Tag: Castro

Unleashing an Internet Revolution in Cuba

By now the name of Yoani Sánchez has become common currency for those who follow Cuba. Through the use of New Media (blog, Twitter and YouTube) Yoani has challenged the Castro regime in a way that various U.S. government-sponsored efforts have  failed to do before, earning the respect and tacit admiration of even those who continue to sympathize with the Cuban regime. As my colleague Ian Vásquez put it a few months ago, Yoani keeps speaking truth to power.

Although she’s a remarkable individual, Yoani is not alone in fighting repression with technology. Other bloggers are making their voice heard, and that makes the Castro dictatorship nervous. As Yoani wrote in a paper recently published by Cato, despite the many difficulties and costs that regular Cubans face when trying to access Internet,

… a web of networks has emerged as the only means by which a person on the island can make his opinions known to the rest of the world. Today, this virtual space is like a training camp where Cubans go to relearn forgotten freedoms. The right of association can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and the other social networks, in a sort of compensation for the crime of “unlawful assembly” established by the Cuban penal code.

As recent events in Iran and elsewhere have shown, once a technology becomes pervasive in a society, it is extremely difficult for a totalitarian regime to control it. A new paper published today by the Cuba Study Group highlights the potential of technology in bringing about democracy and liberty to Cuba. The document entitled “Empowering the Cuban People through Technology: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders,” also recommends lifting all U.S. restrictions that hinder the opportunities of companies to provide cell phone and Internet service to the island. For example, the paper reviews the current U.S. regulatory framework on technology investment in other repressive regimes such as Iran, Syria, Burma and North Korea, and finds that “the U.S. regulations governing telecommunications-related exports to Cuba are still some of the most restrictive.”

By removing these counterproductive restrictions, Washington could help unleash an Internet revolution in Cuba. More Yoanis will certainly bring about more change in the island than 50 years of failed U.S. trade and travel bans.

Thursday Links

  • Nat Hentoff: If you’re looking for reform in Cuba, don’t rest your hopes on Raul Castro.
  • Tim Carney, author of Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses gives the inside scoop on why big government is good for big business.

Tear Down This Wall … between the U.S. and Cuba

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing today on the almost 50 year old ban on travel to Cuba. The ban is part of a broader economic embargo in place since the early 1960s that was supposed to bring about change in the island’s oppressive, communist regime.

Instead, the embargo and travel ban have needlessly infringed on the freedom of Americans, weakened our influence in Cuba, and handed the Castro government a handy excuse for the failures of its Caribbean socialist experiment.

I wrote an op-ed recently advocating change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, and delivered a talk on the same theme at Rice University in 2005.

Will Congress finally change this failed U.S. policy?

HRW: “New Castro, Same Cuba”

Human Rights Watch has just released a lengthy report detailing the constant and blatant abuses of human rights and basic individual freedoms in Cuba under the rule of Raul Castro.

Some hoped that the timid economic reforms announced by the “younger” Castro brother, when he assumed the official leadership of the geriatric regime, would constitute the opening salvos toward a more open and freer Cuba. However, a few of us spotted cracks in that fairy tale early on.

The recent beatings of Yoani Sánchez and other independent bloggers (described here by my colleague Ian Vásquez) are a clear reminder that, in Cuba, it’s business as usual under the Castro brothers’ rule.

Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez Keeps Speaking Truth to Power

Yoani SanchezIt’s the 490th anniversary of Havana today and the Cuban government has arranged for celebratory activities. Ordinary residents of Havana and all Cubans who cherish their civil and human rights have less to celebrate, however, as Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez regularly reminds us. Sanchez has become a major irritant of the regime because of her penetrating posts about the absurdities and injustices of everyday life in communist Cuba. You can see her blog in Spanish here, and in English here.

Just over a week ago, in an incident that was widely reported in the international press and that reveals the threat to the Cuban regime of the growing Cuban blogger movement, Sanchez was assaulted in Havana by plain-clothed government agents. Though she was forcefully beaten, she and her friends managed to fight back and get away. More than that, they took pictures of their assailants and of the incident for posting on the blog, prompting the government thugs to leave the scene. One photo of an agent features the caption “She is covering her face…Perhaps afraid of the future.” Another photo features Sanchez pursuing her assailants with the caption: “They have watched us for decades. Now we are watching them.” Very smart.

