Drawing broad conclusions from Sanchez's arrest is a challenge, given the government's opacity, but it may well have been an expression of the delicate—and sometimes ungainly — balancing act that Castro is attempting to pull off.
In a recent report, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation noted that 2,074 “arbitrary detentions” like Sanchez's were reported in Cuba in 2010. That number shot to 5,105 between January and September of this year.
Although the government has also released numerous political prisoners in the last three years, Human Rights Watch researcher Nik Steinberg said dozens of other dissidents remained in prison.
Moreover, Steinberg said Friday, the arbitrary detentions, beatings and harassment of dissidents continued to stifle freedom of expression.
At the same time, a space has been afforded to opinionated bloggers like Sanchez—although they claim that they are occasionally harassed and intimidated. Sanchez has said the government has denied her requests to travel abroad 19 times since 2008. In November 2009, she alleged that she was picked up by men in an unmarked car who called her a “counterrevolutionary,” punched her in the face and then released her.
Carromero, the Spaniard on trial, had been visiting Cuba to support Paya and his reform group, the Christian Liberation Movement. Paya's widow has rejected the government version of the car crash, saying that the government had threatened to kill her husband on numerous occasions.
Other Paya supporters have alleged that the car was run off the road by Cuban security agents.
Sanchez, in her previous coverage of the case, reported that Spanish officials were hoping Carromero would end up being expelled from Cuba or allowed to serve a sentence in Spain.
(Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.)