Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cuba's marginal gesture

Washington Post
July 9, 2010

Cuba has pledged to let 52 of its prisoners of conscience go. We hope their release happens, and soon. But there should be no illusions that this gesture augurs fundamental political change on the island that the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, have ruled with an iron fist since 1959. The Castro regime has a long history of tactical human rights concessions -- with the goal of buying time for the regime rather than reforming it. This release would appear to fit the pattern.

Always impoverished and unfree, revolutionary Cuba is in extra-bad shape now. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the usually discreet archbishop of Havana, recently warned of "a difficult situation" that calls for "quick" changes by the government lest "impatience and ill will" spread. The state-run economy is reeling: Tourism and mineral exports are down, foreign debt is up, and Venezuela is decreasingly able to help because of its own colossal mismanagement. Meanwhile, Cuba's dissidents are gaining in daring and prestige -- domestically and internationally. The death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a 75-day hunger strike, as well as the attacks of government-backed mobs on peaceful demonstrations by wives and mothers of political prisoners, earned global condemnation and set back Spain's efforts to relax the European Union's policy linking economic aid with human rights progress. Dissident Guillermo Farinas is near death on a hunger strike of his own, demanding freedom for 25 political prisoners who are sick.