Saturday, December 26, 2015

A bad year for freedom in Cuba

A bad year for freedom in Cuba
Saturday - Dec. 26, 2015
By Charles Lane

Much has changed in Cuba since President Obama and the island's
dictator, Raúl Castro, announced their rapprochement a year ago.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed into Cuban government
coffers because of more U.S. tourism and remittances. Havana has
negotiated a generous U.S.-tolerated debt restructuring with Western
creditors. You can't walk down the street in Havana, it seems, without
bumping into a would-be American investor.

And, of course, the stars and stripes wave over a reopened U.S. Embassy
in Havana.

But when it comes to the elementary freedoms that the Castro regime has
denied its people since 1959, results are scant.

"This year has been a bad year for us," democratic activist Antonio G.
Rodiles told Washington Post editors this month. Rodiles cited a "huge
increase in arbitrary arrests," as well as his savage beating by regime
thugs in July.

"Raúl Castro has been legitimized and recognized by the majority of the
governments of the planet and played a leading part in a Summit of the
Americas amid flashing cameras and meetings with Barack Obama,"
independent blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote. "Inside the country, he has not
wanted to give even the slightest recognition to his critics, against
whom he has continued arrests, mob actions and painful character

As for freer telecommunications, there are a few new open-air WiFi
hotspots, but they are exorbitantly priced and officially monitored,
Sánchez noted. Meanwhile, Washington trumpets a deal to restore
snail-mail service between the United States and Cuba on a date to be

This is what happens when a magical-thinking president runs up against a
communist octogenarian who inherited Cuba from his brother, Fidel, and
aspires to pass it to his son, who is the intelligence chief, and
son-in-law, the tourism industry boss.

"Our central premise," Obama explained to Yahoo News, "has always been
for a small country 90 miles off the shores of Miami — that if they are
suddenly exposed to the world and America and opened up to our
information and our culture and our visitors and our businesses,
invariably they are going to change."

If Obama can figure that out, so can Castro. The dictator has every
incentive to limit U.S.-Cuban interactions to those he can contain and
control, which is what he has done so far. (By the way, Havana is 229
miles from Miami.) When Yahoo News asked Obama to list "concessions"
Castro had made, the president couldn't name one.

Obama wants Congress to lift the rest of the embargo, in part to
eliminate one of Castro's last propaganda excuses. Anticipating that,
Castro has declared that, even if the embargo ends, "normalization" as
he defines it would hinge on more U.S. concessions, including a handover
of the naval base at Guatanamo Bay.

U.S. engagement probably won't "work" in Cuba any more than isolation
did, and Cuba is not analogous to China, to which it's often compared.

There was no real alternative to trade and engagement with a
geopolitical giant such as China, human rights notwithstanding. Tiny,
impoverished But Cuba offers no strategic compensation for legitimizing
its dictatorship through business as usual — not even the agreement to
protect whitetip sharks and other marine life Washington and Havana so
excitedly unveiled.

"Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate
changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather
that, over time, you'd lay the predicates for substantial
transformation," Obama told Yahoo News.

He has all the time in the world to try his theory — before leaving
office a year from now.

Cubans are tired of waiting.

Charles Lane is a Washington Post columnist.

Source: A bad year for freedom in Cuba | TribLIVE -

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