“There is something irreversible happening,” in Cuba, says dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez. “And that is the need people have to express themselves.”
Her comments coincide with demands that the United Nations investigate the suspicious death of rights advocate Oswaldo Paya and that the European Union support Cuban democrats.
Paya’s daughter, Rosa Maria Paya (right) today handed over a petition to the UN Human Rights Council, calling on UN head Ban Ki-moon and his human rights chief Navi Pillay to launch “an international and independent investigation” into his death.
“They say that my father died in a car accident, but we have confirmed … that they were actually crashed into and run off the road by another vehicle,” she told reporters in Geneva.
“Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic … cannot go ignored by the international community,” read the petition, signed by 46 politicians, parliamentarians and human rights activists from around the world.
Cuban officials tried to block her speech, according to the human rights group, UN Watch, which organized the petition.
“A well-known Cuban dissident urged support from Europe on Tuesday for her group advocating democracy in Cuba, and wasn’t fazed when protesters disrupted her first appearance abroad by unfurling a pro-government banner and yelling that she was lying about harsh conditions for citizens of the island nation,” AP reports:
Berta Soler (left), the most prominent member of the Ladies in White group, told the audience that she welcomed the demonstration, similar to a protest in Brazil last month when pro-Cuba protesters halted an event featuring prominent Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.
“What has happened is normal because we are in a country where democracy and liberty exist. If they want to talk, let them talk,” Soler said to applause from an audience that shouted “Cuba Yes!, Castro No!” in response.
“Repression has worsened” in Cuba and the regime is acting “with impunity in the streets, is beating us, is dragging us away, is taking us to jail,” she said.
Soler is in Europe to accept the EU’s Sakharov human rights award. She said that small amounts of the €50,000 ($65,000) cash prize will be transferred periodically to Cuba to support the Ladies in White.
Her Twitter followers increased by 35,000 after she arrived in Brazil, where pro-Castro protesters met her at an airport and then broke into a film screening she was attending, forcing the organizers to cancel… The Brazilian press later revealed that a Cuban official had met with pro-Castro groups and passed out dossiers on Sanchez…. In televised reports of the protests, Sanchez spoke with calm, a slightly bemused look on her face as demonstrators shouted her down. In the end, she went to Brasilia and addressed the country’s congress.
“They were small but very noisy groups that shouted the same insults Cuban propaganda uses, that I’m a mercenary, a traitor, anti-fatherland, anti-Cuban, all the usual lexicon,” she said.
“I very much like the plurality of ideas and wish it was like this in my country.”
Frank Calzon, who directs the Center for a Free Cuba, said Sanchez obsesses the regime because she writes in a vivid, engaging style and because she has mastered technology that dictators fear.
“After 50 years of controlling what Cubans read and what they wrote and even whom they could hate, here’s a woman speaking her own mind,” Calzon said.
It is a sad reflection on Cuba’s sclerotic regime that it has grown dependent on Venezuelan subsidies, said Sanchez.
“I lament that the life of a nation depends so much on the death of one man,” she said. “I feel that the political absence of Hugo Chavez will, without a doubt, influence the national destiny.”
Hugo Chavez’ passing should serve as “a reminder to the Castro brothers that power is ephemeral,” according to two prominent commentators.
Living conditions are bad, the economy survives only at the mercy of Venezuela. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in its 2012 a report on Cuba, speaks of “permanent and systematical violations of the fundamental rights of Cuban citizens.” Ironically, however while the Cuban people suffer, the regime is internationally stronger than ever.
“Cuban society is fractured, with the supporters of the regime and those who reject it altogether representing approximately 25-30 percent each. It is however the remaining silent 40-50 percent that can make transition a success or a disaster,” they write for the Huffington Post.
“To understand today’s Cuba, one must better study the history of communist Eastern Europe, rather than that of Latin America. The resemblance is striking,” they contend:
The inner workings of the regime are similar to the more conservative countries of the former communist bloc in 1989. …..Halfhearted, thus unsuccessful economic reforms, the total control of the media, isolating the population from the world, harassment of the political opposition and the communist elite clinging to power. At the same time a disenchanted population, including a big part of the party membership, the majority of which does not any longer believe in the ideology or the future of the system. It is more like East Germany or Romania, rather than Hungary or Poland of the day.
“We now know how difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy was, in Spain, in Eastern Europe or South Africa. There are valuable lessons learned, Cuba need not repeat the mistakes of others,” say Simonyi, Managing Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, Washington D.C. , and Otero, a former Ambassador of Bolivia to the US:
It is easy to erect institutions of democracy, create a free press, a free and independent judiciary. It is far more difficult to guard these institutions. Beware of populism, smart and attractive, but equally dangerous leaders. It is now also understood, that success of change hinges on economic success. The wider population will embrace democracy only if it associates more freedom with a better life. For a country without natural resources the only source they can exploit, it the smartness of its people. Only full-fledged democracy can ensure the frameworks for that.