March 24, 1999
CUBA: 'CASTRO'S RATCHETTING UP OF REPRESSION' DRAWS HEAVY FIRE
Events in Cuba since mid-February--the passage of new legislation, the "Law for the Protection of the National Independence and the Economy of Cuba," which creates a broad new category of counter-revolutionary crimes for government opponents; a revision of the island's penal code to expand the death penalty and lengthen sentences for common crimes; and the closed-door trial resulting in the conviction and sentencing of four leading dissidents on charges of inciting sedition--were roundly condemned by editors in Latin America, Canada and Europe. Many commentators pondered Mr. Castro's motives for, and the timing of, the dissident crackdown and new repressive laws--coming on the heels of the U.S. government's January 5 announcement that it was easing restrictions on humanitarian aid and travel to Cuba, and weeks before "baseball diplomacy" gears up with the March 28 baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Baltimore Orioles. Some, judging Mr. Castro's actions to be a response to the U.S. "relaxation of the embargo," held that he has a vested interest in preserving the blockade, which serves as "a perfect alibi to justify [his regime's] own shortcomings" and "an excuse for repression." Many Cuba-watchers, who had hoped that the pope's 1998 visit to Havana would lead to "openness to the world" on the island's part, conceded that the latest moves signalled a retrenchment by Castro and agreed with a Santiago paper that "expectations of Cuba's gradual progress toward democratization raised after [the pope's] visit are vanishing." Several deemed the Cuban government's moves "a slap in the face to...its best foreign friends," who had supported the growing international rapprochement with the island and were now left "searching for an appropriate response." Highlights follow:
LATIN AMERICA AND CANADA: Papers in Chile, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru urged their governments to reconsider holding the upcoming Ibero-American summit in Havana, since, in the words of Lima's pro-government El Sol, "It is inadmissible and absurd that democratic presidents of the Americas would validate the tyrannical Cuban regime by their presence [at the summit]." Canadian dailies questioned their government's policy of "constructive engagement" toward Cuba, which, Montreal's liberal Le Devoir claimed, "has...only succeeded in...allowing the Castro regime to survive the American embargo."
EUROPE: The outcry against Havana's actions was especially vocal in Italy and Spain, who along with Canada, are Cuba's biggest trading partners. Several Madrid writers noted that the moves "hardly augur well" for the Spanish king's planned visit to the Caribbean island. Rome's pro-PDS (leading government party) L'Unita warned, "Castro has put at risk even the good relations which he has established in recent years with...key trade partners."
CUBA: In response to foreign criticism of the dissidents' trial, Communist Party organ Granma accused the U.S. of being the "main promoter and organizer" of "campaigns of slander" aimed at "weakening Cuba's growing influence and prestige." The paper chided the four dissidents for "working closely with U.S. government officials and the counter-revolutionary Mafia in Miami," and claimed that the terms "dissident" or "prisoners of conscience" were misnomers: "Those who so repugnantly act in the service of the power which attacks our country...are traitors...[and] mercenaries."
This survey is based on 49 reports from 14 countries, February 17-March 23.
EDITOR: Katherine Starr
|  WESTERN HEMISPHERE  | |  EUROPE  |
CUBA: 'CASTRO'S RATCHETTING UP OF REPRESSION' DRAWS HEAVY FIRE
CUBA: "Terrorism Against Cuba"
Cuban Communist Workers' weekly Trabajadores (3/22) had this editorial on the recent trials of Salvadorans facing terrorism charges in Cuba and their connections with the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the main anti-Castro exile group. [Some see these trials, closely timed to the trials of the four dissidents, as, in part, an effort to justify the government's argument that such terrorist activities force it take strong action against domestic dissent.]: "The goal of destroying the culture and the spiritual treasure of the people is the quintessence of fascism. The ideology that inspires the enemies of Cuba is fascist. Any minute serious examination [of CANF]...would unveil the alliance between the most right-wing and fascist politicians in the United States and the representatives of a corrupt and criminal anti-Cuban mafia whose members get richer administering the counter-revolution industry. These two joint forces, up to now dominant, are attempting prolonged terrorism against the Cuban people.
"Since the Helms-Burton Act has been rejected by the international community as a gross U.S. intervention in the sovereignty of any country that has relations with Cuba, we should expect nothing else but worldwide rejection of the terrorist aggression attempted against our country with the consent, complicity and inspiration of powerful sectors of U.S. politics. Now it is clearer than ever that the foundation exists as a means to hand over to its masters at least the ashes of our people and our homeland, but the failed plan to blow to pieces the monuments to Maceo and Che and the historic relics in the Museum of the Revolution is not only savage, but clumsy and desperate. The world must understand that what the instigators of these neofascist practices are doing to Cuba now, they can do tomorrow against any other people, perhaps less capable of defending themselves."
