Monday, June 16, 2008

Can we listen?

Hector Palacios, a Cuban dissident released from jail and allowed to travel abroad last fall for medical treatment, tells AP that he plans to return to Cuba next month along with his wife Gisela Delgado, leader of the independent libraries in Cuba.

Mr. Palacios was in Washington last month; he was here on the day that President Bush declared to be a global day of solidarity with Cuban dissidents, but he did not attend the White House ceremony. Here and elsewhere in his travels, his message boils down to a few basic points: the Cuban government is out of options, the opposition is strong and well positioned, and the United States would do well to change some of its policies toward Cuba.

Here’s what he told AFP May 30 (my translation):

“Without dialogue, there is no peaceful change,” he opined, before pointing out “a series of points that have to disappear from the embargo,” in his opinion. “First, that Cubans [Cuban Americans] may travel to their country any time they wish, that they may send their family what they want to send, and also that U.S. citizens may visit us…”

This comment comes on the heels of Martha Beatriz Roque’s direct appeal to President Bush, in a videoconference early last month, to end restrictions on family travel and remittances. Previously, Roque had been a steadfast supporter of President Bush’s policies.

Vladimiro Roca, another dissident leader, told EFE last week that Senator Obama’s position on Cuba policy:

“…breaks the ... state of siege that it tries to maintain to justify repression and narrow-mindedness…On the other hand, McCain would help the hard line…to maintain the approach that they are beseiged by the greatest power in the world.”

Then there was this article from Oscar Espinosa Chepe who, like Palacios, was arrested in 2003 as part of the group of 75 and is provisionally out of jail for health reasons. The article appeared last month in Spain’s El Pais (but the link there is dead). An excerpt (my translation):

“Democratic countries that wish to help the Cuban people should recognize the existence of a new situation that calls for new thinking. The policy of isolating Cuba and favoring confrontation, practiced for decades by U.S. authorities, should be replaced by mechanisms of contacts, fundamentally with [Cuban] society, without excluding eventual meetings with the Cuban government, as done by the Nixon and Reagan Administrations with the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, China, and Vietnam, and now attempted with North Korea. The goal would be to contribute to creating a less tense atmosphere, where it would be difficult for the hardliners to obtain alibis to cultivate false nationalism and to block changes…Immediate steps could be taken such as permitting Cuban Americans to visit the island and help their family and friends economically without restriction…[this step] would make people who receive assistance more independent of the totalitarian state…It would also be very valuable to promote exchanges between the American and Cuban people in all spheres, including cultural, academic, scientific, and sports.”

It is not new for Chepe to oppose U.S. sanctions, but it is new for Palacios, Roque, and Roca to do so.

And it’s not surprising to see these opinions being expressed out loud; President Bush’s term is nearing its end, and in my experience at least, Cubans on the street are not fans of American sanctions. They already have a government, after all, that builds barriers between them and the outside world – and they don’t like the idea that other governments would join in that effort.

Yesterday Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez spoke to dissidents by phone (to whom, his statement doesn’t specify).

The same question comes to mind as in the Bush videoconference: Our leaders talk to the dissidents, but do they listen?


Anonymous said...

They do not listen. Look at even the bloggers like babalu. They just ignore all of the dissidents. Another example is Yoani. Ever since she came out against family travel and remittance restrictions (and came out even against the embargo) she has been less highlighted by the babalu types.

And those "freedom fighter" hardline exilios supposedly believe in free speech? Give me the right to see my mother in habana! God has given me this right!

Anonymous said...

Current Bushies listen to no one but their cronies.