Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Tunisian Revolution As Seen By Cuba

Game over for Ali. Who's next?
The Tunisian Revolution did not echo only in the Arab world, but also in Latin America. After the fall of the former Tunisian President Ben Ali, the Mexican paper "La Mañana" wrote that this was a "clear message to the other authoritarian leaders in the world: a dictator fell and sooner or later the other dictators will also follow the same fate. The op-ed stresses that regimes such as the one in La Havana are now feeling uncertain, and anxious that similar protests could also explode in their countries. Cuban dissidents, too, see many similarities, especially between the Castro regime, in power for more the fifty years, and the dictatorship in Tunisia, which for 23 years had been pillaging the country.

In Tunisia, as in Cuba, there are more than a million exiled people, and a frustrated youth with high-education, but no employment. In Tunisia, there are pockets of real poverty, particularly in the interior regions, such as Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine, where the revolt started. The unemployment rate is 14.7%, for a population of ten and a half million. Further, salaries for manual labor are unbearably low: having a job does not always avoid having a miserable life.

In Cuba, with a population similar to Tunisia's -- around 11 million, -- an administrative chaos reigns. Even though, as the Associated Press reports, unemployment is minuscule -- it has not risen above 3% in eight years -- the official data ignore "thousands of Cubans who are not looking for jobs that pay monthly salaries worth only $20 a month on average."

Tunisia was a police state, as Cuba still is. During Ben Ali's regime, policemen in plain clothes and network of spies were everywhere. Outside a supermarket in Tunis, you could even see a shoeshine pull out a big walkie-talkie, like those in use with the police, and talk to somebody clearly not his wife. After a while, in Tunisia, you are under the impression that Big Brother is always watching you.

In Cuba, it is the same. As reported on the State Department website: "Cuba is a totalitarian police state which relies on repressive methods to maintain control. These methods include intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Cuban citizens and foreign visitors."

Further, in Tunisia, as in any dictatorship, public order was implemented with force -- all too often excessive force - without taking into account torture practices used behind closed doors and in prisons, as many witnesses have recounted during the last few days. Once, you could even seen a beggar without legs being harshly taken away, and the person who accompanied him being repeatedly punched in the head. Such unnecessary violence was a standard practice.

In Cuba, Human Rights Watch reports, conditions in prisons are inhuman, and political prisoners suffer additional degrading treatment and torture. The dissident website Cubanet writes that "day and night, the screams of tormented women [in prison] in panic and desperation who cry for God's mercy fall upon the deaf ears of prison authorities. They are confined to narrow cells with no sunlight called 'drawers' that have cement beds, a hole on the ground for their bodily needs, and are infested with a multitude of rodents, roaches, and other insects".

Tunisia, like Cuba, was also a country with no freedom of press. One of the main dailies, in French, La Presse, contained only a list of presidential activities and praise and applauses for the regime's personalities. Even the foreign press was kept under control. There was also the problem of corruption -- that does not exempt the Socialist Cuba. In Tunisia, not only there was a rampant corruption from the members of the government-for-life, but even the President's family was one of the main actors in robbing the country. The President's wife, Leila Trabelsi, fled Tunisia after having taken 1.5 tons of gold from the Central Bank; and her family had been borrowing money from the bank at an interest of 0.25 per thousand (not per cent, which would already be negligible, but per thousand).

The only difference from Cuba is that Tunisia was considered by many Western governments as a "moderate" country, seen as a buttress against Islamism. Although Ben Ali himself used religion to give credibility to his regime, under his dictatorship Islamism grew as it represented the only real and strong opposition. Cuba instead lives under an embargo.

In the meantime, while the Tunisians are still fighting for their freedoms, hoping that the future will not be uncertain, in Cuba the opponents to the regime write that the "Jasmine Revolution" has renewed their hopes.

This new hope is why the Cuban government pretends that almost nothing has happened in Tunisia: it fears similar protests. The media outlet, Diario de Cuba, writes that every year Ben Ali would send messages to La Havana to congratulate it for the anniversary of its triumphant Revolución. Even this year, in the midst of the protests, on January 6, Ben Ali expressed his desire to serve the interests of these two friendly countries. However, "there was not even one line in the Cuban press on the fall of the 'friend' Ben Ali. And until now, we could not enjoy one of those farsighted 'reflections'[1] by Fidel Castro illustrating the subject. What a pity!"

[1] Op-eds that the Cuban leader writes almost weekly, under the title Reflexiones de Fidel

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci

From: Hudson New York

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