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Assessment: Cuba
June-July 2007

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.


Fidel Castro’s departure from the active political scene a year ago has led to expectations of forthcoming change. But Fidel’s younger brother and officially designated successor, Raul Castro, immediately declared his commitment to maintain the same policy course and communist ideology as before. Many viewed his statements as a mandatory pledge of allegiance typical of totalitarian regimes. Throughout the year, political analysts and journalists have been trying to grasp whether political life has been changing or not in communist-run Cuba. And, on spotting some signs of change, they try to understand whether they are genuine or decorative?

The younger Castro has hinted cautiously that changes were possible. Three times during his interim leadership, Raul Castro has offered the United States to resume a dialogue. “The next U.S. administration will have to decide whether it maintains the absurd, illegal and failed policy toward Cuba or accepts the olive branch we extended,” Raul Castro said at a Revolution Day ceremony in the city of Camagüey attended by 100,000 people. The United States brushed aside his offer, saying Cuba needs to show more respect for its people. “The only real dialogue he needs is with the Cuban people,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a press conference. “If the Cuban people were able to express their opinion on the question of whether or not they would like to freely choose their leaders, the answer would probably be yes,” he said. “We look forward to the day when the Cuban people do have the opportunity to have that free and open dialogue,” he added.

But even such a vague hint at political change might reap benefits for a communist regime. European Socialists and those on the American Left who support or sympathize with the Castro brothers are claiming triumphantly that Cuba is ready to embark on the path of positive change. The Socialists and Communists in Spain’s parliament, for example, even rejected a motion calling for the release of Cuban political prisoners. On June 18, the UN Human Rights Council dropped Cuba from a black list of countries warranting sustained and close scrutiny and decided to eliminate the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Cuba. The European Union is now contemplating lifting diplomatic sanctions imposed against Cuba after the arrest of 75 dissidents and journalists in a crackdown in spring 2003.

Dissidents on the island are trying to make it known to the world community what is really happening in Cuba.

The Ladies in White, a group of wives and mothers of Cuban political prisoners, has sent a letter to the European Parliament asking that it not let economic interests prevail in shaping a policy toward Cuba’s communist regime. The policy of engagement with the communist government in Cuba has yielded no positive results in the human rights situation, the letter said. The European Union’s firm stance toward Cuba in 2003 when 75 dissidents and intellectuals were arrested in a crackdown dubbed the Black Spring not only provided huge moral support but, most probably, restrained the totalitarian system from committing further acts of abuse, the group stressed.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, led by rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, stated in its bi-annual report that in Cuba there persists the systematic and institutional violation of each and every civil, political and economic right listed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It reports that the human rights situation remained unfavorable under interim leadership of Raul Castro. Freedom of expression and association, information, press freedom and the right to form labor unions and political organizations remain suppressed and criminalized under a draconian penal code, the report stressed. Although the number of political prisoners has fallen in the first half of the year, the current number of 246 is still a cause for alarm and remains the highest per capita rate of political incarceration in the world, claimed the commission,. Raul Castro’s interim government has taken no steps toward modernizing the country’s laws.

According to EFE News Service, Cuban dissidents assert that the human rights situation on the island is just more of the same one year after Raul Castro took over in Cuba. They unanimously call for the release of political prisoners. Manuel Cuesta Morúa, leader of the left-oriented Progressive Arc, said the government has shown a tendency to ease its repressive tactics against the opposition but continues to arrest people for political reasons. The founder of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas has seen no progress in advancing human rights and said there was still the need to press the government to free political prisoners. We are even denied the right to know what future holds for those who are still in power, said Payá. He also issued a dramatic appeal to members of the Spanish Left, urging them to go beyond ideological slogans and lend active support to a campaign for human rights in Cuba.

Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello from the Assembly to Promote Civil Society said there were no noticeable reasons for even short-time optimism. Vladimiro Roca, reports EFE, shared the opinion, saying Raul Castro has failed to show any signs of pragmatism expected of him.

Alexander Podrabinek
Editor-in-Chief, PRIMA News Agency
Moscow, July, 2007