"Who Are The Dissidents And Prisoners Of Conscience In Cuba"
In response to foreign criticism of the trial of four dissidents charged with inciting sedition, Communist Party organ Granma (3/4) ran a lengthy editorial, which promised to "unmask the current policy of the United States and to uncover the shady and incredible methods it employs against Cuba...often underestimating and contemptuous, frequently rough and crude, many times shameless, always arrogant and domineering." It accused the United States of being the "main promoter and organizer" of "campaigns of slander" aimed at "weakening Cuba's growing influence and prestige as well as its heroic and invincible resistance in the face of the monstrous economic war the United States is waging" and "promoting destabilization and subversion."
Maintaining that the four dissidents "work closely with U.S. government officials and the counter-revolutionary Mafia in Miami," the paper contended that there was "an inevitable need to arrest [them] for their counter-revolutionary actions." It further described how the prosecutor's accusation presented irrefutable evidence linking the defendants with the U.S. government and Miami-based anti-Castro groups and claimed that the four promoted aggressive policies toward Cuba and tried to discourage foreign investment. The paper also claimed that the terms "dissident" or "prisoners of conscience" were misnomers: "Those who so repugnantly act in the service of the power which attacks our country are more than just violators of one or various articles of our penal code; they are real traitors to the nation...they are mercenaries.... If the law that was recently approved by the National Assembly had been in effect when they perpetrated such actions, the prosecutor would have certainly requested...much more severe sentences for this infamous...behavior."
The editorial stressed the participation of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in the offensive against the Caribbean nation, accusing it of "lending material and political support" to the dissidents for their "destabilizing activities." It charged, "The U.S. Interests Section's interventionist attitude could not be more provoking.... There is no trial...where [it] does not summon a small group of 'paid' dissidents and sends U.S. officials...[to] shamelessly try to provoke a confrontation with the authorities and the people.... Those are the habits of the hegemonic superpower, powerful in military aspects but very weak in the moral aspect." Finally, Granma criticized some unindentified foreign journalists, who it berated for "distorting the reality of the country in their reports and becoming spokesmen" for people who "are interested in damaging the national economy and subverting the social order in the country.... Several members [of the foreign press]...have contributed in no small part...to conspiracies and slanderous campaigns against Cuba."
ARGENTINA: "Damage To Freedom In Cuba"
An editorial in leading Clarin held (3/6): "It is hard to understand what led the Cuban government to enact a succession of acts and decisions, which have worsened the restrictive conditions on the exercise of individual rights.... Castro's regime had managed to end its fourth decade of hegemony with some progress toward a reinsertion of Cuba in the international context. In spite of the persistent U.S. blockade, which still works like a pillory for a genuine opening of Cuba to the world, an incipient opening had started.... The pope's visit promoted an important mobilization within Cuban society and encouraged some [official] signs of opening for the only Western country which keeps a monolithic political structure. The recent laws have widened the crimes to be punished with death penalty, increased other penalties and included 'cooperation' with the United States as a crime.... This dangerous and regressive attitude of the Cuban government takes place at a moment in which the international community and sectors of the Cuban society expect signs of improvement."
BRAZIL: "Dissident Issue Serves As Pretext For U.S."
Liberal Folha de S. Paulo had this editorial (3/20): "Four Cuban dissidents were condemned to prison this week.... The condemnation, worthy of criticism from any point of view, served as a pretext for the United States to justify its intransigence regarding the trade embargo...which keeps the Cuban population, in truth the major victim of Fidel's dictatorship, behind a thick isolation cord."
"Drugs Erode The Cuban Regime"
Center-right O Estado de S. Paulo had this editorial (3/6): "By opening another front of violent repression with the stiffening of its penal codes, Fidel Castro just confirms the fragility of his regime...that, in addition to its so-called counter-revolutionary enemies, is also facing a drug trafficking challenge that has the obvious complicity of government officials."
An editorial in independent Jornal da Tarde said (2/22): "Cuba's new law protecting national and economic independence is nothing but another juridical farce of the only so-called 'Communist' regime that left.... It [the law] reduces the fundamental freedom of Cubans even more and increases the oppressive forms of control over the citizens.... The strengthening of Cuban totalitarianism, one year after Pope John Paul II's visit, does not leave any doubt. The 'authority' accorded by Fidel to his government...is only a hypocritical way of increasing police terror.... In view of this reinforcement of Cuban totalitarianism...it is evident that freedom in Cuba can only be achieved after Fidel's death. Only with his disappearance will the Cuban people finally aspire to the most elementary universally established individual rights."
CANADA: "Less Faith In Fidel"
Quebec's English-language Gazette (3/17) opined: "By meting out jail sentences to four prominent dissidents this week, Havana has done more than remind Cubans that dissent--even peaceful dissent--will be crushed. It also has delivered a slap in the face to some of its best foreign friends, among them Prime Minister Jean Chretien.... The slap leaves Ottawa searching for an appropriate response.... Broad economic sanctions would not be helpful. Washington has had them in place for four decades, and they have not worked. They have just given Cuban dictator Fidel Castro an excuse for repression--namely, defense of Cuban sovereignty. As well, broad sanctions against Cuba would just add to the impoverishment and suffering of people who cannot change their government peacefully. Successive Canadian governments have remained aloof from American efforts to crush communism in Cuba."
