Cuba’s Communist authorities denied Yoani Sánchez (right) the right to travel twenty times, but she has now arrived in the Czech Republic, Radio Praha’s Jan Richter reports:
Sánchez, who said she only knew Prague from the books of Milan Kundera, will attend the One World Festival of human rights documentaries and appear at a concert in support of Cuban artists, organized by the humanitarian Czech NGO People in Need,* which provides support for Cuban journalists and opposition activists.
But the dissident blogger warned that the partial relaxation of travel curbs did not signify a real shift in government policy.
“I don’t think that this is a sign of significant political change,” she said. “Instead, the government is trying to create the impression that Cuba is progressing and improving, that the country has begun to open up. The reality is that repression continues on the island [see videos below], and that human-rights and opposition activists continue to be violently oppressed.”
“I do hope that there will be change. But I don’t believe it could come from the government. Rather, the civic society, which has developed and acquired new tools such as technology, can push for a process of democratisation. That’s my hope.”
Cuban dissidents are equally skeptical that Raul Castro’s announcement that he will step down in 2018 will do more than re-allocate authority within the ruling elite. Castro’s appointed “dauphin,” Vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel, would be the first leader not to be a veteran of the Cuban revolution – assuming he ever takes office.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said analyst Brian Latell. “The record of the Cuban revolution is littered with the names of people who were thought to be No. 3 or 2 and all of them fell by the wayside, going back to Che Guevara.”
Diaz-Canel’s elevation is a sign of continuity rather than change, observers suggest.
“It confirms the gradualism of Raúl’s approach,” said Geoff Thale, program director for the Washington Office on Latin America, referring to Castro’s modest economic reforms. “I don’t think there’s any evidence that he is someone looking to bring rapid or dramatic change to Cuba’s political or economic system,” he tells the New York Times:
Raúl Castro has mostly praised [Diaz-Canel] for his hard work, and his “ideological firmness” — more than enough to attract the ire of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans who have already criticized him for being a Castro protégé. American officials have expressed skepticism, noting that the top-down selection of a new leader does not amount to democracy.
Mr. Díaz-Canel may in fact find himself on a lonely perch if he manages to seize the top job. He will be surrounded by pent-up demands for more significant change, but without the heft attributed to the Castros and the revolutionaries who fought with them.
“He will have to watch his back,” Mr. Latell said.
The ruling Communist party’s determination to retain its political monopoly explains why external actors need to keep up the pressure, and post-Communist states like the Czech Republic have a special role and responsibility, said Sánchez.
“The position of the Czech government towards the opposition – one of solidarity, collaboration and support, is very important at this moment,” she said. “It seems that for many, Cuban affairs are beginning to lose importance because many people believe that Cuba is changing. Maintaining the pressure is crucial.”
Sánchez arrived in Prague after a visit to Brazil, where she received a hostile reception from Leftist demonstrators, reportedly orchestrated by the Cuban regime, who on one occasion, “burst into an event at a bookstore, forcing organizers to cancel it,” the Wall Street Journal reports:
For many Brazilians, the headline-making attacks are a national embarrassment. In one dramatic scene in Bahia this week, the 71-year-old Brazilian Sen. Eduardo Suplicy put himself between an angry mob and Ms. Sánchez to protect her. “Have the courage to listen!” he shouted. They didn’t, and the event was canceled for safety reasons.
“Why are we talking so much about Cuba and Yoani Sánchez? Because this woman is living proof of the Castros’ unfulfilled promise of liberty, a promise that seduced and involved, from the start, some of the greatest intellects of our continent,” wrote O Estado de S. Paulo columnist Eugênio Bucci.
Sánchez noted that the demonstrators were exercising the rights to protests and free speech denied to Cuba’s people.
“I am a self-taught democrat. I believe in the plurality of ideas. But when it comes to verbal or physical violence, that’s no longer plurality, that’s fanaticism,” she said, explaining Latin America’s “illusion” about Cuba.
“There are young people attracted to the idea of revolution. And there are not so young people who can’t accept that the ideas they believed in are defunct, or for whom it is too late in life to say ‘I was wrong.’ ”
Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party has remained supportive of Cuba’s Communist dictatorship. Pro-democracy activists criticized then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when he suggested that hunger-striking dissidents were common criminals. Labor unionists have also highlighted Lula’s hypocrisy, recalling the international solidarity he received while struggling for the same democratic rights as a young union militant.
Brazil’s stance could backfire when Cuba becomes a democracy, said Sánchez.
“There’s been a lack of toughness or frankness [from Brazil] when it comes to talking about human rights on the island. I would recommend a more energetic position, because the people don’t forget,” she said.
Capitol Hill Cubans add: Last week, we posted a video of Cuban pro-democracy activists Rosario Morales la Rosa and Melkis Faure Echevarria courageously leading a protest in Havana’s Central Park, calling for an end to for the Castro regime’s repression. They were arrested pursuant to the protest.
A new video has surfaced showing the commotion caused by Castro’s police — simply due to a peaceful protest by two women in a park — and foreign tourists being arrested for unwittingly taking pictures. Ironically, only the images captured by a Cuban pro-democracy activist with a hidden camera saw the light of day.
The second video (above) shows 30 Ladies in White protesting at the bus terminal known as “La Coubre,” where they were purposefully stranded at 2 a.m. They were all thereafter violently beaten and arrested.