Despite deal with Obama, Cuba still cracking down on dissidents
Nineteen-year-old twin brothers Bianco and Diango Vargas Martin were turned out of a Cuban prison last week. They are two of 53 dissidents released by the government of Raul Castro as part of an agreement with the Obama administration for “normalized” relations between Washington and Havana.
“We welcome this very positive development,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, “and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment.”
Well, we, too, welcome the release of the 53 Cuban political prisoners, while at the same time noting that the Obama administration actually presented a longer list during its secret negotiations with Havana before settling for the 53 detainees the communists grudgingly agreed to set free.
We also note that that the fortunate 53 were not released unconditionally. For instance, the brothers Vargas, sentenced to two and a half years in prison for membership in a peaceful opposition group, Unión Patriótica de Cuba, may not travel beyond their province and must regularly report to Cuban authorities.
And that’s not the only condition faced by the 53. In an appearance Monday on “CBS This Morning,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, said that all the releasees were warned “that if they take up the cause of democracy, they’ll be right back in jail.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has certain misgivings about the Castro regime’s bow to Washington.
Erika Guevara Rosas, the organization’s Director for the Americas, pointed to “incredibly worrying reports about a rise in harassment and short-term detentions of dissidents throughout 2014, which have continued in recent weeks.”
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported last week there were 8,899 short-term detentions of dissidents and activists in 2014, up from 6,424 in 2013. And the harassment and short-term detentions continue in 2015.
On New Year’s Day, Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera was arrested – the third time in two days – for attempting an “open mike” performance in Havana’s Revolution Square in which members of the public would be invited to express themselves for one minute each. In addition to the artist, another several dozen activists and dissidents were similarly rounded up by Cuban state security.
Despite her arrest, Ms. Bruguera supports diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. But, as demonstrated by her unjust detention, the despotic Castro regime still has far to go before earning such status.