The U.S. will continue to press for democracy in Cuba, President Barack Obama insists. But the daughter of a well-known Cuban dissident who died under mysterious circumstances two years ago believes that the Cuban people “are being ignored” in the new shift in U.S. policy which also ignores the abuses of Cuba’s ally Venezuela, Buzzfeed reports:
“The government of Obama is in some way rewarding the Cuban government for the release of the hostage,” said Rosa María Payá, the daughter of Oswaldo Payá. Payá was a Cuban activist who opposed the Castro regime and won the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for his petition calling for free multiparty elections. “There is something paradoxical about this. The Obama administration has right now on [Obama’s] desk the deal passed in the Congress asking for sanctions against the Venezuelan government. And the Venezuelan government is very influenced by the Cuban government.”
Other observers suggest that if the embargo is to disappear, so should Cuba’s dictatorship.
Raul Castro, 83, has said he will step down in 2018. His ailing older brother is 88 and virtually absent from public life, The Washington Post reports:
Miguel Diaz-Canal, the 54-year-old vice president who would be in line to replace him, remains very much in the shadow of the Castros and their circle of aging army generals ….But if tensions with the United States ease, Cubans will increasingly look inward at the shortcomings of their anachronistic system and Soviet-style planned economy.
But other Cuban dissidents are more critical of a deal which threatens to bolster the regime.
“For a government that denies economic freedom and property rights it seems clear that the changes proposed will first benefit the state apparatus,” said Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union dissident group in Santiago, the island’s second largest city. “Only in the medium or long term will we know the effect on the Cuban people.”
The deal was also a major propaganda boost for the ruling Communist Party.
“Getting the rest of the Cuban Five back has been a huge priority for Raúl Castro,” Julia Sweig, director of Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Slate:
There are two more looming factors guiding Raúl Castro’s thinking. One is that the 83-year-old leader plans to step down in 2018, meaning the country will not be governed by a Castro brother for the first time since 1959. ……
“I do think that they’re trying to lay the groundwork for a process of change in which they can keep their scalps and guide the country toward a more sustainable political system,” Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director and chairman of the Cuba Working Group at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, told Slate:
The other big factor at play here is the turmoil in Venezuela. The South American nation threw the tottering Cuban economy a lifeline during the regime of Hugo Chávez, providing the island with 100,000 barrels of oil per day. Today, in the aftermath of Chávez’s death and bruised by political turmoil and the plummeting price of oil, Venezuela’s economy is in chaos and the government is on the verge of defaulting on its debt.
“You don’t need to be a capitalist to realize that Venezuela’s economy is in very dire straits,” said Sabatini, a former Latin America program director at the National Endowment for Democracy. “It’s getting worse literally by the day. So they’re going to lose that benefactor.”
The deal is a triumph of ideology over interests, according to Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“It is a fallacy that Cuba will reform just because the American President believes that if he extends his hand in peace that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “A majority of democratic activists on the island, including many that I have met with, have been explicit that they want the U.S. to become open to Cuba only when there is reciprocal movement by the Castro government. They understand that the Castros will not accede to change in any other way,” he added:
Today’s policy announcement is misguided and fails to understand the nature of the regime in Cuba that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for 55 years. No one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom. In November, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights & National Reconciliation (CCHR) documented 398 political arrests by the Castro regime. This brings the total number of political arrests during the first eleven months of this year to 8,410. This is a regime that imprisoned an American citizen for five years for distributing communications equipment on the island.
“In the medium and long term, this is a challenge for the Cuban system, because it undermines the climate of hostility that has long been used to justify one-party state,” said Arturo Lopez Levy, a former Cuban government analyst who now teaches at NYU.
No fundamental change has been made by Raul Castro in the effort to control expression of dissent in society in general. He is gaining quite a lot without yet making much change, a leading democracy advocate tells Deutsche Welle.
“Perhaps people in Cuba will get access to more information and freedom ,” says Mark P. Lagon, the incoming president of Freedom House. “But it is incumbent upon the United States to use a heightened diplomatic engagement with Cuba to press for basic freedoms there. This may give the Castro brothers a lifeline to continue in power and that would not be a good thing.”