Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cuba's escape valve

Posted on Saturday, 10.15.11

Cuba's escape valve

OUR OPINION: Havana shows it has no intention of respecting human
rights, improving relations with the U.S.
By The Miami Herald Editorial

As Cuba continues its crack down on dissidents and young Cubans complain
of no future, the number of Cubans caught at sea or pleading "dry foot"
here or at crossings on the U.S.-Mexican border have doubled from last year.

The Castro brothers' escape valve is operational again. That's because
pressure from within is mounting for change.

The island's disastrous economy (despite Venezuela's oil giveaways) is a
strong factor, say opposition leaders on the island and Cuban Americans
who have been in contact with the new arrivals.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration's attempts to free U.S. Agency for
International Development worker Alan Gross (for a "crime" that most
everywhere else would have been handled with a fine and a return trip
home) have fallen flat.

No surprise there, as Washington has not yet fully understood that
Havana has no interest in negotiating better relations with the United
States. Its intent remains turning Uncle Sam into the Boogey Man, to
take the heat off the regime's own failings.

Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went to
Cuba on an "unofficial" trip looking to bring back Mr. Gross, who's
serving an outrageous 15-year prison sentence. Cuba accuses Mr. Gross,
62 and ill, of being a spy for bringing communications equipment to
Jewish groups in Havana.

Predictably, Mr. Richardson returned without him. Just more mind games
from a 52-year-old dictatorship worried about the ramifications of the
Arab Spring and fearing what technology in the hands of a new generation
of Cubans might bring.

Cell phone cameras from Santiago to Havana are capturing growing
discontent for the world to see. Brave young women and men are standing
on street corners, even on the Capitol steps, to denounce abuses and
call for democracy. The protests are gaining in number and in support
from average Cubans on the street.

Mr. Richardson maintains human rights are improving in Cuba. It's a
shame he didn't take a few hours out of his dead-end trip to talk with
the Ladies in White, who have been beaten and detained, or to speak with
the island's bloggers like Yoani Sánchez.

In Lima last week, a report issued by the InterAmerican Press
Association presented a grim picture regarding the harassment of
journalists and bloggers in Cuba and women like 34-year-old independent
journalist Sonia Garro. She is among a new generation criticizing the
Cuban government's treatment of Afro-Cubans.

Had Mr. Richardson met Ms. Garro and others who have been beaten, he
wouldn't have expressed surprise that he wasn't allowed to see Mr. Gross
or meet with Raúl Castro.

According to a recent New York Times report, Mr. Richardson was prepared
to press the Obama administration to drop Cuba from the State
Department's list of nations that sponsor terror, as a goodwill gesture
in exchange for Mr. Gross.

But Cuba wants the Cuban Five spies returned for Mr. Gross. One already
is out on three years' probation after serving a 13-year sentence.

To compare Mr. Gross' work to help Cubans connect to the outside world
to that of Cuban spies who were nosing around military bases like
Homestead's, looking for U.S. secrets, and responsible for the shootdown
of the Brothers to the Rescue planes is ludicrous. To talk of removing
Cuba from the well-documented list of state sponsors of terror, even
more so.

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