Editorials Editorials


Posted on Mon, Nov. 18, 2002 story:PUB_DESC

With Fidel Castro facing possibly his worst economic crisis since the Soviet implosion in 1991-1992, Cuba's peaceful, democratic dissidents are becoming increasingly energized. These brave souls deserve the same international support provided to Nelson Mandela in South Africa and to the Eastern European dissidents under the Soviet yoke.

Castro recently closed down nearly half of the country's sugar plantations, historically the main engine of the Cuban economy. Tourism, the country's other economic lifeline, is down substantially. The country's centralized, state-owned economy is in shambles. In response, the decrepit Cuban dictator is again scrambling to survive.

This time though, Europe, Latin America and others who helped save the communist regime during the past decade, with investment and tourism, are pulling out of the island due to lack of payment and profit. With few options available to him, Castro has been campaigning strongly to soften the U.S. embargo, and even to gain American financing, as a desperate solution to his self-created economic crisis.

Meanwhile Cuban dissidents continue their peaceful efforts to challenge the regime and, for the first time, have organized island-wide, providing an unprecedented, embryonic, grass-roots opposition to the regime. Two weeks ago, more than 300 Cuban dissident groups formed an ''opposition parliament'' -- an unheard-of development -- demonstrating that many Cubans see hope for change.

The ''Assembly to Promote Civil Society'' ties together 321 disparate dissident groups representing independent labor and journalism unions, human-rights groups and independent libraries. Its leader is human-rights activist Marta Beatriz Roque, and it's committed to creating an independent civil society that can provide a viable alternative to the Castro regime.

Meanwhile the supporters of the Varela Project continue to demand reforms to the current system from within. Castro has responded with his typical police-state harshness, imprisoning some, including dissident Oscar Elías Biscet, for political offenses such as hanging a Cuban flag upside down. Fortunately, this repression hasn't deterred the opposition.

Castro's other oft-used option to relieve political pressure -- creating a refugee crisis in the Florida Straits -- now also seems much less likely, especially with America engaged in a global war on terror. Barring U.S. trade dollars and financing, the current crisis in Cuba can point only to increased pressure for Castro to reform.

Now isn't the time for the United States to do business with the Cuban regime -- other than the current cash-only sales of food and pharmaceuticals. Rather, the international community should recognize and support the growing democratic dissident/ opposition movement on the island.

Some international actors, including the European Union, have begun long-overdue discussions about the need for democracy in Cuba. They should be much more vocal and active. This could provide the best chance for a solution to Cuba's 43-year nightmare.