www.prima-news.ru/eng                  www.idee.org

Assessment: Cuba
February 2008

Assessment: Cuba is published bi-monthly by PRIMA-News in Moscow in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C.


Opposition: The Resistance Is Continuing

At the start of this year, the primary focus of Cuba’s peaceful opposition was elections to the National Assembly, communist Cuba’s fully controlled legislature. The elections did not arouse expectations of any real change, but they did excite public activity.

Residents of Havana’s San Miguel del Padrón municipality had a brief opportunity to vote for change in Cuba. As Cambute neighborhood locals were heading to polling stations to elect a new parliament, Carlos Miguel López Santos, an activist of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, and fellow dissidents set up their own ballot box giving people the chance to make a vote either for “change” or communism. Carlos Miguel López Santos was quickly detained by police but not before a number of people availed themselves of the opportunity to register their choice..

The National Assembly had the task of selecting a president. Leading members of the Cuban opposition, while they could not predict what would happen, knew that Fidel Castro’s re-election as president of the Council of State, scheduled for February 24, would slow the change that Cubans are seeking. Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe told Agence France Presse that Castro, 81, has always feared economic reforms, seeing them as a prelude to political change. Vladimiro Roca, the spokesman for Todos Unidos, a coalition of Cuban dissident groups, noted that the re-election of the ailing Fidel Castro to his top leadership posts would be absurd. On January 20, Fidel Castro was re-elected to the National Assembly, making it still possible for him to be selected to the Council of State and thus to the presidency.

In an unusually bold statement, Cuba’s Catholic magazine Palabra Nueva expressed support for gradual changes, but said they should be soon because further postponing would be a “humiliation” for society.

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, said that never before has such an intense and at the same time flawed election campaign been carried out in Cuba. He issued a statement in Havana denouncing Cuba’s electoral process in which voters are forced to vote  for only one bloc of candidates on the ballot and unable to choose from among individual candidates even as pro-government voters.
Encouraged by expectations of change, Cuban dissidents are making gains against the regime. Cuban dissidents handed out, for example, more than 1,500 copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Havana without impediment. Opposition member Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello said that during their 2 km march through Havana’s Plaza they were handing out copies of the rights document to passersby and even to police without incident.

There were reports of intensified police activity in Palma Soriana municipality, Santiago de Cuba province following the appearance of anti-government and anti-Castro stickers in the township a few days earlier.

Cuban exile groups have also been persistent in their efforts to draw public attention to the flaws of the communist regime on the island.  Members of Cuban exile groups based in Spain, Cuban Democracy Now (Plataforma Cuba Democracia Ya), United Cuban Political Presidium (Frente del Presidio Político Cubano), and the Spanish Federation of Cuban Associations (Federación Española de Asociaciones Cubanas) unfurled a 10-meter-long banner demanding democracy in Cuba in front of the Cuban Embassy in Madrid. Rigoberto Carceller, head of Cuban Democracy Now, told EFE they staged the protest action, which they called a “voto unido,” to show that the elections to the National Assembly in Cuba were a farce, with one party permitted to run and no international observers allowed into the country.

Cuban dissidents Héctor Palacios and Gisela Delgado, who recently left Cuba to seek medical care and expect to return to the island, said at a Warsaw conference of the Lech Walesa Institute that “change will come soon” and everyone knows it. After the event, Palacios told Spanish news agency EFE that not only Castro is sick but so is his revolution and the Cuban nation is already transforming rapidly.

The Cuban-Brazil Committee for a Democratic Cuba has called on President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to voice support for rights activists, multiparty elections, and the release of political prisoners during his visit to the island.

Cuban dissidents and exile groups receive a very positive response to their calls from officials in other countries.  U.S. President George W. Bush accused Fidel and Raul Castro of repressive policies and urged them to free all political prisoners. Bush made the statement at a meeting with the wife of jailed Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor. Republican Presidential hopeful, Senator John McCain, said that he considers fast-forwarding post-Castro’s Cuba transition to democracy a key foreign policy aspect of his presidential campaign.

Germany is expecting a peaceful change in Cuba now that the country’s longtime leader, Fidel Castro has withdrawn from politics, Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the press on February 20.

Meanwhile, not all nations are lining up against the Cuban regime. North Korea issued a statement on February 23 in which it praised Fidel Castro as a close ally who did not allow U.S. sanctions and a blockade to hinder his leadership of Cuba. “The Korean people have regarded Fidel Castro as the closest comrade-in-arms and comrade, and will make positive efforts to steadily consolidate and develop the relations of friendship with the fraternal Cuban people,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency cited the Foreign Ministry as saying.

Luckily, there are few countries that support the communist dictatorship in Cuba. Most of the world’s communist dictatorships toppled one by one at the end of the 20th century and those that survived could count only on the support of “rogue” countries like Cuba itself.

Alexander Podrabinek
Moscow, March 2008