothers of prisoners who regularly marched in silence in front of government buildings each week.

Ten years ago, Sanchez pointed out, there was no access to the internet for anyone in Cuba, it barely existed, and there were no flash drives to record information and no social networking sites to spread the word about the state’s repression. Now, bloggers like Sanchez -- who gains access to tourist hotels, posing as a Westerner so she can use their internet facilities -- have managed to get past the regime’s ban on use of the internet and to freely reveal to the world the reality of life in Cuba.

"Many independent journalists and peaceful activists who began their work precariously have now resorted to blogs, for example, as a format to circulate information about programs and initiatives to collect signatures,” Sánchez said. She and others have done just that, getting signatures on petitions to demand the release in particular of one well-known Cuban journalist. In addition, Sanchez is circulating a petition known as “the Citizens’ Demand” to pressure the Cuban regime to ratify the UN political rights agreements signed in 2008. The signers are calling for a legal and political framework for a full debate of all ideas relevant to the internal crisis facing the Cuban people on the island.

In effect, this demand for democracy is nothing less than a call for creation of a political democracy that would, if implemented, lead to the collapse of the edifice of the Communist one-party state.

As Sanchez put it: “It is important to have initiatives for transforming the law and demand concrete public spaces within the country.” Since a totalitarian state does not allow for such space and prohibits a real civil society from emerging, the actions of the dissidents are a mechanism for forcing such change from below. They are fighting what her fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo called a “culture of fear over the civil society” that the secret police seek to enforce.

For liberals and leftists in the United States, the main demand they always raise is to “lift the embargo.” According to the argument they regularly make, the embargo has to be lifted for the following reasons: 1) it is not effective; 2) it gives the regime the excuse to argue to the Cuban people that the poverty they suffer is the result of not being able to trade with the United States and other nations honoring the embargo; 3) lifting the embargo would hence deprive Fidel and Raul Castro from their main propaganda argument, revealing that the reasons for a collapsed economy are the regime’s own policies; and 4) trade and travel from the United States would expose Cubans to Americans and others who live in freedom, help curb anti-Americanism, and eventually lead to slow reform of the system.

What these liberals and leftists leave out is that this demand -- lifting the embargo -- is also the number one desire of the Cuban Communists.