Ladies in White

To change Cuba, speak up for democracy again and again
By Editorial Board April 24 at 7:41 PM

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S visit to Cuba last month laid down a marker. The
president hailed the island’s entrepreneurs, met with dissidents, and
encouraged openness and democracy in the presence of President Raúl
Castro, who rules without any. The regime’s answer has now been
delivered at the just-concluded Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist
Party: a loud “no way.”

The four-day conference, held in Havana, ratified the old guard’s hold
on leadership. Mr. Castro, 84, was reelected as first secretary of the
party, and the delegates cheered a farewell speech from a frail Fidel
Castro, 89. Party members seemed eager to snuff out any lingering glow
from Mr. Obama’s visit. Raúl Castro referred to the United States as
“the enemy” and warned “we have to be more alert than ever.” The Cuban
foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, called the president’s visit “an
attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols.”
He added, “Obama came here to dazzle the non-state sector, as if he
wasn’t the representative of big corporations but the defender of hot
dog vendors, of small businesses in the United States, which he isn’t.”

Obviously, Mr. Obama discomfited the regime. Despite some market reforms
and economic tinkering in recent years, the authoritarian system the
Castros have built still dominates state and society. The brothers’
intention is to make it impossible for Cuba to undergo the kind of
transformation that is an ostensible goal of Mr. Obama’s policy.

According to the Associated Press, on April 8 one of Cuba’s most
well-known advocates of economic reform, Omar Everleny Perez, was fired
from his University of Havana think-tank position for allegedly sharing
information with Americans without authorization. Mr. Perez was a
consultant to the Castro government when it launched some
market-oriented reforms. He confirmed his dismissal, saying it was not
because of his contacts with foreigners but because he wrote critically
about the slow pace of economic reform. “Sometimes they don’t like what
you write or think,” he said.

Exactly. This is why the authorities relentlessly harassed Oswaldo Payá,
a champion of democracy who was killed in a suspicious car wreck in 2012
along with a colleague, Harold Cepero; why regime thugs still assault
the Ladies in White, relatives of political prisoners who demonstrate
weekly; why they rough up other dissidents and free thinkers.

In all the enthusiasm in the United States for more tourism, cultural
exchanges and investment in Cuba, there have been far too few demands
for more democracy on the island. A lesson of Mr. Obama’s visit, and the
Communist Party’s overheated reaction, is that the mere mention of
democracy and freedom is a powerful tool. Mr. Obama put it simply in
Havana, declaring that “citizens should be free to speak their mind
without fear.” Those rushing to Havana lately must not forget to
articulate this message, again and again.

Source: To change Cuba, speak up for democracy again and again – The
Washington Post –
www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/to-change-cuba-speak-up-for-democracy-again-and-again/2016/04/24/66d63f58-089f-11e6-a12f-ea5aed7958dc_story.html

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