“Ten years after the ‘Black Spring’ arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents, some in the opposition perceive signs of greater openness while others see a regime that is merely changing tactics to improve its image,” AFP reports:“The human rights situation remains very unfavorable in Cuba, even though the government has taken a series of steps and introduced changes in order to improve its image,” activist Elizardo Sanchez told AFP:
Others take a more positive view, pointing to the government’s increasing tolerance for some political activities.
“If we consider that there is no legal opposition, then the situation has not changed at all, and yet many of these groups are still operating more or less publicly without a repeat of the sanctions of 2003, and that’s positive,” said Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana.
The Communist state’s human rights violations were under the spotlight this week, as the White House hosted dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, shortly after she met legislators on Capitol Hill.
“The United States looks forward to the day when all Cubans will have the opportunity to express themselves in public without fear and we will continue to support policies that encourage the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
Addressing students at Georgetown University, Sanchez called for great international solidarity with Cuba’s beleaguered democrats.
Each tweet sent by supporters “is a virtual protective shield for this activist,” Sanchez said. “The challenge is for this virtual Cuba to converge with the real Cuba.”
When the dissident Oswaldo Payá and fellow activist Harold Cepero were killed in a dubious car crash last July, Cubans heard of it via the “black market” of information channeled through new social media, said Sánchez, visiting Washington this week. Cubans feel that “the government seems to be hiding something” about the incident.
Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria Payá (left), last week presented a petition signed by 46 activists and political leaders from around the world to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, calling for an international and independent inquiry into Payá’s death.
“Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic, a leading figure in the human rights world, cannot go ignored by the international community,” said the appeal, organized by the UN Watch human rights NGO.
But some observers believe that is an unlikely prospect.
“Given the United Nations‘ historical indulgence of the Castro regime, it is not likely that it would ever conduct any investigation of the Paya affair,” says Jose R. Cardenas, a former acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“Sadly, it is more likely that the deaths of Paya and Cepero at the hands of Cuban state security will be quietly swept under the carpet,” he contends. “That’s because their deaths are mortal threats to the current propaganda campaign that Cuba under Raul Castro is ‘reforming,’ and that the United States should normalize relations with the country as a result.”
Arbitrariness characteristic of authoritarian rule
“Truth is not a currency well respected by Fidel and Raul Castro,” writes the Washington Post:
Ten years ago this month, they launched a crackdown known as the “Black Spring,” in which 75 dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists were imprisoned. The authorities also crushed the Varela Project, Mr. Payá’s 2002 petition drive for guarantees of freedom; many of his colleagues were jailed. But Mr. Payá was not imprisoned.
Ms. Sánchez reminded us that such arbitrariness is characteristic of authoritarianism.
“It is hard to think like a repressor, if you have never been one,” she said. “They have their own logic. One of the most paralyzing elements of the Cuban repression is its illogical nature.”
“Cuba has lately seen some economic reforms and liberalizations; one of them allowed Ms. Sánchez to travel freely abroad for the first time. But she told us the real change in Cuba today is not from the top but rather from below,” notes the Post.
“People are losing their fear, moving from silent to open, from wearing a mask to showing their real face in public,” she said.
Jose Daniel Ferrer, a member of the Group of 75 who was sentenced to 25 years but freed after the talks with the church, told AFP that although prison terms have grown shorter the arrests and convictions continue.
But another prominent member of the group, Hector Palacios, is more optimistic.
“I think a lot has been gained since (the Black Spring). It’s unthinkable that this kind of government could change overnight, but we are now much stronger and government is much weaker,” he told AFP.