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An article from the British weekly "The Economist", another one from the Miami Herald and a cartoon from the LA Times.




Repression in Cuba

Disappearing into a Caribbean gulag

Apr 10th 2003 | HAVANA
From The Economist print edition

Fidel Castro's regime feels threatened—by mounting domestic opposition as well as George Bush

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A FEW of them, such as Raúl Rivero, a poet and writer, and Martha Beatriz Roque, an economist, are well-known in human-rights circles abroad. But what is striking about the vast majority of the dissidents hauled before Cuba's summary courts over the past ten days is their seeming ordinariness. Of the 78 assorted democrats, independent journalists and human-rights campaigners rounded up by the security police last month, 49 live in the obscurity of the provinces.

That, of course, may be precisely why Fidel Castro's Communist government sees them as threatening. In just three weeks, Mr Castro has all but snuffed out the weak flame of opposition on the island. The detainees were hauled before courts surrounded by police and packed with government supporters, and from which foreign diplomats and journalists were barred. Accused of conspiring with American diplomats against Mr Castro's government and revolution, they were swiftly dispatched for jail terms averaging around 20 years. Since many of the dissidents are aged between 50 and 60, in practical terms they are being put away for life.

This sudden crackdown is a harsh reminder to Cubans that as long as Mr Castro is alive, any dreams of regime change will remain just that. But it also marks a new period in his 43-year rule. Ever since European communism's demise left his country isolated and in shambles, he has allowed token dissent as he searched for improved political and economic ties with the capitalist world. So what has prompted such heavy repression?

On the face of things, Cuba's small, isolated and harassed opposition movement is no match for a government that controls all the levers of power and enjoys a media monopoly. But Mr Castro clearly takes it seriously. At the trials, the government produced as witnesses eight security agents who had infiltrated opposition groups. That will sow suspicion among dissidents who remain free.

The best-known of these is Oswaldo Payá, who last year won the European Union's Sakharov human-rights prize. He heads the Varela Project, a petition drive seeking a referendum on democratic reform. At least 46 supporters of his Christian Liberation movement were among those arrested. As he stood outside Havana's main court this week, Mr Payá said that Mr Castro's aim was to shatter an opposition movement that had gained strength, unity and legitimacy. He promised to continue with his petition drive. With many of his grassroots organisers taken out, that may be hard.

According to senior Cuban officials, the crackdown was prompted not by the growth of domestic opposition but by the stance of President George Bush's administration. They say that Cuba's toleration of token dissent was a response to the Clinton administration: it was perceived to be unfriendly to Mr Castro's exiled foes in Miami, and saw dissidents as a means to rapprochement and peaceful change. By contrast, they argue, Mr Bush's government represents the most dangerous threat they have faced since the 1959 revolution. They say that over 30 Cuban-Americans, many of them Mr Castro's bitter foes who favour military action to overthrow him, now have government jobs in Washington.

In Havana, the United States is seen as fomenting internal opposition to create the conditions for intervention. A week before the crackdown, Mr Castro denounced James Cason, America's top diplomat in Cuba, as a “provocateur”. Mr Cason had met dissidents across the country, publicly backing them while attacking the regime, and allowed them to use the United States' Interests Section and his own residence for their meetings.

According to Mr Cason, the Bush administration will now consider further hardening its policy towards Cuba. The United States' Congress is unlikely to relax any further America's trade embargo against Cuba. Protests have come, too, from many of Cuba's main trading partners. Canada has protested at the severity of the sentences. Sweden said that Cuba has jeopardised its chances of joining the European Union's Cotonou trade pact.

But such protests are unlikely to be heeded. Cuba-watchers say that, in weighing important decisions, Mr Castro's first consideration is his political control of the country, and his second concern is his traditional foes in Washington and Miami. The reactions of his friends and economic partners in other parts of the world come a distant third.

From: http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=1699250

Copyright © 2003 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.



