“Change is the latest news to come out of Cuba, though for Afro-Cubans like myself, this is more dream than reality, writes Roberto Zurbano, the editor of Casa de las Americas:
Over the last decade, scores of ridiculous prohibitions for Cubans living on the island have been eliminated, among them sleeping at a hotel, buying a cellphone, selling a house or car and traveling abroad. These gestures have been celebrated as signs of openness and reform, though they are really nothing more than efforts to make life more normal.
“The reality is that in Cuba, your experience of these changes depends on your skin color,” he writes for The New York Times:
Black Cubans have less property and money, and also have to contend with pervasive racism. Not long ago it was common for hotel managers, for example, to hire only white staff members, so as not to offend the supposed sensibilities of their European clientele.
That type of blatant racism has become less socially acceptable, but blacks are still woefully underrepresented in tourism — probably the economy’s most lucrative sector — and are far less likely than whites to own their own businesses.
“Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn’t talked about,” says Zurbano.
But civil society groups like the Afro-Cuban Alliance are striving to promote discussion and analysis of racial issues, while Afro-Cuban activists like Oscar Biscet and Jorge Luis García Pérez* (above), commonly known as “Antúnez,” are also assuming more prominent leadership roles in the island’s dissident movement.
“The end of the Castros’ rule will mean an end to an era in Cuban politics,” Zurbano notes:
It is unrealistic to hope for a black president, given the insufficient racial consciousness on the island. But by the time Raúl Castro leaves office, Cuba will be a very different place. We can only hope that women, blacks and young people will be able to help guide the nation toward greater equality of opportunity and the achievement of full citizenship for Cubans of all colors.
*Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez (aka “Antúnez”) was one of five Cuban dissidents honored by the National Endowment for Democracy., the Washington-based democracy assistance group. Addressing the meeting by phone from central Cuba, he accepted the NED’s 2009 Democracy Award as an indication of the “prestige and recognition which the political opposition has gained.”
A divergence of interests between the emerging powers known as the BRICS is complicating Beijing’s efforts to form an alternative axis to counter Western democracies’ influence, says a leading analyst.
“Given the leverage that China enjoys in BRICS, it should come as no surprise that Beijing has suggested that IBSA – the grouping of democracies India, Brazil and South Africa – be shut down in favor of BRICS,” says Harsh V. Pant, who teaches at King’s College, London.
“China’s power makes the other members nervous, leading them to hedge bets by investing in alternative alliances and partnerships even as China’s rapid accretion of economic and political power adds to its own challenges to make friends,” and there are also tensions between the two leading autocratic powers, he writes for Yale Global Online:
Russia and China are united in their aversion to a US-led global political order, but elite distrust of each other remains. Though they coordinate in trying to scuttle western policies, ….the partnership is one of convenience. Russia’s failure to develop its Far East has allowed China to gain a toehold in this strategic region and allowed Beijing to define the Asian security landscape. … China could emerge as the greatest potential security threat to Russia.
“There’s a long history of this kind of ambitious rhetoric coming from the two countries, and it usually doesn’t amount to much,” Walter Russell Mead writes on The American Interest:
The Soviet Union and Mao’s China famously couldn’t make things work. And more recent history is littered with initiatives, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which were supposed to herald a new era of Sino-Russian cooperation but in fact have made little difference to world affairs.
The SCO has been described as “the most dangerous organization that the American people have never heard of,” an authoritarian international for Eurasia’s illiberal regimes, and “one of those international bodies whose proclaimed ideals conceal an often sordid reality.”
The SCO’s approach to counter-terrorism is modeled on China’s Three Evils doctrine for combating terrorism, extremism and separatism, which, as one study notes, this has “too often acted as cover for suppression of ….legitimate opposition groups and the cutting-off of trans-regional ties between them.” The Beijing/SCO focus on territorial integrity, non-interference, and social stability “contributes to supporting repressive regimes at the expense of national, regional, and global human rights,” according to a whitepaper from Human Rights in China, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.
“The fascination with BRICS is partly an offshoot of the discussion on the emerging so-called post-American world. Many commentators argue multipolarity is likely to be the norm,” Pant argues:
Even if the BRICS get their economic act together, the grouping will find it difficult to turn that strength into a unified political force. China’s dominance makes most of the goals articulated by the BRICS states wobbly. The point of this coalition was always to show that the balance of power is shifting toward emerging countries, away from the West’s historical dominance. But a multipolar world isn’t the same as China just trying to tilt the balance of power toward itself.
“The narrative surrounding the rise of BRICS is as exaggerated as that of decline for the US,” Pant concludes. “BRICS will remain an artificial construct, merely an acronym coined by an investment banking analyst, for some time to come.”
Religious radicals, right-wing politicians and some elements in the security services are increasingly harassing non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights workers and other civil society groups, even as Pakistan enters into a delicate political phase with polls imminent, writes author Ahmed Rashid:
The space for NGOs and civil society workers appears to be shrinking as they receive threats, several have been killed and others forced to go into hiding. There appears to be less protection for NGO workers at a time they are badly needed as the state fails to carry out basic functions such as education and health care.
Malala Yousafzai, the girls’ education advocate who was shot in the head by Pakistani Taliban, is an international celebrity, but it is still not safe for her to return home. Other rights activists are aso coming under attack, he notes:
Asma Jahangir (right), the country’s leading human rights lawyer and women’s rights advocate, has been forced to respond to a campaign launched by right-wing politicians such as Imran Khan and religious leaders who have called her unsuitable to become the caretaker prime minister when parliament is dissolved. …..On 6 February she delivered a blistering rebuttal to Imran Khan, describing his statement against her as “illogical but also vicious”, saying that he seems to be acting on the cue of the “establishment” which is shorthand for the army.
Farida Afridi, a prominent activist working with tribal women in KP province, was shot dead in July 2012. In January 2013 gunmen shot dead seven aid workers including six women working with “Support with Working Solutions”, a local NGO in KP province. The culprits have not been found.
If elections are held as expected in the next few months, “civil society groups are expected to be at the forefront of monitoring the polls, as they have done for past elections,” writes Rashid.
“However, the lack of protection for NGOs, the inability or refusal of the state machinery to protect them and the growing intolerance of their neutral stance is dismaying many.”