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The Castro brothers are experts at easing their grip on Cuba just enough and just long enough to get what they want. On many occasions throughout the Castro regime’s 51 years, it has freed or exiled political prisoners or made other “reforms” only to reverse course once it got what it needed.

Ms. Kaufman Purcell says, “The way [authoritarian regimes] often work is that when things get bad, when there’s a lot of external pressure, what happens is that they release [prisoners], and at some point they get new ones.”

Armando Valladares, a Cuban-born former political prisoner and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, told us, “The liberation of groups of political prisoners is a frequent practice in Cuba. It has happened many times for the revolution’s interests. [The prisoner releases] absolutely should not be interpreted … as a change in the tyranny’s repressive structure.”

After foreign aid from the Soviet Union was cut off with the fall of communism in the early 1990s, the Cuban government loosened controls on private enterprise, allowing 200,000 workers to earn money as street vendors and taxi drivers. But as soon as the economy recovered, many of the new businesses were shut down.

When the government wanted some good publicity ahead of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998, it released 300 political prisoners. As soon as the press attention subsided, the prisons were filled again with political opponents.

If fundamental political and economic reforms are to be made in Cuba, the government’s repressive legal system and security apparatus must be dismantled. That didn’t happen for more than four decades under Fidel. And it’s not happening under Raul.

Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values and a Washington fellow at the National Review Institute. He also is associate producer of “Oscar’s Cuba,” a documentary film about Cuban prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Biscet. Jordan Allott is director and executive producer of “Oscar’s Cuba.”