Posted on Sun, Apr. 13, 2003

Cuba's brutality an eye-opener for a new generation


For many young Cuban Americans who grew up in South Florida, the oppression, the mock justice, the summary executions that their parents and grandparents recall from Fidel Castro's dictatorship had become the lore of a hellish place that they had never known.

But now, for the first time in years, the Castro government is exhibiting the same type of behavior that drove their families into exile -- giving the younger generation a glimpse of modern-day oppression on the island.

It remains to be seen whether the crackdown on human-rights activists and executions of accused hijackers are enough to inspire them to carry on the anti-communist spirit of their elders. But at the very least, they say they see for themselves what the anti-Castro feeling is about.

''When you're young, the only opinions of dictatorships like Castro's are formed from what your parents and grandparents tell you,'' said Christy Fojo, 21, an English literature major at Florida International University. ``But when you see it happening now, it does open your eyes to the brutality going on there.''

In the past two months, as world attention has been focused on Iraq, Cuba has embarked on one of the biggest internal crackdowns since the 1960s, imprisoning about 80 human rights and pro-democracy activists after swift, secret trials. Sentences ranged from six years to life in prison.

Then on Friday, Cuba shocked South Florida -- and much of the nation -- when it announced the execution of three men who attempted to hijack a ferry in Havana last week to reach Florida. The men were arrested, tried in a secret proceeding and shot to death by a firing squad. The whole process took just over a week. Five others involved in the hijacking received stiff sentences.

Many Cuban exiles believe the men were just seeking freedom.

Yanelis Fernandez, 21, moved to Miami from Cuba when she was 7. For her, the news from Cuba today is more compelling, more immediate and more real than any stories she had heard from older generations.

''The young people, since they've lived here such a long time or were born here, they don't really care a lot about what's going on in Cuba,'' said Fernandez, a FIU student. ``But now we're seeing it with our own eyes -- it's not just stuff we're hearing from our parents.''

But a handful of the several Cuban-American students interviewed at Florida International University and the University of Miami on Saturday had not even heard of recent events on the island. Some of those interviewed cared. Some didn't. Some expressed outrage, others a sad, but detached lament of conditions on the island.

''I'm really indifferent or neutral about the whole thing,'' said Jennifer Landez, 25, a pre-med student from Jacksonville at the University of Miami. ``I guess we're just not exposed to it as much.''

Added Milko Dominguez, 25, a nursing major at UM: ``I don't think this is enough to get the younger generation to care.''

Jesus Arteaga, 30, came to the United States from Cuba in 1996. Now a business major at FIU, Arteaga is among young Cubans who believe the anti-Castro fight of the older exiles is dying among the young.

''The young are not carrying on the fight the old people started,'' Arteaga said. ``This generation doesn't seem to care as much. On one side, events like this open their eyes. On the other hand, they aren't keeping alive what their parents started.''

UM Professor Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute of Cuban and Cuban Americans Studies, said the younger generation of Cuban Americans is not necessarily more liberal than their parents, but they are less prone to be politically active.

''Their interest is in Cuban music, Cuban food, not as much as in Cuba as a political entity,'' Suchlicki said. ``They have other priorities and other views. The younger generation is more focused on their careers and their futures and so on.''

But news of the current wave of oppression may be just the thing to kick-start activist tendencies among an age group that many believe has forgotten about Cuba's problems.

''It gets me so mad I can barely speak about it,'' said Joaquin Prendes, 20, a computer engineering major at FIU. ``I don't think my generation is more liberal about Castro, but we are more open to compromises and getting the U.S. to engage and steer the Cuban government.''

Maabel Bacallao, 20, a psychology major at UM from Miami Lakes, said although she has heard countless stories of repression from her grandparents, it doesn't sink in until you hear that it's happening right now. And even then, it's hard to care.

''Since we weren't born there, we really don't know what it's like to be oppressed,'' Bacallao said. ``Even though we hear stories from our grandparents, and see things like that on the news, it's just not enough to know until you've lived it.

``We're lucky enough to live with the comforts and freedom of the United States.''


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