Anyone hoping to see serious changes to Cuba’s ruling system was again disappointed on January 28 when Raul Castro spoke. In a speech marking a critical conference, the Cuban leader promised change, term limits, economic reform, and a willingness to move younger party members to a more elevated status. Yet, as Raul Castro made many promises to his people during his 48-minute address, one could not help but notice the disparity between his words and the reality of Cuban life and politics.
At one point, he boasted that Cuba is one of the safest and most peaceful nations in the world “without extrajudicial executions, clandestine jails or tortures…[Cuba has] basic human rights that most people on Earth can’t even aspire to.” He forgot to point out that in a police state, law and order usually reign—at least on the surface.
If Cubans have enviable human rights, then why must the government repress nearly all forms of dissent? Why, according to Human Rights Watch, “does the regime continue to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, forced exile, and travel restrictions”? How does it explain the brutal treatment of Cuban women, “las Damas de Blanco” (“the Ladies in White”) who speak for those unjustly jailed by Cuban authorities? Or why does it still hold American Alan Gross, who was jailed in 2009 after donating computer equipment to Cuban Jews?
Castro railed at corruption but ignored the fact that its causes are rooted in the malfunctioning economy and the bureaucratic tyranny of the totalitarian state. And while he may want to jettison ration books in his “egalitarian” society, he fears letting go of the censorship of books and information or permitting free travel.
He warned party loyalists that “opening up” did not give them a right to “meddle in decisions that should be left up to the government officials.” As for democracy and consent of the governed, Castro justified the 52-year-old dictatorship in the following manner: “to renounce the principle of a one-party system would be the equivalent of legalizing a party, or parties, of imperialism on our soil.”
For Raul Castro and the island’s communist elite, term limits, economic reform, and new faces in high places ultimately mean little when an unelected tyrant still calls the shots.
Andrew Murray is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm