Raul's First Anniversary
It has been almost a year since Raul Castro stepped in for his ailing brother Fidel. Unfortunately, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres, the status of free expression in Cuba remains just as dismal:
Since Raúl became acting president, three journalists have been imprisoned and some 40 others and been subjected to searches, summonses for questioning by the political police, physical attacks or threats.
“One dictatorship succeeded another in the 1959 Cuban revolution,” Reporters Without Borders said. “And now, the first year of Raúl Castro’s presidency has not resulted in any significant change either. The repressive methods have evolved slightly, going from massive round-ups and Stalinist trials to everyday brutality against dissidents, but Cuba continues to be the world’s second biggest prison for journalists.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Raúl Castro’s tentative desire for an ‘opening’ has never been translated into action. Under Spain’s aegis, there has been a return to dialogue with the Cuban government, but the international community must clearly raise the issue of free expression. There will be no progress if the taboos remain in place.”
According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (a group that is illegal but tolerated by the government), Cuba currently has a total of 246 prisoners of conscience including 25 dissident journalists.
Twenty of them - including Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, the founder of the magazine De Cuba - were arrested during the “Black Spring” crackdown of March 2003 and were given sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison. They continue to be mistreated by prison guards and held in cells that are unfit for habitation, and their health has suffered as a result.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya says almost 50 years of repression is enough:
A leading Cuban dissident has called on the island's acting President Raul Castro to free all political prisoners and allow multi-party elections.
Responding to Mr Castro's Revolution Day speech, Oswaldo Paya said the government punished enough people for holding different political opinions.
The BBC notes that "it is the very public nature in which he made the remarks" that makes Mr. Paya's declaration unique. His statement is a welcome sign that, in spite of the continued repression, there may be hope for change after all:
Dissidents like Mr Paya, who have languished in the political wilderness in Cuba for decades, are keen to take advantage of the ongoing political uncertainty that continues to reign on the island since Mr Castro's temporary departure.
In fact, it could be argued that Mr Paya's comments, while officially directed at Raul Castro, also serve as a reminder to the Cuban people and the international community that there is, despite government claims, a real opposition in Cuba which is prepared to enter the political fray if and when the time is right.
Hopefully, the right time will come soon.