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    No end to repression

    No end to repression
    From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Mar. 08, 2010 12:00AM
    EST Last updated on Monday, Mar. 08, 2010 3:31AM EST

    Images of another emaciated and frail Cuban
    dissident-turned-hunger-striker are a potent reminder of the frustration
    and powerlessness felt by political opponents on this Caribbean island.

    Guillermo Farinas, a 48-year-old psychologist and freelance writer,
    stopped eating Feb. 24, the day after Orlando Zapata Tamayo died from an
    85-day hunger strike, becoming a martyr for Cuba's opposition. Four more
    dissidents who are in jail have also launched hunger strikes.

    These dramatic gestures of protest are unlikely to force the hand of the
    Cuban government, but they have certainly shamed it.

    The incident has quashed hopes – at least in the short term – for the
    improvement of Cuba's relations with the U.S. or Europe. U.S. Secretary
    of State Hillary Clinton said Mr. Zapata was imprisoned for speaking his
    mind. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain's Prime Minister, called on
    Cuba to free all its political prisoners, estimated to number 200.

    Cuban officials know this issue resonates abroad, which explains their
    predictable response at the United Nations. Cuba's foreign minister
    Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla accused the U.S. of stepping up subversion
    against the nation, called its long economic blockade "genocide" and
    complained that global capitalism has brought about the death of
    millions in poor countries.

    It is impossible to know whether ordinary Cubans actually believe that
    all political opponents are U.S. mercenaries, and that another country
    is responsible for what happens inside Cuban prisons.

    It is clear, though, the President Raul Castro is no political reformer.
    Many thought he would loosen his brother Fidel's repressive grip when he
    took power in 2006. But Mr. Castro allowed 75 dissidents imprisoned in
    2003 to languish and locked up scores more on the grounds of
    "dangerousness" to the state (including writing articles critical of the
    government). Cuba is the only country left in the Americas which outlaws
    all forms of political dissent; it even forbids the International Red
    Cross from visiting prisoners. Mr. Farinas, the only hunger striker not
    behind bars, wants the release of 26 political prisoners said to be in
    poor health. Starving himself is the only way he can be heard.

    And yet it is difficult for the opposition message to gain momentum
    inside the country, as Cubans are restricted from using the Internet,
    and only have access to government-controlled media.

    "This is an incredibly effective, repressive state machine. People are
    justifiably afraid because they know the consequences of crossing the
    line," says Nik Steinberg, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who
    visited Cuba recently, despite being denied official permission to enter.

    Don't expect change any time soon in Cuba – except a further loss of its
    credibility on the world stage, and more familiar rhetoric about the
    U.S. being the source of all evil.

    No end to repression – The Globe and Mail (8 March 2010)

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