"Right Stand On Cuba"
The liberal Toronto Star maintained (3/17): "Is it worth chilling Canada/Cuba relations over Fidel Castro's decision to jail a few activists? Yes.... And we should make our views known at the UNSC, at the Organization of American States and elsewhere. Castro may not care that his folly discredits and isolates his regime, but those who aim to succeed him need to hear our disgust. They should hear as well from...church groups, trade unions, tourism promoters, investors and business people."
Editorialist Guy Taillefer remarked in French-language, liberal Le Devoir (3/17): "By announcing that Canada would 're-examine all' its bilateral relations with Havana, and that diplomatic reprisals are under consideration, Mr. Chrétien is perhaps beginning to see the difference between 'constructive engagement' and servility to a dictatorship that a tenacious idealization of the Cuban revolution grotesquely passes off as 'single party democracy.'... As Cuba's first trading partner...Canada has had the means to put real and specific pressure on the Castro regime in order to aid Cuban workers expand their freedom of action. But Ottawa has never dared do anything other than undertake 'discreet' efforts with this regime that is closing up today like an oyster. Cuba's hardline stance is founded on the premise that it 'knows no opposition other than that of the United States.' Useful for a dictatorship, but Ottawa should attack such simplistic thinking. In narrowness of spirit, Fidel Castro is surpassing Jesse Helms."
"The Havana Four"
Frederic Wagnière stressed in Montreal's centrist La Presse (3/5): "It is all well and good for Fidel Castro to play the enlightened despot in receiving the Pope, Jean Chrétien and other chiefs of government to discuss human rights. His courts are sending to jail the Cubans who dare exercised these rights.... What is more striking in Cuba is the impression that repression is the only thing the government is still really capable of.... The Havana trial was criticized and condemned in most developing countries.... The (Canadian) Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, has also condemned the trial but he thinks that the prime minister's visit to Havana was a good thing and says that it is important for Canada to maintain the dialogue with Cuba.... The dialogue that Canada wants to maintain with Cuba is necessary to make Havana understand the extent to which Canadians are repulsed by these human rights violations. It is also the best way to make Cubans understand what we think of their government."
"Cuba Behind Closed Doors"
Guy Taillefer argued in Montreal's liberal, French-language Le Devoir (3/4): "This 'Cuban revolution,' which some intellectual milieus still unrelentingly defend as a model, is going through extremely dark hours.... There are limits to defending the authoritarianism of a regime because of its success--now crumbling--in education and health.... For Canada--the premier source of foreign investment in the island--the trial of the four is a nail in the coffin of the policy of 'constructive engagement,' whose dividends in terms of the broadening of liberties in Cuba have been entirely negative. The soft approach of Canada has not opened a breach in the repressive structures, but instead has hardened them.... The reality is that Canadian policy toward Cuba--commercial aggressiveness combined with political complacency--has for the moment only succeeded in one thing: allowing the Castro regime to survive the American embargo.... It is the end of all illusions: The net result of the Cuban dream is a dictatorship. Period."
CHILE: "Convictions In Cuba"
Conservative, influential, paper-of-record El Mercurio ran this editorial (3/23): "It's positive that the governments of the United States, Canada and Spain led international protests against a Cuban court's recent decision to sentence four dissidents against the Communist regime to jail.... Hopefully, these international protests will go beyond mere words. For example, in this scenario, the king of Spain's upcoming visit to Cuba would be a flagrant incoherence and even offensive to those countries that have had to withstand the Cuban Communist regime's interference in their domestic matters."
"Repression In Cuba"
Conservative, influential, newspaper-of-record El Mercurio (3/5) ran this editorial: "The Castroist measures appear as an odd response to the relaxation of the embargo announced by President Clinton.... Castro denounced this new U.S. policy as a 'fraud' and 'conspiracy' and said his new repression was a response to it, the existing embargo and the Helms-Burton Law.... It's time for the Ibero-American countries to seriously consider changing Cuba as the host to the (Ibero-American) Summit.... It's time for the world, and especially this hemisphere and the Ibero-American community, to make it clear to Cuba's dictatorship that they will demand minimum respect of the basic standards that rule international co-existence."
"More Repression In Cuba"
Conservative, afternoon La Segunda opined (2/18): "The Cuban parliament's approval of new legislation...moves away from the hopes of incipient political opening on the island.... Thus, expectations over Cuba's gradual progress toward democratization raised after John Paul II's visit are vanishing."
COSTA RICA: "Costa Rica Should Oppose Ibero-America Summit In Cuba"
Costa Rica's leading conservative La Nacion had this editorial (2/18): "A year ago, Pope John Paul II called for the world to open up to Cuba and for Cuba to open up to the world. The first part has been achieved. Even the American government, which is opposed to closer ties with the Cuban regime, has shown signs of change in its humanitarian and sports policies. The second part [of the pope's call] has received a categorical response in recent days: The approval by the Cuban National Assembly of the Law of Protection of National Independence and the Economy, in the presence of Fidel Castro. The result of this new repressive legislation is to squash dissidents--even more audacious after the pope's visit--to silence the heroic voices of opposition, and remind society that the only power, and all power, resides with the Communist Party. Castro is afraid.
