Activist’s Case Hints at What Changes and What Stays the Same in Cuba

José Daniel Ferrer’s arrest reflects the lengths to which the Díaz-Canel government will go against dissidents.

Comments: 38

  1. The "Díaz-Canel government" this article refers to is fictional. Raul Castro still controls the Communist Party and the military. The military, in turn, collects all the tourism revenue. So, R. Castro still makes all the decisions that matter. Díaz-Canel is left to deal with outlawing reggaeton (an action made legal by the new constitution) and spreading 3G.

  2. @Robert Broughton You are exactly right. Americans, Canadians, Europeans, all this brutality represents your tourism dollars at work!

  3. How many political prisoners were being denied edible food and tortured in Cuba's prisons while Obama was yucking it up with Raul Castro at a baseball game during his visit? The left attacks Trump for cozying up to dictators (and are right) but have a curious blind spot when it comes to Cuba. I wonder if Bernie and the Squad will have any comment to these developments. They will doubtlessly say that locking up political prisoners is somehow the result of the U.S.'s sanctions or otherwise our fault.

  4. @R.P. We don't gain anything by reducing history to simplistic moral fables. We gain perspective when we look at what actually happened. Trump let Mohamed bin Salman get away with dismembering a journalist in a consulate. This doesn't justify keeping political prisoners in Cuba, but there was a time when presidents would say something about murdered journalists. Especially if they were murdered by our alleged ally. The only reason Castro was successful is because the US banked/turned a blind eye to the corrupt Batista regime. Organized crime essentially ran Cuba until Fidel Castro came along. Castro was successful because he provided an alternative. Fidel was no angel, and neither was Raul. But they did help Africans fight against imperialist oppression by sending money, arms, and doctors. Cuba still does this, even though it is relatively a poor country. Cuba is complicated. But we gain more by engaging the regime than trying to isolate it.

  5. @Danny But that's what I don't get. You have unqualified criticism for what happened to the journalist in the consulate, but when I express unqualified criticism of the Castro regime, you say I am engaging in a "simplistic moral fable." Why isn't your concern with the journalist a "simplistic moral fable"? (Should we go to war with S.A. over the incident?) And why is refusing to poison our relationship with S.A. over the journalist killing unacceptable to you, while at the same time you want us to "engage" Cuba? Trump's refusal to criticize Saudi Arabia for killing the journalist is certainly no different than Obama doing the wave with Raul during a baseball game, while prisoners were getting tortured. Yet we only get headlines about how Trump supposedly emboldens strongmen. When Obama emboldened strongmen, the story was about how Fox News was attacking Obama. It's a hypocritical standard.

  6. @Danny Cuba is far more complicated than that! Castro didn't pull off that coup all by himself! He could not have done it at all without the help of many thousands of Cubans in the committed, non-communist resistance within the cities, including labor activists, Christians, and other groups. The reality is that he didn't even admit to being a communist until he was ensconced in power, eliminated the independent judiciary, and was deep into the blood of sending thousands to the firing squads. Lose your illusions. NO humanist hero maintains absolute power for 50 years. As for Africa, are you aware that he sent only black troops? That he kept black mothers entirely in the dark about where their children were for six months? That when (black) general Ochoa returned to great acclaim that Castro had him framed for drug smuggling and executed? Just like he got rid of fellow revolutionary Camillo with a mysterious small airplane "accident" on a short clear blue sky flight? Or of his sociopath rival Ernesto Guevera by abandoning him on a suicide mission to Bolivia? THAT is how a Mafia boss stays in power. Isn't it obvious? And just in case you're wondering why Ochoa would sign a "confession" and agree to be executed, consider that they can always leverage whomever you leave behind. My parents fled Cuba (they'd opposed Batista, and later communism) after they fled, the Castros starved my grandmother to death and tortured my uncle out of his right mind.

  7. "high hopes for reform within Cuba" This is fantasy; a criminal gang controls Cuba, and it will cede power only when forced to do so.

  8. @BayArea101 We have to hope for a non-violent mass movement to force the gun-toters from power. Many may die, but not nearly so many as an attempt at an armed rebellion against an army that holds all the cards. And far, far less than a foreign intervention. Sooner or later, Cubans will have to liberate Cuba once again.

  9. Classic autocratic tactics. No independent judiciary. No rule of law. No free press. No free/fair elections. Innocents rot in hellish conditions. Retro Stalinist. And NO foreign investment or trade! The international community must hold fast to 21st century values!

  10. @charlie corcoran Sounds like Trump would fit right in, doesn't it?

  11. @Solar Power Dear Solar Power, Is that an apology for Trump or an apology for the Cuban regime?