As it happens, last week we posted a beautifully written paper by Sanchez (in Spanish) on Cato’s Spanish-language web page, www.elcato.org. (The paper just won a prize in an essay contest in Mexico organized by TV Azteca at which my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo was a judge.) Her essay, “Liberty as a Form of Payment,” describes the fraudulent deal that Castro promised when he came to power. In exchange for liberty, Cubans would be better off culturally, economically, and in other ways. Sanchez describes the reality of social control under communist Cuba in which the real exchanges occur as a consequence of the power relationship. Access to housing, jobs, new goods, and the possibility of minor improvements in life, all depend on a well documented support of the revolution through attendance of mass meetings and membership in the communist party, for example.

Or through personal relationships with those in power. Sanchez describes how young women long ago began prostituting themselves to high ministry or military officials in exchange for non-monetary goods or privileges. Such “courtesans of socialism” later turned to traditional prostitution with the arrival of currency convertibility in Cuba. Sanchez also optimistically describes the role that technology, especially the internet, is playing in creating spaces of liberty. In a country where people increasingly feel the regime’s days are numbered, such exercises of personal freedom can be powerful.

The Land Is There, the Cubans Are There, but the Incentives Are Not

The Washington Post has an interesting story today on the program of the Cuban government to transfer idle state-owned land to private farmers so they can resurrect the dilapidated agricultural sector on the communist island. As Ian Vásquez and I wrote in the chapter on U.S. policy toward Cuba in Cato Handbook for Policymakers, before this reform, the agricultural productivity of Cuba’s tiny non-state sector (comprising cooperatives and small private farmers) was already 25 percent higher than that of the state sector.

At stake is an issue of incentives. Collective land doesn’t give farmers an incentive to work hard and be productive, since the benefits of their labor go to the government who distributes them (in theory) evenly among everyone, regardless of who worked hard or not. While with private property, “The harder you work, the better you do,” as a Cuban farmer said in the Post story.

The country’s ruler, Raúl Castro, recently declared that “The land is there, and here are the Cubans! Let’s see if we can get to work or not, if we produce or not… The land is there waiting for our sweat.” However, it’s not a matter of just having land and lots of people. It’s also a matter of incentives to produce. Failing to see this, as in the case of Cuba’s failed communist model, is a recipe for failure.

Cuban Agents Beat Up Young Dissident (and ElCato.org Contributor)

A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba and meet with a group of young dissidents. Despite their early age, these guys had already suffered enormously the rigors of their totalitarian government. One of them had been imprisoned four times for his political activism. Constant official harassment was their daily life. But they remain unrepentant about their desire for liberty.

I’m still in touch with one of the guys I met that day, a young independent journalist. Every week he sends me articles and newsletters reporting instances of human rights abuses, lack of opportunities for young people, and how life is in general in the Castro prison-island. We have published several of his articles on ElCato.org.

Last Sunday, my friend was headed to a meeting of young dissidents when he was intercepted by government thugs. This is how Reporters Without Borders reported what happened next:

An attack by State Security agents on 5 April left Alvaro Yero Felipe, a young Havana-based dissident journalist, with a badly bruised face, a broken nose and a split lip. He was on his way with two friends to a meeting in support of prisoners of conscience when members of the political police intercepted him, took him to a nearby park and gave him a beating. “Yero’s experience is unfortunately representative of the mixture of harassment and brutality used by the authorities to crack down on dissent,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As the government has signed UN human rights conventions, it should logically punish officials who violate the international undertakings it has given.

This incident happened the same week that several U.S. Congressmen met with the Castro brothers in Havana and lavished praised on the eldest dictator, Fidel, to whom one of the congressmen described as the “ultimate survivor.” However, the ultimate survivors are the dissidents like my friend Álvaro Yero, who every day risk their life and limbs in pursuit of liberty. He’s my personal hero.