Ladies in White

The Cuban Regime Brings Back the Weapon of Fear / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 7 September 2016 — In the autumn of 2002 at an event in a
Havana theater, the dictator Fidel Castro sent a clear message to
independent journalists and regime opponents in an effort to downplay
their importance. Referring to dissidents, he said, “We are not going to
kill cockroaches with canon-fire.”

A growing fear gradually seeped into even our living rooms. On any given
night Fidel Castro, scowling belligerently while running his fingers
across the corners of his mouth, would read the names of dozens of human
rights activists and independent journalists whom he “accused” of having
attended a reception at the home of the ambassador from what was then
United States Interests Section in Havana.

They were difficult years. State Security, which had been granted
unlimited powers by the regime, persistently harassed dissidents and
independent journalists by detaining and maintaining files on them,
recording their places of residence, organizing acts of repudiation
against them, and seizing money and such simple things as typewriters
from them.

In February 1999 the rubber stamp parliament, then presided over by
Ricardo Alarcon, approved Law 88, the Cuban National Independence and
Economy Act, more commonly known as the Gag Law. In Article 1 it states:

“The purpose of this law is to criminalize and penalize those acts aimed
at supporting, facilitating or collaborating with the objectives of the
Helms-Burton Act, the blockade and the economic war against our people,
which are intended to disrupt internal order, destabilize the country
and abolish the Socialist State and the independence of Cuba.”

It stipulates penalties of twenty years or more and even the death
penalty for independent journalists. It remains in effect. This legal
mishmash was the instrument used to convict seventy-five dissidents to
long prison sentences during the fateful Black Spring of 2003.

Castro and State Security thought the Iraq war, which began on March 18,
2003, would serve as the perfect pretext for deflecting international
media attention away from Cuba. But they were wrong; it did not work.

The European Union, the United States, democratic governments from
various continents, organizations which monitor the observance of human
rights and freedom of expression, and prominent intellectuals all raised
their voices.

A recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature and supporter of the
regime, Portugal’s Jose Saramago, wrote a piece entitled “It Has Come to
This” in which he condemned the crackdown and the executions of three
young black men who had tried to hijack a passenger ferry in order to
flee to the United States.

With the ascent of Raul, handpicked by his brother Fidel after illness
forced the elder Castro to resign, the military regime changed strategy.

In the summer of 2010 it released prisoners of conscience arrested
during the Black Spring and gradually introduced economic reforms which
provided the regime with a needed dose of political oxygen.

This political oxygen allowed Castro II to orchestrate a well-planned
international campaign to lift the U.S. economic and trade embargo and
overturn the European Union’s Common Position.

The climax was the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United
States on December 17, 2014 after eighteen months of secret
negotiations. Cuba became the subject of news headlines and a photo op
for famous foreigners.

Some Cubans believed this was the beginning of an historic period of
political reform and democratization. But within a few months the overly
optimistic expectations turned to abject cynicism.

The flow of emigrants increased and now there is a retreat from economic
reform. The creation of new non-agricultural cooperatives has stalled.
In early 2016 local media began a campaign demonizing wholesalers and
pushcart vendors, blaming them for the high prices of agricultural products.

But the turning point that led to the return of political dinosaurs,
fanatics and conservatives was Barack Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro
de La Habana on Monday, March 20, 2016.

The opening shot that led to the political brakes being slammed on was
an outrageous editorial by Fidel Castro in the Communist Party
newspaper. He was later joined by ventriloquists and scribes hired to
write analyses on demand.

The current period of austerity — brought on by the political, economic
and social turmoil in Venezuela — is the reason for the latest round of
Cuban belt tightening. Yet another.

Highly reliable government sources indicate that September, October and
November will see further rounds of cutbacks which will adversely
affect the citizenry.

Faced with this dilemma, the government is looking for ways to limit the
damage. Any vestige of free thought outside the official framework is
considered, at best, suspect.

An “enemy” could be anyone: private taxi drivers, official journalists
who write for foreign or alternative media and, of course, dissidents.
It’s all the same.

It has stepped up its harassment of opposition figures upon their
returns from trips abroad and the Ladies in White continue to be subject
to brutal assaults.

On August 24, the official press began describing a conference on
freedom of internet access to be held in Miami on September 12 and 13 as
subversive. The conference is sponsored by the Office of Cuba
Broadcasting, which oversees Radio and Television Martí.

The event seems to be the ideal pretext to dust off the machinery of
repression for use against dissidents and independent journalists. It
serves as a smokescreen to blur the bleak scenario facing Cuba.

Given the Castro regime’s underhanded tactics, lust for power and
unwillingness to play by democratic rules, the international community
should take note of its recent domestic and foreign policy directives.

Could a major economic crisis lead to increased repression of dissidents
and freelance journalists? Of course. The delicate state of affairs on
the island will always be the sandpaper capable of lighting a match at
the slightest touch.

The regime is also very worried about the opposition making inroads with
the private business sector and the average citizen. If there is
anything at which totalitarian systems are effective it is in the art of
repression and preventing social conflicts.

It is no accident that they have remained in power for almost six decades.

Martí Noticias, August 31, 2016

Source: The Cuban Regime Brings Back the Weapon of Fear / Iván García –
Translating Cuba –

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