  12. These so-called dissidents are motley mix of CIA operatives or hustlers looking for US sponsorship. My favorite was the "wheelchair poet" allegedly crippled by Castro's personally torturing him...only to literally waltz out of prison to Spain never to see a wheelchair again. Hmm. Sounds like banging his head on a table was inspired by the same source of eternal lies--Washington. Perhaps if the US would cease its brutal hostilities against the Cuban people, including sanctions that affect food, medicine and many vital needs, stopped its military occupation of Guantanamo, and ceased its sponsorship of provocateurs, then Cuba might be able to relax its guard. For those allegedly concerned about real political prisoners and human rights abuses they should worry about Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and the US.

  13. @AR We really have no idea if the dissidents are a "motley mix of CIA operatives or hustlers" or people who actually want the freedom to say and think what they want and participate in free elections. There may be some dissidents receiving U.S. aid, but I can tell you after many trips to Cuba that there is no real freedom on the island and may dissidents are brave people fighting for a change in their political system. You cannot honestly say that there are no political prisoners in Cuba. I agree the U.S. embargo on Cuba is a disaster and must end, and the best bet to change things must come from within not through coercion and intimidation.

  14. Thank you Mr Trump for reversing Obama's pandering to the communists.

  15. @Grace As a Cuban-American refugee, I have to disagree. The embargo serves the Castros best. Opening contact aggravates the contradictions within the regime, enabling athletes, small business owners, entertainers and others to open up a competing social space. West German chancellor Willy Brandt pioneered a different tactic called "Ostpolitik" (east politic) which sought to open up the West to every possible contact with East Germany. He understood that whether with technology, politics or economics, the West could out-compete the communist government across the border in a divided Germany. He actively promoted exchanges of every kind. President Obama didn't sit down with Castro to honor him––he went there to open the door to American influence. All the best to you & yours on the holiday!

  16. Right, they should have a government like all the wonderful democratic countries in Latin America such as Mexico, Guatemala, etc. Death Squads and Cartels, SI! Socialismo, NO!

  17. @kenzo The sins of the extreme right do not make it any easier to bear the sins of the extreme left. In the end, every dictatorship is the same.

  18. @kenzo No one is defending drug cartels. But to deny that Cuba is a dictatorship, that its government controls and represses its people, is to be blind to the obvious. I lived in Cuba for many years. I haven't yet spoken to a youth (and there's been many) in Cuba who hasn't told me "I can't wait to leave this country". I know what I speak of. And no, my family wasn't rich before 1959.

  19. New boss, same as the old boss! The criminal Castro mafia is locked in place. Every generation, sometimes twice in a generation, much vaunted "reforms" are announced, then the second shoe drops and the thugs round up all the "dissidents" who took them seriously and risked their necks for human rights. The Castro mafia has jailed, tortured, executed or exiled the best and brightest of every generation since 1959. The old Mexican proverb states, "There is no evil that will last 100 years––nor a people who will endure it." The Castro mafia is already more than halfway there. Who will free the people?

  20. It took an authoritarian communist government to virtually eliminate illiteracy in Cuba, as well as to vastly improve health care. Today Cuba has one of the highest education levels in the Caribbean, South and Central America. But it's time to move forward, and the US has a choice to starve Cuba with embargoes and sanctions or to let them evolve out of authoritarianism by opening up travel and commerce. As a Cuban-American who grew up in the US, I know how seductive our lifestyle is (with all the good and the bad that goes with it). The authoritarian forces in Cuba won't stand a chance once the dollars start to flow in. Let's lift these sanctions once and for all, and with any luck Cuba will only follow our best characteristics.

  21. @Blue Serge They made that illiteracy claim within just two years. More propaganda. Vastly improved healthcare? Gimme a break! As a toddler, I was delivered to a Havana hospital with no detectable pulse or blood pressure, having got hold of a bottle of Reserpine pills. I was a shadow of my chubby self the next day––but I was alive! At that time, Americans were routinely traveling to Cuba for heart surgery. In 2006, Fidel Castro, the self-styled "Maximum Leader" was taken to a Havana hospital for a routine bowel surgery and they botched it so badly that they had to fly in a Spanish surgeon! The Castro government at various times promoted shark cartilage as a miracle cure for cancer, and a worthless herb concoction as an AIDS cure. I too am a Cuban-American, and I too favor a lifting of the sanctions for the same reasons, but COME ON! Cuba isn't suffering because of the USA. It's a mad system that has run what was once the most prosperous, most advanced country in Latin America into total wrack and ruin. Did you know that Cuba had the first color TV broadcast? That not once since Independence had it run a deficit until Castro?

