Those who argue that Western democracies should lift sanctions on Cuba
often claim that even the island's dissidents favor the move. So it was
interesting to see the statement issued Monday by ten of the 11
political prisoners who were deported to Spain by the Castro
dictatorship last week.
Noting the "manifest willingness of some European countries" to
liberalize E.U. strictures on relations with Cuba, the dissidents said
they opposed "an approval of this measure," because "the Cuban
government has not taken steps that evidence a clear decision to advance
toward the democratization of the country."
"Our departure for Spain," the statement added, "must not be considered
a goodwill gesture but a desperate action on the regime's part in its
urgent request for credits of every type."
That declaration took some courage on the Cubans' part, since their
host, the left-wing Spanish government of Jose Luis Zapatero, is the
leading advocate of a relaxation of E.U. sanctions. After meeting Raul
Castro in Havana this month, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel
Moratinos proclaimed "a new phase in Cuba" and insisted "there is no
longer any reason to maintain the [E.U.] Common Position" on Cuba. The
policy links any improvement in relations to progress on democracy and
But the ex-prisoners have the virtue of being right.
Though it has promised to eventually release 52 of the political
opponents it imprisoned in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003, the
Castro regime has offered no indication that it intends any change on
the island. It has freed political prisoners before, without domestic
reforms. And, as in the past, those released so far have been deported,
rather than allowed to return to their homes on the island.
The Cubans were only reminding their hosts of what the European policy
says -- that better relations have to be linked to steps toward
democratization, and not the mere deportation of political prisoners.
That also happens to be the stated policy of the Obama administration,
which so far has resisted calls by liberals for an unconditional lifting
of the already-loopholed U.S. trade "embargo." ("Embargo" has become an
odd term to describe what is actually Cuba's fifth-largest trading
relationship, one that in recent years has provided up to 40 percent of
its food imports.)
The dissidents have more than one reason to be irritated with the
Spanish government. At a press conference in Madrid Monday they
complained that they had been denied the services they were promised
before they left Cuba, including legal assistance. The government is
also trying to prevent them from seeking political asylum -- in yet
another concession to the Castros.
In the end, it's likely that a few of the released prisoners will end up
in the United States. If so, they might not be much help to those
seeking an unconditional lifting of the embargo; they seem to want to
insist on the cause of democracy. Imagine that.
By Jackson Diehl | July 20, 2010; 1:46 PM ET