Cuba ‘has given little, gained a lot’

cubaPayá_&_Cepero_II_Aniversario_SMALL_02The 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.

“I want to see who they blame now for the economic collapse and lack of freedoms that we have in Cuba,” dissident activist Yoani Sanchez wrote on Twitter.cubayoani

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:

cubayoanipicThere 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.

cubazuela“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.”

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Supporting democracy should be US Asia strategy

asiaCFRdemocraticregression_lrgWhen the people of East Asia care enough to demand more accountability, transparency, and respect of the fundamental human rights as stated in the international agreements their very governments have signed, it is morally right for the United States and our allies to stand by their side, says Scott Bates, President of the Center for National Policy based in Washington, D.C.

When democracy builds and becomes the norm and expectation in Asia as opposed to the “Beijing Way” of authoritarian political control, it is strategically smart for America. Hard-earned experience has taught us that in places where respect for human rights and the rule of law within democratic structures takes root, peace and prosperity are soon to follow, he writes for The Diplomat:

There are clear examples of the Asian future that the United States should stand by and actively support. Japan embraced democracy wholeheartedly after the end of American occupation. South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan all emerged from decades of authoritarian rule to bloom into nations with open democratic systems where citizens have a voice. They have systems that respect and protect the human rights of their citizens as well as the rule of law.

In much of Asia however, ruling elites are looking to see which way the winds of change are blowing before agreeing to open the door to democracy.  Burma has begun a process of reform, but the road is very slow and a true transition to democracy is far from assured.  What message is sent to Burma’s leaders when they see how authorities were able to crush the democracy movement in Hong Kong? In May, Thailand experienced the second overthrow of its elected representatives by anti-democratic and violent means in less than a decade.  What lessons do the new rulers in Bangkok take away from the suppression of the protestors in Hong Kong?


Scott Bates has worked on democracy assistance missions in ten nations and taught International Human Rights Law at the University of Indiana-Indianapolis School of Law. He is President of the Center for National Policy based in Washington, D.C.


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Gautam Adhikari discovers a liberal space

adhikariThe former Times of India Executive Editor Gautam Adhikari has joined the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress. As a Senior Fellow, he will work with other researchers and policy experts to provide expert insight into U.S.-India relations and CAP’s work with progressives around the world.

“Gautam has been a strong voice for progressive policies and values and a strong advocate of the U.S.-India relationship since the 1990s,” said CAP Vice President for National Security and International Policy Vikram Singh. “We could not be more pleased to have Gautam contributing to our India: 2020 program and our Global Progress initiative.”

Adhikari joins CAP’s India: 2020 project, an initiative focused on elevating the foreign policy debates in South Asia by looking at the short- and long-term U.S. policy priorities and analyzing the gap that exists between the current realities and hopes for the U.S.-India relationship. He is the founding editor of Mumbai’s Daily News & Analysis, or DNA, and has held several academic and public policy fellowships, including serving as a resident fellow and adjunct lecturer in public policy at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, a J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro fellow at George Washington University and senior resident fellow at the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Adhikari has published widely in the popular and academic press. His books include The Intolerant Indian: Why We Must Rediscover a Liberal Space; India: The First 50 Years; and Conflict and Civilisation.

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Hard-Pressed: Central and Eastern Europe’s media

transitionsonlineThe fall of communism brought with it expectations of an unfettered press safeguarding the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. But for the region’s media, the past quarter-century has turned out to be much less uplifting.

hard pressedFrom oligarch-controlled television stations to politically partisan newspapers, from woeful ethical standards to outright corruption, the media often fall far short of acting as independent watchdogs over their societies, despite the existence of some scrappy publications and feisty reporters willing to uncover official wrongdoing and expose poor governance. If that weren’t enough, the region’s press has been hit hard by the same trends transforming the media around the world, including an explosion of alternative forms of entertainment, the growth of social media, decreased advertising revenues associated with the rise of the Internet, and general economic malaise.

Hard-Pressed: a quarter-century of Central and Eastern Europe’s media under the pressures of autocracy, corruption, and capitalism, an e-book  from Transitions (TOL) is a compilation of articles tracing this halting transition over the past 20 years.   It is available on Amazon. Proceeds will contribute to further developing TOL’s content and journalism projects.

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Civil Society Engagement in Zimbabwe 

agwagwazIn the aftermath of the 2013 elections, which confirmed Robert Mugabe’s grip on power and shut out the highly divided opposition, Zimbabwean civil society has been struggling to find relevance. The unified social forces that gave rise to the democratization agenda in 1999 are severely depleted, and the impetus for reform ran its course with the adoption of a new constitution. Formal organized labor is no longer in existence, the Movement for Democratic Change and civil society organizations (CSOs) trade blame for the failure of the democratic project. For CSOs, the primary question is how they can best engage with one another and other actors in the current state of predatory rule.

In his presentation, Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Arthur Gwagwa will evaluate CSOs’ democracy work both in collaboration with and outside of political party structures, and the ways in which this work has either resisted or perpetuated authoritarianism. He will offer recommendations for continued domestic engagement and strategies for enhancing international support of Zimbabwean democracy.

Arthur Gwagwa is a human rights attorney who heads the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, based in London. In the nineties, he was among the first lawyers to offer pro bono representation to victims of rights violations through the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights network. In 2002, he went into exile in the United Kingdom, when his work representing the politically persecuted and dispossessed brought him to the adverse attention of the authorities. While based in the United Kingdom, Mr. Gwagwa has represented refugees at the Refugee Legal Centre and has continued advancing the cause of human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. During his fellowship, he is working on a policy document on how enhancing civil society engagement can strengthen democratic culture and electoral integrity in Zimbabwe.

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy

cordially invites you to a presentation entitled

 How Civil Society Engagement Can Strengthen Democracy in Zimbabwe


Arthur Gwagwa

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

with comments by

Jeffrey Smith

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

moderated by

Zerxes Spencer

International Forum for Democratic Studies

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 3:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m.  1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675 RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Friday, January 9


Livestream of the event will be available here.

Twitter: Follow @ThinkDemocracy and use #NEDEvents to join the conversation.

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