  22. @Blue Serge They announced this fabled elimination of illiteracy just two short years into the regime. Mere Castro propaganda. Health care is an absolute joke! Cuba long ago led Latin America in health care, and its surgeons were second to none with many Americans traveling there for heart surgery. A personal example, at the age of 2, I was taken to a Havana hospital having ingested a bottle of Reserpine pills. I had no detectable pulse or BP when I reached the ER. Next morning, I was a shadow of my chubby self, but pre-Castro docs had saved me! Since Castro, what's happened to that expertise? Cuba has repeatedly promoted bogus claims like shark cartilage as a cancer cure and magical herbs to cure AIDS. Top it off, when the self-styled "Maximum Leader" needed a routine bowel surgery in 2006, today's surgeons left him at death's door and had to fly in a specialist from Spain to save him. Imagine what care the average Cuban gets. Cuba before Castro was hardly a backwater. It had the world's first color television broadcast and never once had run a deficit. Cubans aren't America's little brown brother! Cuba's not poor because of the US embargo. They trade freely with virtually every other nation. It's the mad, utterly corrupt system that keeps Cubans destitute. That said, this Cuban-born refugee agrees with you that opening to Cuba wasn't Obama weakness, but smart strategy for cracking the regime. 50 years of embargo hasn't worked. Trump can't play checkers, less chess.

  23. @Solar Power As I understand, they didn't fly in just the surgeon from Spain but also the nurses, equipment, drugs, etc. Essentially a complete OR and ICU.

  24. Trumposo has no policy towards Cuba, only what will get him a few votes from the aging hard liners in south Florida. Cuba seems unlikely to experience significant change until Raul Castro is gone from the scene. Depressing to say the least.

  25. It is truly depressing for anyone who cares not only for protecting basic human rights but just plain and simple human decency. Even if it is true that José Daniel Ferrer banged his head against the desk, the question that needs to be asked is why he did so. Probably the best explanation why he did it is because he feels impotent and hence frustrated with a brutal regime that brags about “protecting human rights abroad” and harasses, incarcerates, and systematically tortures those who advocate for respecting the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights at home, as Ferrer and other courageous Cubans have been doing for quite some time while few listen to their plight. Regrettably, they have suffered and continue to suffer the wrath, hatred, and arbitrariness of a despotic, decrepit, and ruthless regime that some still think preferable to a constitutional democracy just because it has challenged a powerful nation like the Unite States. The apologists of this tyrannical gerontocracy have never stopped to think about the price (psychologically, emotionally, physically and financially) that the Cuban people, including many Cuban-Americans, have had to endure for the sake of such a Pyrrhic challenge.

  26. When Diaz Canel was chosen by the Castros they said that the main reason was that "he shared our ideology". We don{ t think that he is a criminal minded guy, however the old guard communists never change their way of thinking. Their mind works exactly as Stalin's. After 61 years their initial goal of expanding the Soviet Union to include all Latin American countries, looks as a failed red fairy tale. Yes, that's what they said in Bogotá, from 1960 to 1965. However the long term vision of presidents Alberto Lleras Camargo and John F Kennedy helped to create a strong friendship between Colombia and the United States, under the umbrella of Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps. Surveys showed that 9 out of 10 residents of Ciudad Kennedy a neighborhood created with the support of America The Beautiful, strongly loved the Americans, our dear friends. In the meanwhile Cuba supplied thousands of AK-47 weapons, that were paid with the money from kidnappings, and later with money produced by coca. What a contrast. No?

  27. Its obvious that this man is a Castro puppet. if he was truly the one in power he would be in constant dialogue with the u.s doing what needs to get done for the sake of the sanctions. Too bad he is not more of a Gorbachev.

  28. Earlier this year I spent a month in Cuba, travelling from Santiago de Cuba to Havana and stopping at half a dozen places in between. The leaden air of oppression hanging over the country was almost palpable. In Santiago, which prides itself as “la Cuna de la Revolución” — the Cradle of the Revolution — my wife and I were accosted by a middle-aged man dressed in rags. He led us to a grocery store, if you could call it that, for the shelves were all but bare, and begged us to buy him — get this— a jar of cooking oil. We did and he left, clutching it to his body as if it were liquid gold. For Cubans, it just about is. As we later learned from the driver of a bici-taxi (it seems as if half the young men in Cuba are bici-taxi drivers), Cubans get a small ration of cooking oil every month. When it runs out, as it invariably does, they beg. Meanwhile, the privileged and powerful cruise the streets in Mercedes-Benzes and live in large well-appointed houses while others live in shacks. So much for la Revolución.

