Miami Herald | OUR OPINION: Political, economic challenges hard to surmount
Raúl Castro is feeling the heat.
He flew into an insane rage a few days ago, claiming Cuba is the target of unfair condemnation around the world prompted by the death of political dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo from a hunger strike. Recalling the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, he vowed that Cuba would sooner ``disappear’’ than submit to pressure from abroad and ``blackmail’’ from other hunger strikers who have taken up Zapata Tamayo’s cause.
These are not the words of a cool and assured leader but rather someone who sees the walls closing in. The crisis, as he admitted in the more-rational part of his speech to the Young Communist Union, is not only political but also economic. He said roughly one out of four workers in Cuba’s state-run economy is superfluous and that Cuba must ``update the economic model’’ or face disaster.
One million unemployed
The problem is that this tired and aging tiger cannot change its stripes. Finding a real job for one million idle workers in state-run enterprises is impossible for a country that can’t attract investment, doesn’t believe in free markets and doesn’t have the money to compensate for money-losing enterprises. ``To spend more than we take in puts the survival of the revolution at risk,’’ Castro warned.
It is likewise impossible for the regime to act sensibly to resolve the political crisis sparked by hunger strikes.
Dissident leaders offered Castro a lifeline of sorts Thursday by proposing that hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas would end his protest if the government would agree to hold a public referendum over the release of political prisoners.
Fat chance. Ending the hunger strike would defuse the immediate crisis, but totalitarian governments don’t dare hold referendums. Next thing you know, those ``uppity’’ dissidents would demand free elections, and there goes the revolution.
Maintain the pressure
While Cuba’s courageous dissidents face down the government, others can help by keeping the pressure on.
• Mr. Fariñas has asked the human-rights court of the Organization of American States to acknowledge the absence of human rights in Cuba, particularly his own mistreatment. This should be a no-brainer, given the years of documented abuses by international organizations like Americas Watch. How about it?
• Some lawmakers in Spain have suggested opening talks with Cuba with the objective of securing the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience held by the regime. Other European countries should do the same. If Raúl Castro wants better relations with the European Union, here’s his chance to make it happen.
If he refuses to budge on the issue of releasing those political prisoners who remain in jail even though they are ill—which is all Mr. Fariñas is asking—the European Union should hold fast to a tough stance on Cuba.
Easing the policy toward Cuba makes no sense when the regime’s hard-line leaders refuse to soften their own grip.