The State Department’s latest report on human-rights practices effectively puts the lie to the idea that the piecemeal and illusory changes in Cuba under Gen. Raúl Castro represent a genuine political opening toward greater freedom.
If anything, things are getting worse. The report, which covers 2012, says the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation counted 6,602 short-term detentions during the year, compared with 4,123 in 2011. In March 2012, the same commission recorded a 30-year record high of 1,158 short-term detentions in a single month just before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
Among the many abuses cited by the 2012 report are the prison sentences handed out to members of the Unión Patriotica de Cuba, the estimated 3,000 citizens held under the charge of “potential dangerousness,” state-orchestrated assaults against the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), the suspicious death of dissident Oswaldo Payá and so on.
As in any dictatorship, telling the truth is a crime: Independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, the first to report on the cholera outbreak in Cuba, was jailed in September for the crime of desacato (insulting speech) and remained there until last week.
The regime is willing to undertake some meek economic reforms to keep people employed. It has even dared to relax its travel requirements to allow more Cubans to leave the country if they can get a passport.
Both of these are short-term survival measures, designed as escape valves for growing internal pressure. But when it comes to free speech, political activity and freedom of association — the building blocks of a free society — the report is a depressing chronicle of human-rights abuses and a valuable reminder that repression is the Castro regime’s only response to those who demand a genuinely free Cuba. Fundamental reform? Not a chance.