"He has suffered this paranoia for 40 years, but now, with increased dissidence and internal discontent, he has become more agitated. Nothing bothers a tyrant as much as an assault on his power, real or imagined. It would be an affront for the Ibero-American Summit to be held in Cuba. We hope that the Costa Rican government takes the initiative and speaks out on this."
PANAMA: "Trial Distracts Attention From State's Criminal Activities"
Independent La Prensa front-paged this comment in its "Hoy por Hoy" column (3/2): "In 1989, the Cuban government was involved in a major drug trafficking scandal.... Castro executed two high-ranking military officers...as the only ones guilty of this abominable crime. Last year, Colombian authorities seized seven tons of drugs heading for the island [Cuba], where they would be distributed to the United States. There is no doubt about the involvement of Fidel's government in these operations. The (trial of) the four opposition leaders...is a repetition of what happened ten years ago, and only seeks to distract attention from the criminal activities of the Cuban state.... Now, as then, these events take place just when it was expected that the island would continue along the path of reforms seeking to soften the dictatorship.... The question is will the Ibero-American Summit, scheduled to take place on the island in a couple of months, be cancelled as an embarrassment to the hosts or take place as indignity to the guests."
"Communist Jurassic Park"
El Universal ran the following page-one editorial (2/18): "The world has received with surprise and disenchantment the news from La Habana, where a bill has been approved that increases the already drastic sanctions.... It is difficult to think...that the heads of democratic governments (countries) where opposition forces act freely, would sit at a table with this survivor of the communist Jurassic Park."
"Reform Of Cuban Penal Code Disables Movement To Lift U.S. Embargo"
Independent La Prensa opined about the Cuban penal code reform (2/17): "Those who had high hopes that the situation in Cuba would gradually change--now that Fidel Castro did not have the support of a world power [the USSR] and was showing some tendency to reform his...hardball dogma--must lower their expectations once and for all and take a realistic look at the state the island is in. With the toughening of punishment against dissidents and the prohibition of political and civilian opposition organizations, approved last night by the Cuban parliament, Castro confirms the most feared suspicions.... He has not tried to reform anything at all, nor temper excesses of radical movements. He has only tried to survive the wave of historical changes that, at the end of the 20th century, have turned Communist parties and regimes into little less than fossils. The reform of the Cuban Penal Code is not in any way a sign of vitality of the tyrannical regime, but instead a sign of failure to negotiate with history.... The only thing the reform of the Cuban Penal Code favors is the position of those that defend the need for drastic political and economic action against the island. What the reform disables is the movement to lift the U.S. embargo."
PERU: "Cuba Is Ruled By Tyranny"
Pro-government El Sol had this editorial (3/17): "Using terminology very similar to that used by the courts of Nazi Germany, the Cuban justice system just convicted four people for criticizing the Communist government...and for requesting specific political reforms. This fact confirms the characteristics of a system that oppresses the Cuban people, and that is becoming a dark spot on a continent where representative democracy dominates. Therefore, we are concerned about the benevolent treatment that many presidents of the Americas are giving to the despotic Fidel Castro, as well as the decision they have made to hold a future meeting of Latin leaders in Havana.
"The nations of the Americas should exert moral pressure on Cuba to achieve a true democracy on the island. It is inadmissable and absurd that democratic presidents of the Americas would validate the tyrannical Cuban regime by their presence [at the Ibero-American Summit]."
URUGUAY: "Prisoner Of His Own Despotism"
Business-economic El Observador judged (2/19): "Fidel Castro would really like to change his image, but he can't. Castro is a prisoner of his own despotism. He tries to be seen as a democratic statesman, but, at the same time, he knows that terror is the basis of his power. Undoubtedly, Castro's position is bolstered by the general tolerance revealed by other states toward his regime, by their attitude of cooperation with it and by how they welcome its leader with demonstrations of friendliness and publicity. The attitude of the chiefs of state toward Castro is mainly based on the hope of a gradual improvement on the island. It seems the new law demolishes these hopes. Opposition to the U.S. embargo on the part of the region's statesmen...should continue. But two other considerations need to be borne in mind. First, in terms of privations suffered by the Cuban people, the regime is worse than the embargo. Second and worst of all, Castro is solely to blame for the lack of freedom that Cubans have been suffering for 40 years."
GERMANY: "Justice Of Fear"
Erik-Michael Bader opined in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine (3/17): "The latest sentences against non-violent opposition forces in Cuba are less cruel than similar sentences in China...but they are of the same nature: Justice of terror.... Over the past few months, the Castro regime reacted with a drastic tightening of the criminal law when these (opposition forces) utilized their rights of freedom of information and freedom of opinion. Apparently, the Cuban rulers' fear of their own people has become so great that they are even willing to sacrifice the chance to soften Washington's policy of international ostracism of the country."
