Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dialogue and results

Today’s announcement about prisoner releases is a very positive development. Here’s hoping that the releases discussed in the statement from the Archdiocese of Havana take place as soon as possible.

The result, if all comes to fruition, will be the release of the remainder of the 75 arrested and jailed, unjustly in my opinion, in the spring of 2003. They are a diverse group that included nearly all the principal activists behind the Varela Project, the pro-reform petition drive led by Oswaldo Paya and the Christian Liberation Movement.

If those releases occur, there would be by my quick count only about a dozen left on Amnesty International’s list of prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

I’m told by someone close to the process that the releases are not contingent on the prisoners leaving the country – that “may leave the country” means what it says, and doesn’t mean “must.” In many cases over the years, that condition has indeed been imposed, trading imprisonment for forced departure – but apparently not in this case. And several of the 75 that were released in recent years – e.g. Hector Palacios, Oscar Espinosa Chepe – have remained in Cuba.

For a long time, it has been said that what is needed is not a dialogue between Cuba’s government and foreign governments, but rather a dialogue with the Cuban people themselves. Cuba’s government has naturally said this is not necessary, because Cuba’s form of government and political system represent the popular will and feature permanent contact with the public.

Now there’s a new feature on Cuba’s political landscape – a dialogue between the Cuban government and Cuba’s civil society in the form of the country’s largest independent institution, the Catholic Church. More important, the Cuban government has acknowledged in the official media that this dialogue is taking place and includes the topic of prisoners. To me, that should count as progress.

It should also count as progress that the process is beginning to produce results. No one can argue that it is solving the totality of Cuba’s human rights problems, or that the Church should be immune from criticism as the process plays out. Nor can one deny that it was preceded by, and perhaps caused in part by Cuban citizens’ protests and hunger strikes.

But it is beginning to produce results where sanctions, distance, rhetoric, and regime-change schemes of all kinds have not.

Remarkably, this statement from Miami’s three Cuban American members of the House of Representatives doesn’t hold the Church’s feet to the fire, doesn’t warn of a bait-and-switch. It simply ignores the Church completely, as if the Cubans active in this process don’t count. The Cubans who have achieved a dialogue with their government on human rights issues get no mention at all – just the “heroic actions of the internal opposition,” and “the economic pressure of U.S. sanctions,” and the foreign minister of Spain “dedicated to the defense of the Cuban terrorist regime” and “attempting to divert attention from the need for freedom for the Cuban people through multiparty elections.”

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