As we noted yesterday, rulers in Uzbekistan and Belarus are worried that Bush is preparing a regime change offensive against them, encouraging dissidents to launch protest campaigns. Now it looks like the strategy is being applied in Cuba too. BBC reports May 20 that the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba held a public meeting of 200 Cuban dissidents in a private orchard in Havana in defiance of a ban on political opposition. At the meeting, U.S. diplomat in Cuba James Cason played a video message from President Bush. Praising the dissidents for coming out of the “shadow of repression,” Bush said: “We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedom in Havana that they have in America.”
While tolerance of the meeting was hailed as unprecedented, it was met with a wave of arrests and the expulsion of visiting European participants. Five European legislators, with several journalists and human rights activists from the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy, were seized. At least six Poles are believed to be in Cuban jails. Among those expelled was Karel Schwarzenberg, formerly an aide to the Czech president, Vaclav Havel, who described the arrests as “the typical behaviour of a totalitarian regime.” (UK Telegraph, May 21) The EU responded to the expulsions by threatening to re-impose recently-lifted sanctions. (UK Guardian)
CNN reported the meeting was held in the private yard of prominent dissident Felix Bonne because the regime would not allow use of a hotel, park or theater. “We think this is the first democratic assembly that has ever been held in Cuba,” said organizer and former political prisoner Marta Beatriz Roque. But some opposition groups refused to take part, saying the event was backed by Miami-based exile groups that support violence.
Last month (April 6), the Digital Freedom Network–a group which seems to have obsessive anti-communist axes to grind, despite its groovy name–ran a press release from the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba protesting that Martha Beatriz Roque and other leaders had had their telephone service interrupted by the authorities, “cutting all their communication with members of the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba and with the international community.”
While the regime may be worried enough to deport European journalists and parliamentarians, it is still capable of mobilizing over 1 million to the streets in government-called rallies, as the Posada Carriles affair demonstrates.
See our last post on Cuba.