"The Mysteries Of U.S. Policy Toward Cuba"
Right-of-center Mittelbayerische Zeitung of Regensburg held (3/3): "The U.S. treatment--or better the non-treatment--of Cuba is one of the greatest mysteries of international politics. A country that permanently calls for 'freedom' but bans its own citizens from trading with Cuba or even prevents them from traveling to the island is not very credible. The irrational and ideologically stupid blockade attitude of the 'Yanquis' makes it easy for the Castro regime to disqualify domestic policy opponents as subversive people who are paid by the imperialists."
"Castro's Trick With The Embargo"
Centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (2/19) carried this editorial: "A few weeks ago, President Clinton cautiously relaxed the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba. We should now think that Havana would cheer this decision since Fidel Castro does not miss any opportunity to...blame the embargo for all kinds of problems on the island. Here lies the problem: If the embargo falls, even the last supporter of socialism a la Castro will realize that the Cuban economic misery would not change even without the embargo.... Castro would be in a real fix, since he would then have to come up with something new to keep his people quiet. There could even be voices questioning the system that guarantees his unrestricted power. This is why Castro must urgently see to it that President Clinton does not relax the embargo even more. And in this respect, nothing is more effective than turning the screws since the United States make the relaxation of the embargo dependent on more freedom and democracy in Cuba."
ITALY: "Castro's Iron Fist"
An editorial in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica held (3/17): "Hope was appropriate only for those who wanted to hope at all costs, against common sense and the reality of facts: Fidel Castro's policy of 'openness to the world' has never produced anything concrete. It was simply a request by Pope John Paul II to which the 'lider maximo' never responded with gestures worthy of mention.... Ever since the conclusion of the Pope's visit, Fidel Castro has devoted all his energies to reversing the meaning of that event, remembering only one part of Woytjla's key words: 'Let the world open to Cuba.'... And the world indeed began to open to Cuba, without realizing that the promises to release the prisoners were being only partially kept, as the daily arrests of dissidents continued.... We start all over again now, and the prospect for Fidel is a new, long phase of isolation."
"The World Condemns Cuba, Fidel Risks Isolation"
Alessandro Oppes judged in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (3/17): "Fidel Castro's latest crackdown on dissidents...has created serious concern on the part of those diplomats who, over the last year, had hoped for a policy of enhanced respect of human rights by the Havana regime. Cuba now faces new prospects of international isolation, mainly on the economic level, which is what alarms the regime most." The article cited Canadian Prime Minister Chretien's announcement that bilateral relations will be reviewed, problems in Spanish-Cuban relations, and noted that "it has been clear for a couple of weeks that our foreign ministry has begun to question Castro's good intentions in the wake of the first closed-door trials.... The world's indignation was also reflected in the statements by President Clinton.... Clinton asked for the 'immediate release' of the four 'courageous' human rights activists."
"Havana Reaffirms Old Fears"
Maurizio Chierici remarked in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (3/16): "'Moderate' sentences.... Havana reaffirms its old feeling of fear against the American plots and tries those who met, spoke or grumbled with Michael Kozac, the head of the U.S. Interest Section...which is a sort of under-Embassy.... Kozac followed the trial outside the court. It was not an enthusiastic show.... Castro has remained bridled by the conservatives in the party who do not accept openings, and Washington remains a prisoner of immobility due to the votes coming from one and a half million Cubans.... So changes stop. The Cuban people's lives have not gotten worse, but misery is still there.... The sentences for the four are not terrible: Cuba does not want to close the door to the World Congress of heads of states from Spain and Latin America...who are meeting in Havana next October.... But it is a sentence which reveals some apprehension: Castro wants to keep under control the continuous grumbling. It would be unpleasant if it comes out again when so many high-ranking guests are around in some months."
Omero Ciai observed in pro-PDS (leading government party) daily L'Unita' (3/16): "They've been condemned.... Sentences are slightly lower than those asked by the prosecution, and this is probably a sign of embarrassment created by many international protests.... But, notwithstanding the discomfort raised in Europe, the United States and the Vatican by the trial, Castro chose to go ahead anyway--putting at risk even the good relations which he has established in recent years--with its key trade partners, such as Italy, Spain and Canada. The four dissidents have already spent 19 months in prison.... Their basic accusation was that of having received help from the United States to overthrow the regime.... The campaign against Roca and the working group of domestic dissent, the arrests and the continuous threats have also isolated Cuba in recent weeks within Latin American leftist circles. Even the Brazilian workers' party...openly condemned Castro's regime.
"Now everything is left to international reactions. The Cuban challenge puts at risk important events, such as the Spanish king's visit.... Cuba is distributing documents in which it justifies its repressive measures, assigning the United States the responsibility for destabilizing the regime.... In the meantime....the 'baseball diplomacy' wanted by Clinton...should go ahead."
