What does Cuba really want?
OUR OPINION: Another round of harassment of dissidents
Once again Cuba's 51-year-old regime gives with one hand and takes away
with another -- even as the European Union is poised to discuss the
potential for strengthening economic ties with the communist island.
After the Cuban dictatorship, under international pressure, seemed to be
considering moving 26 sick political prisoners to hospitals a couple of
weeks ago, officials cracked down again. Last week, they detained 37
dissidents for several hours to prevent them from attending meetings to
discuss Cuba's political and economic crisis.
Despite the harassment, dozens of dissidents managed to attend the
meetings and voted in solidarity with the Ladies in White, the Cuban
women who peacefully march in Havana to call attention to their loved
ones' imprisonment. They also discussed the international attention that
the February death of hunger-striking dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Prisoners are ailing
Leaders of Cuba's Catholic Church have been in talks with Raúl Castro in
an effort to help the 26 ailing prisoners, among 75 who were swept up in
2003 in another crackdown in which the regime accused the dissidents of
being U.S. ``mercenaries.'' Back then, there appeared to be another
opening on the horizon, too, as Fidel Castro put on his ``charm''
offensive in an effort to sway Republicans in farm-belt states to press
the Bush administration to drop the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
Which raises the perennial question: Do the Castros really want trade
and diplomatic relations to improve with the United States and the
It sure doesn't seem like it.
Even as the regime has moved a few dissidents to prisons closer to their
homes, it has continued to harass, detain or arrest others. Meantime,
another dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, has caught the world's attention
with a hunger strike.
Cuba undercuts progress
Spain, under Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's socialist
government, has been pressing the European Union to embrace the Cuban
regime without using human rights as a condition for more-favorable
trade agreements. But with the recent harassment of -- and regime-backed
mob violence directed at -- the Ladies in White, the detention of
dissidents and Cuba's snail's-pace response to treating the ailing
political prisoners, that's unlikely.
The EU's ``common position,'' established 14 years ago by Spain's
then-Prime Minister José María Aznar, sought more direct contact with
dissidents to nudge Cuba toward democracy. That is seen as a
``unilateral'' strategy by the Zapatero government, which has proposed
more talks with Cuba in a ``bilateral'' stance.
Problem is, Cuba's government has shown through its actions that it does
not give any consideration to human rights, even when it claims to be in
agreement with the United Nations' universal declaration on human
rights. That's why it's welcome that the U.S. State Department is poised
to release $15 million to international human-rights groups working in Cuba.
The EU, urged by Spain two years ago, lifted sanctions it imposed after
Cuba's 2003 crackdown. Now it's Cuba's turn to act, but so far its
actions speak loudly of the same old intransigence.