2003 September 18 Thursday
European Cold War Dissidents Call For Democracy In Cuba

Vaclav Havel, Former President of the Czech Republic, Arpad Göncz, Former President of Hungary, Lech Walesa, Former President of Poland all served time in prison as political dissidents while communist regimes still ruled Eastern Europe. They have just written a letter to The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers calling for united American and European support for democracy in Cuba.

It is time to put aside transatlantic disputes about the embargo of Cuba and to concentrate on direct support for Cuban dissidents, prisoners of conscience and their families.

Europe ought to make it unambiguously clear that Castro is a dictator, and that for democratic countries a dictatorship cannot become a partner until it commences a process of political liberalisation.

At the same time, European countries should establish a "Cuban Democracy Fund" to support the emergence of a civil society in Cuba. Such a fund would be ready for instant use in the case of political changes on the island.

While Castro is throwing dissidents in jail the dissident movement in Cuba continues to work for basic political freedoms.

The letter comes at a difficult time for the Cuban authorities. The island is suffering harsh economic downturn and growing discontent.

Last year, "Project Varela" drew 11,000 signatures seeking to activate a provision in the Cuban constitution allowing a referendum on the introduction of political freedoms. It was one of the biggest popular acts of dissent since the communists took power in 1958. Despite the regime's fierce response, the anti-Castro movement continues to thrive. Earlier this week, a coalition of dissident groups unveiled a proposal seeking broad human and economic freedoms after consulting more than 35,000 Cubans across the island.

It seems unlikely anything in Cuba will change before Castro's death unless he goes senile and effectively loses control. Though expansion of the Cuban tourism industry is giving Cubans an appreciation of just how poor they are.

In its economic desperation, Cuba embraced another low-tech business: tourism. Fidel Castro wanted to confine tourism to seashore resorts, but it soon spread deeply into the heartland and now accounts for 10 percent of the Cuban economy. These tourists are polluting the ideology of the Cuban regime. Their wealth presents a culture shock to the citizenry. One Cuban told me a heart-wrenching story that appeared in a Havana newspaper, before Castro arrested the editor. A young girl in Havana was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her touching answer: a tourista.

Would a lowering of US sanctions against Cuba that allowed US tourists to travel there accelerate the demise of the regime or would the revenue from tourism help prop up the regime?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 September 18 01:37 AM  Culture Open Versus Closed Societies

Dave Sheridan said at September 18, 2003 6:38 AM:

A thought provoking question. In general I favor the embargo. With respect to tourism, however, there may be reason to think that exposing Cubans to more affluent tourists, and their ideas, would in fact hasten change despite the economic prop to the regime. One really tragic thing about North Korea, for example, is the fact that average North Koreans have absolutely no idea how tragic their situation is.

Other reasons to expect tourism to destabilize Cuba:
The effect of hard vs. local currency. Dollars are coveted by ordinary Cubans because they can buy a wealth of goods not available to peso holders. This inequity would be made more obvious with more dollars available, especially in the interior of the country.

Already, foreign tourists are demanding full Internet access, and the hotels (and some dollay-based cybercafes) are being allowed to provide it. According to this post (http://www.cybercuba.com/npa1.html), that fact is not going unnoticed by the locals.

So, your question is a good one, but it just may be that dropping the embargo on tourism would be incredibly subversive.

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