"Too Indulgent With Fidel Castro"
A front-page commentary in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (3/6) by Alberto Ronchey, wondered why "international public opinion continues to be indulgent or sentimentally weak toward the Castro regime. Perhaps because, for forty years, the conflict between Cuba and the United States recalls the battle of David against Goliath.... Why is it that Castro cannot--or does not want to--renounce his despotic power, if for no other reason than to alleviate eleven million Cubans from the famine that affects them? Perhaps he remembers the unfortunate fates of Honecker and Pinochet, even more so considering the obscure secrets of his government and his turbulent life."
"Vatican Confident: 'The Pope's Visit Has Changed the Regime'"
A report by Vaticanist Luigi Accattoli in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera noted (3/4): "The Vatican is not too concerned about the latest events in Cuba. It interprets the hardening of the law as a response to U.S. pressure, trusts that the trial of the four dissidents will conclude with softer sentences than those asked for, and believes that the long-term repercussions of the Papal visit are destined to last beyond the repressive wave of the last few weeks."
"A Police State Again"
Carlo Pizzati reports from Havana in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (3/3): "Nobody talks about the 'gang of four,' very few people know that the authors of the document 'La Patria Es De Todos' faced 14 hours of trial for sedition.... As always in Cuba, silence prevails.... Cuba, which was trying to open up to the world so that the world would open up to it, as the Pope had hoped, is again the police state of a communist nightmare."
"Blunting The Swords Of Domestic Dissent"
Omero Ciai noted from Miami in pro-PDS (leading government party) l'Unita' (3/3): "This time Fidel did not save even the 'holy cows' of dissent.... At least one hundred arrests. In the list there are tens of journalists.... Fidel's aim, is once again, to blunt the swords of domestic dissent without putting in danger good relations with the international community, beginning with the Vatican and Europe.... In a few days we will know the sentence. If Europe's and the Vatican's voices are strong, it is possible that the 'gang of four' will be pardoned [and] that the sentence will be lower than the required one. But it is always the same story. They know the script by heart."
"Dissent Goes To Court"
Alessandro Oppes argued in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (3/2): "Dissent goes to court.... The Cuban regime celebrates a closed-door trial of the 'gang of four,' the most famous group of domestic dissidents, for which the Pope, heads of government and diplomats all over the word unsuccessfully lobbied in recent months.... In order not to run any risks, Castro ordered the arrest, in a few hours, of all leaders of dissent, including the most moderate ones.... Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne, Marta Beatriz Roque and Rene' Gomez Manazano...were all arrested in 1997, a few days after having disseminated a document called 'La Patria Es De Todos'...and now risk being sentenced to up to six years in jail....
"Yesterday a new strong repression tool entered into force, which might make the position of the 'gang of four' even more precarious: The 'Law Protecting National Independence and the Cuban Economy.' It was passed two weeks ago...and provides for up to 20 years of detention for anyone who 'cooperates' with the United States in the implementation of the Helms-Burton Act. Obviously, this legislation can be interpreted in various ways: All those who pursue any kind of activities deemed inconsistent with the State's revolutionary foundations can be accused. It is a crime 'to cooperate with U.S. media.'... These measures, together with the recent tightening up of criminal codes, are part of the new hardline passed by Castro's regime."
"Tense Atmosphere As Trial Of 'Gang Of Four' Begins"
Sara Gandolfi observed in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (3/2): "In a very tense atmosphere, the trial of the 'gang of four' began yesterday.... They are moderate dissidents, who oppose the American embargo and the use of violence, who are very active in the organization of the fragmented domestic opposition and who are in contact with the Western world. For this reason the case of the 'four'...attracted international attention and raised desperate appeals for mercy.... The trial...might send a clear signal of the intention of the regime, which, some 15 days ago, passed new legislation against dissent and independent media.... Indeed, for quite some time, tiny illegal groups have been operating on the island, and they have a significant influence on civil society.... If public charges are accepted, diplomats in Cuba agree, the regime is tightening its grip. But Castro might also send a detente signal and opt for milder sentences."
"Cuba, One Step Back"
An unsigned editorial in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica read (2/27): "The resumption of political trials in Cuba is a bad sign of a trend running contrary to the efforts made by the Pope and the EU to end Havana's isolation and consequently put a stop to the U.S. embargo.... The Cuban parliament has approved...a law which will quell dissent...by providing for heavy sentences...even in case of 'direct or indirect collaboration' with foreign radio and television. Thus, the trial against Roca and his three companions will be a test for Castro's regime. It will be an effort to test Castro's intention...to honestly proceed toward gradual reforms that would open Cuban institutions to pluralism.... Should repression prevail in Havana...it would be a bad sign for those who are engaged in the dialogue with Cuba. However, those who live on the island would suffer the worst damage: They deserve the end of the embargo and the liberalization of both their political and economic institutions."
