Cuba-US detente upends life for Cuban dissidents
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
HAVANA (AP) — President Barack Obama told the world this month that
engaging Cuba is the best way to strengthen people pushing for greater
freedom on the island.
Less than two weeks after it was announced, the U.S.-Cuba detente is
upending the civil society Obama hopes to strengthen. The prospect of
engagement between the two Cold War antagonists seems to be undercutting
the island's hard-line dissidents while boosting more moderate reformers
who want to push President Raul Castro gradually toward granting
citizens more liberties.
The traditional dissidents say they feel betrayed by a new U.S. policy
of negotiation with a government that Washington and the U.S.-backed
opponents worked for decades to undermine. They say they fear that
detente serves the Castro administration's aspiration of following China
and Vietnam by improving the economy without conceding citizens
significantly greater freedoms.
"I think President Obama made a mistake," said Berta Soler, head of the
Ladies in White, Cuba's best-known dissident group. "Cuba won't change
while the Castros are around. There will be positive changes for the
government of Cuba, but not for the Cuban people."
Moderates say the new balance of power inside the small, fractious world
of Cuba's opposition will produce political change by offering Castro a
type of engagement that's harder to reject: a negotiated, more
controlled opening meant to avoid the sort of disorderly transition that
scarred the former Soviet Union and, more recently, the countries of the
"Destabilization, disorder, anarchy, that's never been on the agenda in
the minds of Cubans, and whoever has this agenda isn't going to be able
to find space," said Eliezer Avila, a 29-year-old computer engineer who
leads We Are More, a small, year-old opposition group pushing for
economic reform and political pluralism.
What's unknown is whether the Cuban government will engage with the
newly energized, more moderate members of civil society, or continue to
sharply limit free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of
association as threats to the country's single-party system. Raul Castro
told Cuba's National Assembly Dec. 20 that warmer relations with the
U.S. would not change the system.
A major test will come during April's Summit of the Americas in Panama,
a gathering of Western Hemispheric leaders where Obama and Raul Castro
are expected to meet. A forum including figures from civil society
inside Cuba is to be organized on the sidelines, and seems likely to
spawn debate between the U.S. and Cuba, and among reformers from the island.
"There will be some negotiations or discussions behind the scenes as to
who gets invited, I would imagine," said Richard Feinberg, a specialist
in U.S.-Cuban relations at the University of California, San Diego.
Reform-minded Cubans have already begun testing the boundaries of free
speech and association under the new relationship. Expatriate artist
Tania Bruguera returned to Cuba Friday to organize a pro-reform
performance piece Tuesday in the Plaza of the Revolution, the symbolic
center of the Cuban government.
Bruguera was meeting with government officials Monday to request
permission for the event. But Bruguera has said she will go ahead even
without it, setting up a potential confrontation between young backers
of the event and government supporters who consider it an affront to
Pro-government bloggers have been attacking Bruguera on blogs and
Twitter since her arrival. Around midday Monday, Cuban cellphones
received mysterious messages from a Florida area code offering cheap
beer to those at the plaza around the time of Bruguera's event, which
will feature an open microphone for anyone wanting to discuss their
complaints and aspirations for Cuba's future.
Source: Cuba-US detente upends life for Cuban dissidents - Yahoo News -