Fabiola Santiago

Cuba’s cosmetic political moves amid repression, economic misery are a big yawn | Opinion

Cuba’s National Assembly is good at one thing: Heartily applauding the results of “elections” in which there’s only one candidate.

No surprise in the results of Thursday’s vote: Communist Party apparatchik and Raúl Castro protégé Miguel Díaz-Canel remains president of Cuba.

Neither the Trump administration’s sanctions nor the trendy white hat and white guayabera he sported at the May Day parade earlier this year have softened Díaz-Canel’s record and image.

He has ruled over a post-Fidel Castro period in Cuba that has seen no political reforms, no improvement in human rights, and only a return to a hard line with little tolerance for dissidence. And after the Castros squandered former President Barack Obama’s olive branch of rapprochement, there’s been nothing but renewed mutual hostility under President Donald Trump.

The new Cuban Constitution ratified in February — and overtly rejected in some form by 2 million Cubans who are more connected to the outside world and harder to fool — is worse than the old one. For one, it institutionalizes repressive measures like censorship in the arts and keeps the death penalty for “treason” (which in Cuba can mean anything the government decides) as constitutional law.

Yes, this “election” or appointment is more of the same.

You can yawn now, Americans.

And keep lamenting that the Obama-era party in Cuba is over, of course.

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Although it would be nice if you did, I don’t expect you to turn the enthusiasm you demonstrated for riding in old cars and dining at paladares into outrage, denunciation, and activism on behalf of the Cuban people being dealt another losing round as a new generation of totalitarian leaders grows roots out of old rot.

The U.S. resistance to world strife barely lasts for the 15 minutes of fame generated by a woke Hong Kong or the abandonment of Kurdish allies.

Economic misery and repression in Cuba — most recently, the targeted rounding up and jailing of journalists, artists, and video gamers under Díaz-Canel — isn’t sexy news. To outsiders, it’s more of the same, and no matter how tough it gets for the people on the island, the Cuban regime gets the benefit of the doubt.

Insanely enough, the regime even gets a pass from the Trump administration’s immigration officials who are arguing in immigration courts, despite documented cases, that Cubans fleeing the island aren’t facing persecution.

How bad can it be there if The New York Times is featuring a magical musical run through Cuba in its travel section, right? The dilapidation of the walls framing drums in the practice room of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is so ... evocative!

Imagine that, the music never ends in a country short on gasoline, basic foods, and most of all, freedoms!

The $1,000 Cuban Americans can send every three months, under Trump-set limits, will provide.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s version of parliament does little other than rubber stamp Díaz-Canel — and retire a pair of old hardliners, Ramiro Valdés, 87, and Guillermo García Frías, 91, comandantes who played prominent roles from the early days of guerrilla warfare to today’s cosmetic moves.

The more powerful of the two, the once feared Valdés, gets to keep his seat alongside Raúl Castro in the powerful Political Bureau of the Communist Party, another sign that this regime isn’t yielding one inch.

Not even 60 years of dictatorship later, when some of the children and grandchildren of the old Cuban nomenclature live in exile in Miami and Tampa.

Ay, Cubita, the never-ending telenovela of badly scripted chapters.

Out of Havana, the headlines in the official Granma tell you that you can call Díaz-Canel by his official title now, “president of the Republic of Cuba,” and that he will soon get to name a prime minister.

“Elected, elected” is the prominent, most-used verb.

But not a single Cuban other than the party delegates voted.

Hardcore Cuba watchers will stay tuned, read between the lines, as Cubans suffer more indignities — and the rest of the world yawns.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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