BELGIUM: "Lifting The Embargo"
Bernard Delattre commented in conservative Catholic La Libre Belgique (3/18): "The embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States had the stated goal of diplomatically isolating Castro and forcing him to democratize his regime. One can only acknowledge that, on those fronts, it is a total failure. Besides, from a strategic standpoint, one has a hard time justifying it, given the fact that even the State Department has long acknowledged that Cuba is no longer a real threat for the United States.... The American embargo is not only inefficient and incoherent, it is also deeply unfair...[since] it considerably contributed to the impoverishment of the civilian population.... Above all, this embargo is everything but smart. For 40 years, it has weakened the Cuban internal opposition and reformers within the Cuban regime, since Castro blames them for serving American interests. More globally, the Castro regime finds in this embargo a perfect alibi to justify its own shortcomings."
"Dissidents Served As Extension Of U.S. Policy"
Latin American affairs writer Francis Van den Berghe opined in independent Catholic De Standaard (3/17): "Because of their conspiracy with Washington, the four dissidents exposed themselves to the complaint that they acted less as Cubans and more as the extension piece of the America's anti-Castroist policy. The court in Havana exploited that (opportunity) to send a warning to other dissidents via a condemnation. Washington has demanded the release of the 'courageous human rights activists.' More serious for Cuba is, however, the 'disappointment' of Canada, which maintains a good relationship with Havana and has announced that it wants to review those relations. Above all, with its verdict, Havana wants to make clear to the outside world that it sticks to its right to develop a political system of its own. The desire for that system to be replaced by a multi-party system is officially the reason why Washington is boycotting Cuba and supporting dissidents. Only the disappearance of the generally denounced boycott can create a climate in which Cuba can develop without defensive cramps."
"Castro Gets On Wrong Side Of Its Most Faithful Allies"
Bernard Delattre commented in conservative Catholic La Libre Belgique (3/17): "'It is a sad message which the Cuban authorities are sending to their friends in the international community.... Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien reacted harshly to the conviction of the 'group of four,' tried for sedition and for having published a document which criticized the regime. The vigor in the tone used by Ottawa is quite unusual from a government which has always condemned the U.S. embargo and which has massively invested in Cuba, to the point of becoming Cuba's number one trading partner.... Has Castro gone one step too far, even in the eyes of his unconditional allies?... One can already anticipate that he will have to face retaliation from other countries. Several Latin American countries are thinking about canceling the Latin American heads of state meeting which was scheduled for November in Havanna, or at least about transforming it into a mere foreign ministers' meeting. The snub would be huge for Castro, who witnessed several diplomatic successes in the region these last months. And it seems that clouds are looming around the visit which the Spanish royal family was to pay to the island this year."
"Cuba Is Trying Its Four Most Famous Dissidents"
Philippe Berkenbaum filed in independent Le Soir (3/2): "The trial, which is supposed to last a few days, will be carefully watched by foreign observers and by diplomats posted in Havana, in wait for signs of the regime's intentions after the recent hardening of the legislation. Brutal repression of any kind of opposition could challenge the policy of opening toward Cuba initiated by numerous countries, including Belgium, these last months."
"Cuba Approves Law Against Pro-American Dissidence"
Latin American affairs writer Francis Van den Berghe noted in independent Catholic De Standaard (2/18): "On Tuesday night, the Cuban parliament approved a law which sentences people to prison who collaborate with the American policy of forcing changes in the Cuban government. The law, which can be used against pro-American dissidents, was introduced three years ago as a response to the tightening of the American boycott by the Helms-Burton law.... The law can be used against dissidents who have not rejected the American boycott of Cuba and against so-called independent trade unions and journalists. The targets are people who 'collaborate' with the U.S. government or who 'support and facilitate' the implementation of the American boycott."
DENMARK: "World Must Continue To Pressure Castro"
Center-right Jyllands-Posten held (3/9): "Even a weak-minded dictator would have accepted the softening of sanctions offered by the United States in the wake of the Pope's visit. Castro chose to continue on the economic and social downward spiral that does not offer Cuban any hope as long as he is alive. The world's answer must be to continue its hardline policy toward Cuba and thereby force Castro accept democracy and the market economy."
SPAIN: "Castro's Contumacy"
Barcelona's centrist La Vanguardia opined (3/17): "[Compared to the penalties available under Cuba's new 'gag laws'], the sentences handed down to the dissident four may seem light. Be all that as it may, what has not changed is that in Castro's Cuba voicing an opinion is a criminal offense. If these four individuals do in fact wind up in jail, they will be considered political prisoners, as no other description would be more fitting. Castro's attempt to place dissidents on an equal footing with common criminals can no longer fool anyone."
Liberal El Pais commented (3/17): "Instead of gathering international support, Cuba seems bent on discouraging it, even in the case of Canada which has always been opposed to the U.S. policy of isolating Castro's regime. The four persons convicted are non-violent dissidents, but Cuba's so-called 'justice system' has charged them with being 'mercenaries' and 'counter-revolutionaries,' and with having 'incited sedition' by asking citizens not to vote or to vote in blank in the 1997 elections and by distributing a few pamphlets. That is, for having expressed opinions contrary to the Cuban Communist Party.... Castro seems to be doing everything possible to close himself off from the world, and, in so doing, he has complicated the planned trip by the Spanish monarchs to Cuba."
