Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Damas' week

A week of daily protests for the release of political prisoners by the Damas de Blanco ended on Sunday. It was “unprecedented,” according to Mauricio Vicent of El Pais, who described the daily pattern: “mass, a march through the streets, a spontaneous acto de repudio from the indignant people, a police cordon to protect the women, all organized to perfection.”

The protests, marking the anniversary of the 2003 arrests of 75 dissidents and independent journalists, came just after the death of Orlando Zapata and coincide with the hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas, who is seeking release of 26 political prisoners with health problems. If Farinas dies, dissident Felix Bonne has said he will start a hunger strike of his own. It all adds up to a cascade of public opposition activity that hasn’t been seen in some time.

What is the impact?

Internationally, it’s clear. Whereas one year ago the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean were unanimously pushing President Obama to end the embargo, today’s events have put the President of Brazil on the defensive and elicited statements of concern (or stronger) from the governments of Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile – plus one from the UN Secretary General.

A more concrete impact could be the derailing of Spain’s effort to change European Union policy toward Cuba during the first six months of this year, during which Madrid holds the EU presidency. This situation is hard to read – the issue had not yet been joined in the EU and no Spanish proposal has yet come to light. EFE is reporting, with no quotes and no sources cited by name, that Spain has already decided to abandon this effort. I have seen nothing on-the-record from the foreign ministry.

Inside Cuba, we have seen another set of actions showing Cuba’s bloggers moving beyond on-line commentary to public activism, this time in solidarity with Farinas and the Damas de Blanco. See this post from Claudia Cadelo, in addition to the numerous items from Yoani Sanchez that appear at Penultimos Dias.

Whether there will be lasting political effect, I’m not so sure.

This analysis by Ernesto Menendez-Conde at Diario de Cuba points in that direction, saying that the government miscalculated and that Zapata’s death, “far from scaring the dissidents, energized them and expanded their political space.” The comments that follow include some contrary views.

This comment by the BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg, “Suicide as a political weapon,” is also worth reading, as are the comments that follow.

Finally, if you like trying to figure out what is on the Cuban government’s mind by deciphering the messages and coverage in Cuban media, these two videos show how these events are being presented to the Cuban public: from the Mesa Redonda and from the nightly news program.

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