Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The opposition on tour

Blogger Yoani Sanchez meets privately with Senators Menendez and Rubio in Washington and complains in Europe that activists from other countries don’t empathize with Cubans.  Blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is falling in love with New York.  The daughter of Oswaldo Paya appears before a UN body and goes on Spanish television criticizing the Spanish government’s handling of the case of Angel Carromero, who drove the car in which her father died.  Berta Soler of the Damas de Blanco gives interviews (here and here) in Spain slamming the Cuban government.  And young activist Eliecer Avila, visiting Stockholm, declares his intention to start a political party when he returns to Cuba.  There’s lots more where all of that came from – press conferences, panel discussions, press coverage everywhere.

The Cuban government surely didn’t set out to do a favor for the Cuban opposition when it made citizens’ travel abroad easier by eliminating the exit permit requirement.  But that is a prominent by-product – a small exodus of political opponents who are touring capitals on both sides of the Atlantic, criticizing the Cuban government, meeting friends, allies, and the curious, and surely making it easier for those who support them to learn, strategize, and provide assistance.

Yoani Sanchez believes that the Cuban government had no choice but to let her travel.  She told CNN that “the political cost of leaving me on the island was becoming pretty difficult to bear,” and “maybe they thought if I left I wouldn’t return.”  As for the new travel policy, “more than a show of reform it was a show of weakness,” she said. 

Maybe so, although I don’t think it would be particularly hard for a government that had restricted travel for 50 years to do so for several more, notwithstanding its promise to include travel among the “excessive prohibitions” being lifted as part of its reform program. 

It’s quite possible that the government decided to open up travel for reasons having nothing to do with its political opponents.  According to press reports since the reform was enacted, the government has barred travel by denying passports in very few cases – dissidents who were released from jail conditionally and whose sentences have not expired, and personnel of key economic importance. 

We’ll see if this practice continues.  If so, it could represent a different calculation on Havana’s part about the political opposition, that its members’ ability to circulate and speak outside Cuba will not alter their political fortunes inside Cuba. 

In Yoani Sanchez’ appearances in New York and Washington, her views on the U.S. embargo were front and center.  At times she expressed her opposition based on the political value it holds for the Cuban government.  Other times she differed with the “pressure cooker” logic of the embargo, that its aim is to create misery and drive the miserable to revolt.  That theory doesn’t sit well if you live in Cuba, she points out.  Shortly after her meeting with Senators Rubio and Menendez, she in part adopted their position and appeared to place herself in a “process of debate” – with whom, she didn’t say – that could lead to change.  From an interview with TV Marti:

Q.  Are you in favor of lifting the embargo unconditionally?

A.  I am not in agreement with that.  I believe that, clearly, at this time there have to be conditions and above all I believe that it is a long process of debate that has to take place beforehand.  We are already taking the first steps and I believe we have to continue on that path.

Surely the topic will come up when she visits Miami.


Author Zoe Valdes, as ever, less than impressed with Yoani Sanchez.

Clarinet/saxophone virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera is one of many who argues that Yoani Sanchez should be treated respectfully even by those, like himself, who disagree with her on the embargo.  Mambi Watch has an interesting post on this development.

Tracey Eaton on Yoani’s New York visit.

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