"Castro's Regime In A Lock-Down"
Independent El Mundo remarked (3/17): "Given what has recently taken place, the planned trip by the king and queen to Cuba appears to be up in the air. The prime minister said yesterday that they would go 'if conditions are ideal,' adding: 'We will have to see whether they are or not.' Right now it seems they are far from ideal. Yesterday Canada announced that it was suspending its proposal to have Cuba readmitted into the OAS. Ibero-American countries also need to review whether they should postpone their summit in Havana scheduled for November. Not for theatrical effect or to deepen the crisis, but to remind Castro that admission to the international community entails certain responsibilities."
"Cuba: Five Years For Voicing An Opinion"
Independent El Mundo held (3/16): "Five years for Vladimiro Roca, four years for Felix Bonne and Rene Gomez, and three and a half years for Martha Roque were the sentences handed down by Castro's justice system to the four dissidents accused of 'sedition' for having signed a manifesto entitled 'The Homeland Belongs to Everyone' ['La Patria es de todos']. Additionally, Cuba's official gazette announced the entry into force of the new Law for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy, which provides for punishments of up to 20 years in prison for anyone who 'furthers American interests,' even if only by voicing opinions. Thus has Castro closed himself off and rejected any opening to the world. Spain cannot ignore what has happened. Under the present circumstances, a visit by the king to Havana would be inopportune and counterproductive. It would be better to await a more propitious moment."
Liberal El Pais noted (3/4): "After the brief parenthesis created by the Pope's historic visit, Castro's regime has once again clamped down. Hard on the heels of having strengthened laws against political dissent has come the farcical trial of four dissidents, which was accompanied by the biggest round-up in years that bagged about 100 of the regime's critics. It is a way of saying: 'Nobody move!' And, of course, the one who has moved the least is Castro."
"Castro's True Face"
Conservative La Razon opined (3/2): "Castro has consciously ignored the many petitions made in favor of the accused by Spain and many other countries.... In Cuba, justice is subject to the whim of its dictator, which means that [the dissidents] fate depends on the propagandistic sensitivity of the Caribbean tyrannosaur. They could face the sentences requested by the prosecution or just as easily be set free, as Castro sees fit.... The new campaign of repression has surprised those who are prone to overlook Castro's sanguinary penchant for survival. The Spanish foreign minister has done well to express doubts about the appropriateness of a visit by the king to the island at this juncture."
"Castro Tries Four Dissenters"
Independent El Mundo remarked (3/2): "Far from opening himself up to the world, Castro seems to be circling the wagons ever tighter as was demonstrated yesterday by the trial of the four members of the Internal Dissident Working Group. As the trial was about to begin, 34 persons opposed to the regime were detained, while the press and members of the diplomatic corps were denied entry to the trial.... These events hardly augur well for the planned visit of the king and queen of Spain."
"Castro, El Supremo"
Commercial La Gaceta judged (3/1): "Castro is incorrigible, governing what was once the 'Pearl of the Antilles' with an iron fist.... Contrary to expectations that he was opening himself up to the world, Castro has unleashed a new campaign of persecution against internal dissent and put in place a series of new repressive laws. Any idea of reform and of a gradual transformation to a pluralist, constitutional, Western political system have gone by the wayside as Marxist-Leninism is in full vogue."
"Everybody's Fatherland ['La Patria Es De Todos']"
Conservative ABC remarked (3/1): "In 1997 four Cubans issued a document under this title which would merely be a statement of the obvious had the fatherland in question--Cuba--not been appropriated by a select few 40 years ago. Today they will be tried for sedition after rotting for 19 months in jail without having been charged. But what will in fact be put on trial is Castro's regime which, by bringing this matter to trial, has attracted the world's attention to itself.... In a country where the law reflects the dictator's will, the verdict is merely an indicator of the current level of intolerance."
"Castro Ratchets Up Repression"
Independent El Mundo warned (2/22): "Last week the Cuban National Assembly passed a packet of measures designed to strengthen criminal penalties related to drug trafficking, prostitution and pimping, as well as diffusing 'subversive' information.... As to the latter, anyone caught providing information to the U. S. government or any 'entity' connected with it either 'directly or via a third party,' which could then be used against the Cuban regime, could be sent to prison for up to twenty years.
"It would be difficult to imagine a piece of legislation more laden with vagueness or susceptible to interpretation. Providing information to just about anyone [including the media] could land a person in jail.... Castro's latest legal reforms are extremely negative and inopportune given the proximity of a visit by the Spanish monarchs to the island."
"Castro's Hard Left Turn"
Barcelona's centrist La Vanguardia opined (2/18): "Castro's regime has justified [passage of a new 'get tough' criminal statute] by the need to combat crime and narco-trafficking on the island. But observers, surprised at the severity of the new law, wonder what the true objective of an initiative like this, which will cost Cuba a high political price in its relations with the international community, really might be. One year after the pope's visit, the strengthening of legislation against dissidence, the independent media, and drug trafficking cannot exactly be seen as making advances towards a democratic transition. It would instead appear to betray the regime's fear of the onset of inevitable change."
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