- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Fidel Castro’s formal exit from power, announced this week, comes at a moment when Cuba stands remarkably secure in the Communist dictatorship that this ailing 81-year-old former guerrilla built over nearly five decades. The “transitional” government of Fidel’s brother Raul has ruled without incident for a year-and-a-half, despite the inherent uncertainty of a dictator’s exit.

The ease of Raul’s rule has dashed hopes for speedy liberalization. Raul Castro, age 76, now seems poised to become Fidel’s permanent successor on Sunday, when Cuba’s new Council of State is unveiled. Most analysts rightly figure upon Fidel’s veto over vital matters for the rest of his earthly existence.

These factors make the prospects for elections and other basic freedoms seem as distant as ever. And yet real elections, freedom for political prisoners and a free press remain the indispensable means forward for this long-suffering nation 90 miles from Florida. The three major U.S. presidential candidates echoed calls for Cuban democracy in statements yesterday, as if the Castros were listening.

Indeed, all signs suggest that the Chinese model, not a Gorbachev-style transition, drives the thinking of Raul Castro, Vice President Carlos Lage and other top Cuban officials. Backed by allies in Beijing and Venezuela, the junior Mr. Castro recently called for economic reforms similar to Communist China’s, which hold fast to the political status quo. He has begun enacting modest economic changes such as privatizing some state farms and granting foreign firms the right to pay higher wages. Raul Castro has also launched an “open debate” on some of the failures of the Communist economy. But political reforms are nowhere to be seen.

Cuba will only join the community of nations when it opens its political system. Indeed, the case for stubborn repetition of Fidel’s dictatorial wrongs just about makes itself. Hundreds of political prisoners languish in jail. The freedom to speak one’s mind, the freedom to associate, the ability to read foreign and domestic media are all severely curtailed. Reporters Without Borders gives Cuba its worst possible rating for the extensive squelching of the Cuban media. In a world where the United States expends blood and treasure for democracy on far continents, repressed Cuba is right here off the Florida coast.

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