The old expression “the more things change the more they stay the same” could hardly be more apropos to Cuba since Raul Castro took over from his more infamous brother. The hope that things were on the verge of changing quickly have long since faded since Raul’s launched a propaganda blitz and a clutch of minor reforms. Instead, human rights violations are on the rise, shortages of basic necessities are becoming more common, and new political prisoners are finding themselves staring at lengthy sentences in the Cuban prison system for dissent.
None of this should really come as a surprise considering Raul has spent more than fifty years as the head of the Cuban military and has surrounded himself with the remaining historicos rather than reformers. There may not have been any new high-level purges since Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque were pushed out last March, but the Communist Party Congress was postponed in July and Cuban politics seem stuck in a familiar holding pattern.
There are a host of reasons why.
First of all, the financial crisis pushed Cuba off of most countries list of priorities and further exposed the weakness of the Cuban economy. Second, the US and Europe have been more focused on Iran and the issue of nuclear proliferation, rather than trying to end a fifty year old shoving match. And lastly, Raul Castro has realized that he has more to gain by not drawing attention to the problems on the island, than trying to directly challenge the relatively new Obama administration.
All and all, it would seem as if the waiting game has continued to work in the government of Cuba’s favor. None of the most high level diplomats to visit the island, the EU’s External Commission for Foreign Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner in July, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in August and Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos in October, visited members of independent Cuban civil society or the families of political prisoners. And little international pressure was brought to bear on the Castro regime after the recent arrests of Pastor Omar Gude Perez, Alexei Perez and Doctor Darsi Ferrer Ramirez. Sadly, this all sounds too familiar.
This issue of the Cuba Europe Dialogues looks at what all of this backsliding actually looks like on the island. We are reprinting a letter that Vaclav Havel sent to Darsi Ferrer’s wife Yusnaimy Jorge Soca expressing support for her in this time of need. Maria Werlau, the director of the Cuban Archive, contributes an article about how the recent imprisonments are actually part of a much longer pattern and sheds light on the numerous lesser known or undocumented victims of the Castro regime over the last five decades. Respected economist Joaquin Pujol provides an in depth analysis of the current state of the Cuban economy, which paints a less than rosy picture about its prospects. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists reports on the current work of Cuban bloggers on the island and the considerable challenges that they face. In addition, People in Need is releasing its latest semi-annual human rights report compiled from human rights defenders and legal groups in Cuba and other poignant articles.
Even as other countries in Latin America have learned to use democracy towards authoritarian ends, Cuba has kept playing from the same old Cold War playbook. Raul Castro has made it clear that he has no intention of being the next Mikhail Gorbachev or of implementing a Cuban version of glasnost or perestroika. Whether or not he succeeds in holding off the inevitable remains to be seen, but Raul, Fidel and the historicos certainly aren’t getting any younger.