The United States has won two unlikely allies in its efforts to bolster the democratic freedoms in Cuba: the European Union and stalwart journalists on the island. In wake of Cuba’s imprisonment and summary sentencing of 75 dissidents in April, Fidel Castro may have tighter controls over captive Cubans, but opposition toward the dictator is strengthening in some parts of the world and there are pockets of undaunted resistance in Cuba.
The EU unanimously agreed on Thursday to review its Cuba policies, reduce contacts with public officials and bolster ties with the island’s opposition. According to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Europe will provide “visibility to dissidents and a clear message to authorities.” Already, European embassies are inviting dissidents and their families to their functions.
The EU’s message is a particularly hard blow to Mr. Castro, since it has traditionally been a moderate ally of Cuba’s, challenging U.S. sanctions on the island. Less than two months ago, the union had opened a new office in Havana to broaden ties with the regime. With Europe’s new stance, Mr. Castro can no longer reduce foreign opposition to his rule to “Yankee imperialism.”
And despite the recent political dragnet, Mr. Castro hasn’t been able to crush free speech. Some journalists continue sending their reports abroad to newspapers and Web sites, which are in turn read on Radio Marti, which is broadcast in Cuba. Most journalists publish reports without a byline, but face the threat of the gulag if discovered. Many of their reports are available in Spanish on www.cubanet.org.
Cuban journalists have posted news on the health of dissidents and the regime’s arbitrary arrests. Last week, one journalist reported that about 500 Cubans in the province of Holguin have been imprisoned in an alleged crackdown on drugs, without the right to a trial or post bond, and have had their possessions confiscated. Rene Campene Santana, a 35-year-old, who was arrested, according to a neighbor, hanged himself with a sheet in his cell after suffering psychological torture.
Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday called on the governments of the Americas to join the United States in fostering a democratic transition in Cuba. Sadly, the United States had to abandon its attempt in May to condemn Mr. Castro at the Organization of American States due to lack of support. While these bureaucrats tarry, the defenders of the rights they enjoy are wasting away in jail.
OAS member states must heed Mr. Powell’s call and, at the very least, isolate Cuba diplomatically. The steps the European Union has taken and the continued bravery of dissidents in Cuba make their lack of resolve particularly conspicuous.