Amidst imminent Cuba policy announcement, dissidents express support for some change

In this March 22, 2013 file photo, miniature flags representing Cuba and the U.S. are displayed on the dash of a classic American car in Havana, Cuba.
In this March 22, 2013 file photo, miniature flags representing Cuba and the U.S. are displayed on the dash of a classic American car in Havana, Cuba. AP

President Donald Trump’s anticipated announcement on Cuba policy changes has unleashed an unexpected unity on the island: Cuban dissidents of various political stripes agree that the United States must make changes to apply pressure to the Raúl Castro regime.

The leader of Cuba's largest opposition organization, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), called on Trump to impose sanctions against Castro's government, just days before the president is expected to make his announcement in Miami on Friday.

“We believe that this is the moment for a maximum reversal of some policies that only benefit the Castro regime and does very little or nothing for the oppressed people. It is time to impose strong sanctions on the regime of Raúl Castro...,” José Daniel Ferrer wrote in a letter to President Trump last week.

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Dissident leader José Daniel Ferrer during a press conference in Miami. Ferrer, the leader of the largest dissident organization in Cuba, has been held incommunicado since his detention in Cuba on Aug. 3, 2018. Roberto Koltun el Nuevo Herald file

Ferrer, who supported the policy of engagement initiated by former President Barack Obama, cited as justifications for a more restrictive policy change toward the island's government, “the criminal behavior that Castroism is committed to maintain against the Cuban people; its support for the repression against the Venezuelan people; their close relations with other regimes that trample on the rights of their citizens — such as Syria, North Korea and Iran —; their hostile discourse against the U.S. and their lack of cooperation on issues such as the extradition of fugitives from the American justice system.”

Another group of Cuban government opponents launched a petition on the platform to ask Trump to support CubaDecide, a citizen initiative for a plebiscite seeking democratic changes in Cuba.

Obama's Cuba policy strategy — favoring dialogue and betting on changes promoted by the private sector and not necessarily by dissidents — clearly divided the Cuban opposition. But many now support a policy change that emphasizes human rights and reduces the flow of foreign currency at a critical time for the Cuban government.

The White House has said that President Trump's policy will focus on human rights. Among the measures under consideration are possible restrictions on authorized travel of Americans to Cuba, as well as the imposition of restrictions on business deals between U.S. companies and GAESA, the largest military conglomerate on the island.

This last measure “goes directly to the jugular of the regime, to the economic power of the military,” opposition leader Guillermo Fariñas told el Nuevo Herald.

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In this July 3, 2013 file photo, Cuban dissident Guillermo "Coco" Farinas raises his fist as he receives the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. Christian Lutz AP

Writer and activist Miriam Celaya agreed that the time is ripe for applying pressure.

“Yes it is good to put a brake on the dictatorship and a brake on its access to foreign currency,” when the government is preparing a “partial transfer of power” in 2018.

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President Barack Obama meets with Cuban dissidents at the U.S. Embassy, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Havana, Cuba. From left are, Guillermo 'Coco' Farinas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzalez, Manuel Cuesta Morua. Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

Castro has said he will step down in February as head of the Councils of State and Ministers, although he will probably remain at the influential post as First Secretary of the Communist Party.

Dissident leader Antonio Rodiles has previously asked Trump to treat Castro's government “as a dictatorship,” a phrase echoed by Cuban American lawmakers, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Senator Marco Rubio, both of whom have been involved in the lengthy review process that will serve as the basis for Trump’s Cuba policy expected to be unveiled Friday.

Follow Nora Gamez Torres in Twitter: @ngameztorres