Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Better to live in a slum" than in Cuba

Either you’re a part of the Castro clan and their hangers on or you don’t have a chance, says Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez.

Yoani Sanchez in her apartment in Havana, Cuba.
Since the fall of Communism in 1989, the Czech Republic has made helping dissidents in repressive regimes a foreign policy priority with Cuba and Belarus front and center; the first Cuban political prisoner granted political asylum in this country, Rolando Jiménez Posada, arrived with his family and relatives in October 2010.

Independent Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez, 35, didn’t want to become a dissident. She was more the technical type, with an interest in computers, and after earning a degree in philology left for Switzerland to study computer science. The strict Cuban authorities gave her permission to travel and return home afterward — which shows that the regime didn’t consider her to be a threat or likely dissident.

After returning home to Havana, however, Yoani set up the magazine Consenso and has since become probably the best-known writer of electronic samizdat in the island nation. She also writes the blog Generation Y, which has earned her several international awards; she wasn’t able to accept them in person as the Cuban authorities have confiscated her passport.

Last year, Yoani was kidnapped by Cuban agents and mentally and physically abused for several hours. But that didn’t stop her from writing, and at the end of February the official Cuban media began to get publicly engaged in her struggle, making the general public aware of her. She has been twice quoted and accused on television and she was once in the state daily Granma.

Sánchez points out that her entire island nation has been virtually cut off from the Internet since the start of the unrest in Libya — most likely because the Castro family is worried that Cubans will start an uprising similar to those in the Arab world — and the following interview was interrupted several times due to disruptions the connectivity.

Q: What is lacking for a revolution similar to the one in Egypt taking place in Cuba?


A: In Cuba the situation is most like that in Libya rather than the other Arab countries that are undergoing unrest. Our system and country is also dependent on one charismatic and popular leader.

Q: But Raúl Castro is the complete opposite of his brother. Fidel got all of the charisma genes, leaving nothing for Raúl …


A: Of course that is why all Cubans that disagree with the regime secretly wish that “our beloved” El Commandante was not among us because Raúl would find it difficult to keep in charge. The older generation, despite not being satisfied with the regime, still respect Fidel for what he did when he took over. That is why they don’t want to topple him, so as not to disappoint him. I’ll give an example: Grandpa paid for our education; although he is now unintelligible and conservative, he is still our grandpa.

Q: But considering Raúl’s age, it is not impossible that he may die before Fidel. Are they secretly grooming a different heir?


A: Ever since the mid-1990s, everyone has had the feeling that Castro is preparing Felipe Ramón Pérez Roque, who started off as Fidel’s personal assistant and worked his way up to minister of foreign affairs. But in 2009, Castro publicly criticised him for loving power too much. This led to Roque’s fall from grace and the public eye.

Q: So who will come after Raúl?


A: There are two options being talked about. The first is that a military junta will take power, or, more likely, that Raúl’s daughter Mariela Castro, is getting ready. First, she has held a public position for several years; second, she is endeavoring to be known abroad as a defender of gay rights. This gives her the appearance of a modern person interested in human rights, which makes her more acceptable. I must add that homosexuals in Cuba are still persecuted, despite her efforts to change this.

It is interesting that Castro himself has apologized for his conduct toward homosexuals in the past. As is typical of totalitarian systems, his speech must be part of a strategy, otherwise he wouldn’t say it. In addition, Mariela has one indisputable advantage. Since she is a likeable, “young” (48) woman, it will be much more difficult to attack her directly because she just doesn’t look like a dictator. Despite this, she will inherit all of her uncle’s and father’s power, thus keeping it in the family. This is not communism, it’s nepotism.

Q: Doesn’t that more or less ruin your hopes for a democratic Cuba?


A: It’s a good plan as far as the regime’s image abroad is concerned, but it won’t cure our chronic problems. Free education and health care mean little when you have no more than two liters of milk a week for an entire family, or that it takes half a year to find a light bulb and candles are not for sale. Or you have to use the state daily as toilet paper.

In the first decade or two of the path to a communist ‘Eden,’ you can overlook such matters, but after half a century all we have, in comparison to the rest of Latin America, is free education and health care and then half a million state employees lose their jobs, well that is sufficient reason for unrest and a fight for liberty. I’d like to add that if the official figures mention half a million unemployed, the reality is more like 700,000 to 800,000.

Q: A lot of people abroad feel that Cuba has probably the best possible system within Latin America and that its fall would lower the standard of living to that of Honduras or Ecuador.


A: I am sure that almost every Cuban would prefer to be at liberty to decide how to earn money, even if it was less, than to carry on living as a thrall to Castro’s nobility.

Q: Isn’t it better to be poor in Cuba than live in the favelas [slums] that are so ubiquitous in Latin America?


A: No, because there is always a chance of getting out of a slum. We don’t have that. The former Brazilian president, Lula, came from the slums. So did several other South American leaders. Here it is more like a monarchy: Either you’re part of Castro’s family and their loyal lackeys or you don’t have a chance.

Moreover, Lula managed in just two terms to get 30 million people out of poverty. In 50 years, Castro’s family hasn’t managed to get the 11 million Cubans out of poverty at all. All he’s managed to do is get rich while the rest of us flounder in destitution.

Fabiano Golgo

From: Czech Position

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