  29. @Thomas Morgan Philip I too was in Cuba earlier this year and I have a slightly different take. The poverty is great but I also saw a percolating entrepreneur class of mostly young folk starting restaurants, guide services and other small businesses. The U.S. embargo is greatly hurting the common people while those in government - who drive the Mercedes - are not phased. We are hurting those we purport to care about. Curious though, the same problems in China or many other countries are not of concern. We embrace communism where it suits us.

  30. @joefargo I should have said we embrace communist and autocratic dictatorships where it suits us.

  31. Castro and his clique created a dictatorship in Cuba. They did good things for Cubans but they also refused to share power and now that Cubans want more democracy they refuse to yield. When will the Left demand that Cuba give voice to her people ?

  32. Wherever we look, there is an inextinguishable aspiration: person equals person.

  33. La Revolucion Cubana has and always will be an unmitigated disaster. A once prosperous country has been destroyed and has descended to the status of Haiti, if that. Food and medicine are barely available, and consumer goods can only be purchased at government stores with dollars. Prostitution seems to be the leading service job there, with nearly every woman or teenage girl for sale. People steal in order to survive, as even doctors do not earn enough to live. Barter is the great equalizer in Cuba. Because Cubans get paid so little, few have real careers or even work, so entire generations have grown up without viable careers or skills. Should they emigrate to the United States, they will be unable to do anything but work in warehouses or drive Uber. Medicines are very scarce and hospitals ask you to bring your own supplies and medicine, or go without the needed attention. In short, a failed society where entire generations of people have been condemned to poverty and ignorance. Most will never truly be productive citizens either in Cuba or outside Cuba. In the United States, they will be burdens to our welfare and medicaid systems. They will apply for low-income housing. Most will not learn enough English to survive in the United States. I know all this because I have seen Cuba and live in Miami. Cuba is a dump, plain and simple. Except for a few beach resorts, it simply looks terrible and run down. No one cares and everyone steals. This is life under the Communist umbrella.

  34. "Since he took office, Mr. Díaz-Canel has unsuccessfully sought to improve living conditions amid widespread gasoline shortages and crippling United States sanctions." Of course with the illegal US blockade, crippling sanctions, and a continuing US policy of hostility and a desire for regime change, the Cuban government has problems improving living conditions. First you try your best to destroy a people's economy and then blame their government. This is typical US behavior against popular people's governments that don't follow the US line and open their country to economic exploitation by our corporate interests. On top of this you have a pro-US "dissident" fifth column in the country and a US mass media supporting it with sympathetic reporting of claims of repressive actions even if the evidence may be lacking: “That movement’s [Project Varela] leader, Oswaldo Payá, died in a car accident 10 years later. Many believe he was murdered.” The last sentence is just tossed in to create a negative “feeling tone” towards the Cuban government. “Many believe it was a tragic accident” would not fit with the tenor of the story. This whole story is just another example of the MSM allying itself with the goals of American foreign policy.

  35. Via the Revolution!! The Revolution was and remains the vehicle in which the mass of people in Cuba overthrew the corrupt capitalist regime before it. It gave the power to the people, and as a true communist state, all power today rests with the people, who benefit daily from the State and all that it gives them. Cuba is a Progressive masterpiece, and Venezuela is on the road to a similar utopia. The capitalists in Ecuador destroyed another masterpiece in progress. How can there ever be a Revolution against the government which the ultimate endpoint of Revolutionary struggle. It can only be corrupt capitalists behind such a false revolution as the People are the Supporters of the one and True Revolution. One doesn't see this type of activity from the comrades in North Korea !!

  36. @drcmd Thank you for your sarcastic humor.

  37. @drcmd I'm guessing you haven't been to any of these places. I'm also guessing you haven't read any of these news about Venezuela in the past 10 years -- you know it's a success when you've lost 13% of your population, your economy has all but totally collapsed, and your on the verge of becoming a failed state. It's also a good sign when your people are eating out of garbages because of the state of the economy. As far as Cuba goes, are you aware of all the refugees in your home state? Compare that to the number of American refugees escaping by boat to get to Cuba. The Cold War is over. Marxism failed because Marxism, though useful as an analytical tool, is a failed ideology that has only produced death and despair. I suggest working within the framework of capitalism to introduce some socialist principles within the existing system. This is called "social democracy" and it works very well in Europe. Capitalism needs to be regulated more than it is in the U.S., but rejecting it as a system is a really terrible idea that just won't go away.

  38. And if you go far enough left in the US (Jill Stein, for instance), you see EVERYTHING through the oppressor-oppressed dichotomy, which leaves you to see the US as an evil oppressor and the Castros as freedom fighters in the shadow of colonialism.