Despite Raúl Castro’s reforms, Cuba still source of oppression
Despite Raúl Castro's reforms, Cuba still source of oppression
June 5, 2008
By G. Philip Hughes and J. Paul Johnson
The human rights focus in the May 21 observance of Cuba Solidarity Day
was very apposite — but also a little ironic. In February, Cuba signed
two UN human rights covenants: The Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights. Soon thereafter, Raúl Castro announced several much-publicized
reforms: permitting Cubans to buy DVDs, cell phones and computers
(without Internet); and permitting Cubans to stay in formerly off-limits
tourist hotels. In two years' time, Cubans will be permitted to buy
small kitchen appliances.
But will Raúl Castro's government live up to the new human rights
commitments his government has assumed? Do Raúl's latest gestures signal
what some have called Raulistroika or a Havana-style glasnost? We doubt it.
New covenants and tepid reforms aside, Cubans still live under the same
repressive tyranny they've endured for the last 49 years, and the
regime's instinctive reactions to the slightest protest betray its
future intentions. Consider a recent case. The "Ladies in White" — wives
and relatives of the opposition figures Fidel rounded-up in 2003 — were
staging a peaceful sit-in-type demonstration beside Havana's Revolution
Square on April 21, appealing for their relatives' release, when they
were dragged away and beaten by Raúl's security forces.
Do rising DVD sales figures in Cuba or bookings for Cubans at resort
hotels signal real reform? Or would the release of some, or all, of the
nearly 300 political prisoners still being held in the Castro brothers'
jails be a better indicator? Wouldn't manifest respect for the rights of
peaceful assembly, privacy, freedom of religion, freedom to leave a
country, and equal protection before the law and other rights guaranteed
by the newly-signed CPPR constitute more solid proof of real reform?
But while Raúl's latest "reforms" may not exactly qualify as
Havana-style glasnost and perestroika, Raúl may yet follow in the
footsteps of former Soviet President Gorbachev. Gorbachev's reforms
sought to make Communism more efficient, competitive and long-lived by
tinkering with a few of its more repressive, irrational features —
substituting price mechanisms for direct planning allocations;
encouraging managers to dissent and discuss instead of blindly obeying
directives, etc. He certainly wasn't out to topple it. But weakening or
removing key building blocks from the edifice of lies and repression
caused the whole Soviet system to become fatally unstable. Raúl's
cosmetic reforms possess a similar "tinkering" quality — and the same
essentially preservative motivation. The most interesting question is
not whether Raúl's "tinkering" reforms merit a change of U.S. policy as
a response — they don't — but whether Raúl's approach will lead
ultimately to Soviet-style results.
While we're waiting for the answer, the Cuba Solidarity Day events held
in 30 countries worldwide will hopefully help remind Cuba's political
prisoners and their families that they are not alone as they quest for
freedom — even while Cuba's other citizens must wait another two years
for the privilege of buying small kitchen appliances.
Ambassador G. Philip Hughes is a senior director at the White House
Writers Group and was executive secretary of the National Security
Council. J. Paul Johnson, J.D., is an associate at the White House
Writers Group and has been advisor to the Centro de Estudios Americanos.