Business as usual in Cuba

So just less than two weeks after the Obama administration’s touted historic re-establishment of relations with Castro’s Communist Cuba, nothing has changed.  On Tuesday, Cuban authorities arrested dissidents, independent journalists, and even a well-known artist in new anti-opposition crackdowns against groups rallying in favor new perceived freedom for the Cuban people.  About twelve opponents were taken away by police.  Cuba’s National Revolution Police Force (PNR) units took to the streets to block a rally in Havana’s revolutionary square organized by a new movement that calls itself #YoTambienExijo, which means “I also demand.”

Among others arrested and detained were journalist Reinaldo Escobar, the editor of the “Online 14ymedio” publication and husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez.  Also arrested were Eliecer Ávila, an activist, and Antonio Rodiles, who directs a human rights group called “Estado de Sats.”  Sánchez, who founded 14ymedio, reported the arrests on various social media sites.  Event organizer Tania Bruguera, a performance artist, was missing, and her associates presumed that she, too, had been detained.  Human rights leader Ávila was arrested outside her home in Havana, taken away in handcuffs.  Ávila is the leader of the opposition group Somos Más (We Are More).

Ms. Sánchez stated that she was charged and placed under house arrest, and also that several other 14ymedio contributors were visited by PNR State Security officers and warned not to cover the event, which was scheduled to take place mid-afternoon Tuesday at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución.

The demonstration called for participants to go before a microphone for one minute to share their thoughts, concerns, or ideas about how Cuba’s future should unfold vis-à-vis new freedoms for Cubans, civil and human rights, and a transition to more Democratic principles.  The Castro regime called the open microphone event a "political provocation."  While several of those arrested have since been released, it was unclear how long those remaining in custody  would be held.  Cuba typically holds dissidents for several hours and then releases them.

Part of the deal to renew ties between Washington and Havana included a prisoner swap of spies from both sides, and the release of 53 people whom the U.S. considers political prisoners.  So far, the 53 have not been identified, and dissident groups say that none of their activists has been released since the December 17 Obama announcement.

The crackdown on and detention of activists is the first major test of the Obama administration’s policy shift toward normalizing relations with the Communist-ruled island, and an indicator of the Castro government’s true intent.  Upon announcing his new Cuba policy, Obama said Cubans should not face harassment or arrest for expressing their views and that their human rights should be respected.  Of course, overlooked by the White House and most media was the counter-pronouncement, just 24 hours after Obama’s speech, by Raúl Castro, in which he announced that Cuba would stay the course of the Communist Revolution.  So now we have two specific examples in less than two weeks that suggest that not much has changed in Cuba, and perhaps a glimpse of the beginnings of another failed foreign policy initiative put forth by this administration.

The writer is a retired USAF colonel who served for nearly 30 years as a career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer.  He has expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare.  He is a former White House National Security Council staffer and former distinguished senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.  He lives in Tampa Bay, FL.

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