When Orlando Zapata Tamayo became the first political prisoner to die in custody since Pedro Luis Boitel in 1972, the Castro regime was forced to deal with its latest international relations disaster. Rather than make amends, Raul and company decided to double down and tighten the screws a little more. The latest issue of the Cuba Europe Dialogues looks at a number of the individual cases of people caught up in this latest wave of repression.
Human Rights Watch’s Nik Steinberg and Daniel Wilkinson explore the vicious cycle of affairs in Cuba where dissidents often turn over time to the US for support after being systematically isolated and repressed by the Castro regime. Their reportage picks up where Human Right’s watches “New Castro, Same Cuba” left off in November of 2009 and leads to similar conclusions. One way forward could be the lifting of the US embargo, but it hardly changes what the reality of life is on the island.
Ondrej Nezbeda, from the Czech weekly magazine Respekt, looks at numerous people who have been forced to live in silence and on the margins in Cuba, including some of the main figures of independent media such as Dagoberto Valdes and Luis Felipe Rojas. His “report from a country where silence is feared” sheds light on the ways in which active members from civil society, especially those who are outside of Havana, has continued to be systematic and relentless.
There are articles dealing with the growing likelihood that Guillermo Fariñas could be the latest casualty of the repression; Laritza Diversent talks about the experience of having to endure her first acto de repudio; current conditions for political prisoners, as well as the latest semi-annual human rights report. On the one hand, all of this paints a pretty bleak picture, but it also show the tremendous resilience of the Cuban people and the fact that no matter how hard the Castro regime tries to stifle dissent – the opposition never seems to go away.
Another way of looking at the irony of all of this is the case of Alan P. Gross, a US development worker who has been languishing in a Cuba prison since December 5th, mainly to ensure that the Obama administration doesn’t have any real chance of changing bilateral relations between the US and Cuba. The executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba looks at the further irony that while Alan Gross is dealing with the prospect of indefinite detention, two well know Cuban artists have recently been given permission to travel to the US. In some ways, it has more to do with the fact that even though the Cold War ended nearly 20 years ago for the rest of the world, Cuba’s leadership – who average age is over 73 – has been living in a bubble for so long they can’t imagine what life would be like any other way.
That being said, if Raul and Fidel continue to tighten the screws something will eventually have to give, which might explain why they recently decided to allow the Damas de Blanco to march again or for the case against Dania Virgen Garcia to be thrown out. It would be wrong to think that these instances are pointing to something changing in the near future, but it does at least indicate that the regime knows that it needs to improve its image for the time being.
This issue is dedicated to Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s ultimate sacrifice, in the hope that no one in Cuba or elsewhere ever has to go to such extremes to simply be heard.