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Posted March 19, 2007 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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The wives of several dozen political prisoners still don white each Sunday to march silently for their husbands’ release, and a leading human rights group still issues its twice-yearly report on prisoners of conscience.

But eight months after Fidel Castro fell ill and four years after a broad crackdown on dissent, Cuba’s organized opposition generally has been much quieter as it waits to see how the island’s political situation develops.

“Cuba is a country in waiting,” said veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez. “What’s going to happen with El Comandante? What’s going to happen afterward?

“If all of the population is waiting, the dissidents have no reason to be running back and forth,” added Sanchez, whose Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation issues the list of political prisoners every six months.

Since Castro announced July 31 he had undergone intestinal surgery and temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul, the flood of open letters and strident statements that government critics send to international media have thinned to a drizzle.

Cuba’s “Ladies in White” walk holding flowers during a march in Havana, Sunday, March 18, 2007, to commemorate the crackdown that jailed 75 opponents of the Cuban government four years ago.(AP Photo/ Javier Galeano

The news conferences once held regularly by a host of tiny dissident groups are increasingly rare.

“The most optimistic thought they were going to see a series of Chinese-type reforms,” Sanchez said, referring to communist China’s mix of state-run market reforms with a strong one-party political system. “But what has been seen is an almost feudal-style succession; everything remains the same.”

The communist government is proud of how calm the country has remained since 75-year-old Raul Castro took over from his 80-year-old brother.

Although the elder Castro’s condition and exact ailment remain a state secret, he is widely believed to suffer from diverticular disease, which can cause inflammation and bleeding in the colon. It seems unlikely that Castro will return to govern full-time, but several top officials have recently indicated he is recovering so well that he just might.

Meanwhile, no major changes have occurred, and Raul Castro has given no strong indication he plans any reforms.

“Today, Cuba is living through an especially uncertain moment owing to Fidel Castro’s illness,” Miriam Leiva, one of the prisoner’s wives, wrote recently for a Web site outside Cuba called “Encuentro,” or Encounter.

That uncertainty is accompanied by fear of another crackdown like the roundup of 75 dissidents launched four years ago this week.

“We cannot rule out a new wave of repression,” Leiva wrote, “instead of the urgent changes required for the critical political, economic and social situation the people face.”

Leiva and the other women known as the “Ladies in White” were the only ones to publicly mark the crackdown anniversary over the weekend, with a small gathering at a home Saturday as well as their regular silent Sunday march.

Cuba’s three-day crackdown started March 18, 2003, just as the first U.S. military strike on Iraq was getting under way.

Governments and rights groups around the world condemned Cuba as it tried the dissidents as “mercenaries” working with Washington to undermine Castro’s socialist system and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 27 years. Both the dissidents and American officials denied the U.S. government paid opponents to harm Cuba.

Sixteen of the original 75 have since been released on medical parole. The 59 still behind bars are among the 283 political prisoners Sanchez’s commission says were held in Cuba at the beginning of this year - 50 fewer than those counted in January 2006.

Although the number of political prisoners has dropped, Sanchez said “low-profile repression” against opponents is up.

Fellow commission member Carlos Menendez was detained and questioned last week after using the Internet service at the U.S. Interests Section, the American mission here.

Ernesto Martini Fonseca, a coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, was detained earlier this month and pressured to abandon his opposition activities, according to a news release from the group.

“We don’t feel hatred, but we are not going to be paralyzed by the threats and repression,” Oswaldo Paya, the movement’s most prominent leader, wrote in the release. “The uncertainty, the fear, the overwhelming propaganda and the precariousness of daily life can paralyze the will and submerge many in hopelessness.”

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 19, 2007 by Curt

    If repression in Cuba is so bad,  then how come the Ladies in White are allowed to protest without any consequences?

  2. Follow up post #2 added on March 19, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Good question.

    I think because they are just marching. I’m guessing that they are not meeting to discuss plans for a new Cuban government or trying to get a petition signed or anything like that but maybe they are. I don’t know.

    Maybe the Cuban government is leaving them alone because they are too visible now and not hurting anyone.

    Cuba consulting services

  3. Follow up post #3 added on March 22, 2007 by MiamiCuban

    Parmly from the U.S. Interests Section marched with these women recently.  Maybe I’m naive, but isn’t this sort of meddling in another country’s affairs?  This begs the question to be asked….to what degree are the Americans involved in the dissidents’ activities, possibly encouraging and maybe even instigating?  I think there’s more here than meets the eye, and it’s wrong to judge and condemn Cuba too quickly without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on March 22, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I didn’t hear that he marched with them. I don’t think they want him to march with them. That would give them a bad name, seriously. They would look like they are working for/with the US and that would be bad.

    This article from the Havana Journal shows Marta Beatriz inside the US Interests section. She has been known to meet with him in the past.

    The “ambassadors” from the US Interests Section are not ambassadors at all. They are in Cuba to be ugly Americans and it is very sad.

    Cuba consulting services

  5. Follow up post #5 added on March 23, 2007 by MiamiCuban

    Well, he did march with them…and that makes the ladies’ in white’s activities somewhat suspect for me.  That would not be the first time the U.S. meddles in foreign affairs in an underhanded manner.  It only makes one wonder what other involvement there is….and also, how much of the dissidents’ activities are actual legitimate protests or whether they’re simply working in collaboration with the U.S./exile groups.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on March 25, 2007 by Don

    I have read many times that in Cuba it is OK to have dissent, and there are many Cuban “legal” trade unions that do dissent, they want changes, and the Cuban government has no problem with that, and works with them, so I have read.

    That is an excellent point I considered as I read the article, if Cuba is so terribly repressive, how then can these ladies march? Could it be that their husbands are guilty as charged? I have no idea what so ever. If the USA would not show itself such an enemy to Cuba, perhaps we could get more information.


  7. Follow up post #7 added on March 25, 2007 by MiamiCuban

    That’s right, Don.  Dissent as a constructive tool in the manner you describe is totally understandable, and I’ve heard of many in Cuba who dissent only to bring about change.  The problem with the media and in particular exile groups, is that they label as “dissenters” those who outright want to overthrow the government or engage in questionable activities.  Those are not dissenters, no matter how much they want to paint them as such.  And that’s the difference that most haven’t been able to understand.

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