Monday, July 30, 2007

Raul no better, say Cuban dissidents

Raul no better, say Cuban dissidents
Web posted at: 7/30/2007 2:56:0
Source ::: AFP

HAVANA • One year after veteran revolutionary leader Fidel Castro handed
power to his younger brother Raul, (pictured) Cuban dissidents say it's
just more of the same in the communist-run Caribbean island.

"Under these totalitarian regimes, changes don't come because of the
natural death or illness of a leader," says anti-Castro activist
Vladimiro Roca.

Cuban exiles in Miami took to the streets to celebrate when the older
Castro announced he was stepping aside after undergoing intestinal
surgery in July last year, believing that Fidel's harsh 58 year rule had
come to an end.

But it turned out they danced prematurely on the bearded strongman's grave.

Fidel Castro, 80, is still convalescing, and his 76-year-old brother has
kept the Americas' only communist state intact.

When the elder Castro announced on July 31, 2006 he was provisionally
handing over to his brother, dissidents on the island kept a low
profile, waiting to see how the interim regime would deal with its

As the transition from one Castro to another went smoothly, dissidents
gradually started speaking out again and say repression has continued

"Everything remains the same, and I really don't see any change," says
economist Oscar Espinosa, who was jailed alongside 74 other dissidents
in 2003, but has since been released on health grounds.

Elizardo Sanchez, of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation, which is illegal but tolerated by authorities, says the
regime continues its "systematic and institutionalised violation" of

Opponents of the communist government acknowledge there are fewer
arrests, but say authorities are being more selective in targetting
critics. The number of political prisoners went down from 286 to 243
over the past six months.

Martha Beatriz Roque says she and other political prisoners released on
health grounds have faced constant harassment from authorities.

A number of dissidents did, however, welcome Raul Castro's offer of
dialogue with whoever the next US president will be, even if Washington
turned it down saying Cuba would first have to adopt democratic reforms.

"If the government wants to negotiate and hold dialogue, it could
practice with Cubans," said Manuel Cuesta, who is considered a moderate
opponent of the government.

In Miami, there is still a small number of hardline anti-Castro exiles
who believe the Cuban strongman is no longer of this world and that
authorities are covering up his death.

But many of those who celebrated what they thought was Castro's imminent
demise a year ago make no bones of their disappointment.

"It's as if the Jews at the time had thought Hitler was on his death bed
only to find out he wasn't," said Ninoska Perez Castellon, a radio host
and prominent anti-Castro activist in Miami.

But she insists Castro's foes have learned patience.

"If the Cuban community has waited 48 years we can wait a little longer."

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