Lots of tourists, no freedom
For quite some time, I've debated U.S.-Cuba relations. It goes sort of like this:
The people who wanted an opening argued that Cubans would demand freedoms once they see and talk to U.S. tourists. It will infect Cuba with a desire for freedom, and the regime won't be able to stop it, or something like that. It's the "flood Cuba with Americans and things will change" meme.
I would usually reply reminding the other side that the Castro regime would never allow these freedoms to flourish. They can't. Their survival is tied to this repressive state. It's beyond ideology, but rather to protect Castro Inc., or the family enterprise that has turned two socialist brothers into a couple of very rich capitalist barons. Batista would be jealous, as my late father used to say!
Well, it turns out that my hunch was right. President Obama's opening brought dollars, but the freedom index is not moving.
This is from the Havana Times, an underground newspaper in Cuba that operates under constant harassment. Repression is up these days:
A brief review of the current Cuban climate reveals a sudden increase in repression against Cuban opposition and dissidents over the past few weeks since Trump made a speech in Miami announcing the changes he plans to implement in US policy towards Cuba.
Beatings, bans on foreign travel for many opponents to the regime and dissidents, arrests of some of these in their provinces, blocking independent journalists by seizing their equipment and arresting them, worsening conditions for political prisoners and TV ads trying to defame opponents, have all become daily occurrences recently.
So what's going on? The answer is nothing new, or certainly nothing we have not seen before. The Fidel and Raúl Castro regime have always turned on the repression machine whenever they fear that Cubans are thinking too much for themselves.
We saw this in the early 1980s right after Mariel embarrassed the regime, or when 100,000 Cubans left in a very short time.
We saw it in the 1996, when the Cuban Air Force shot down a plane flown by "Brothers to the rescue" looking for people in rafts. It was a message for Cubans leaving and for their relatives in Miami trying to help.
We saw it before Pope John Paul went to Cuba, as well as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. In other words, the regime would always "clean up" the streets of dissidents to avoid contact with foreign journalists covering the visits.
We are seeing it again now after President Trump changed course.
Let me add another point. It's very likely that Raúl Castro was invested in the predictions that Mrs. Clinton would win the election. Castro probably figured that a Clinton presidency would continue much of what President Obama had started.
So here we are. More tourists, more hotels, and more visits by friendly New York Times reporters do not add up to freedom. We will have to wait for regime change, which is what we've been saying for years.