Human rights activists and democracy advocates have criticized French president Francois Hollande for receiving Cuban leader Raul Castro – with full honors – as nearly 200 peaceful dissidents were being beaten and arrested throughout the island.
Although half of the profits of Habaguanex, a company charged with developing hotels, restaurants and shops, are ploughed into social initiatives – including health clinics, schools, libraries and old people’s centres – the renovations have come at a price, exaggerating the divisions between the scrubbed-up and the squalid. Many former residents of these grand historic buildings have been rehoused far away from the centre, in the hated suburbs of Alamar and Habana del Este across the bay to the east. More look set to be displaced as the pressure to accommodate foreign visitors only continues to rise.
Many Western tourists want to “visit Cuba before it’s ruined,” fearing that as the island attracts foreign investment and continues reforming its economy, development and economic growth will fundamentally change what makes Cuba alluring, notes analyst Tomas Bilbao:
While it is possible that most people who hold this view do so with the best of intentions — wanting to preserve Cuba’s unique culture and heritage — implicit in this statement are two sad and patronizing assumptions: first, that economic growth, development and increased prosperity for the Cuban people are somehow undesirable and will hurt Cuba’s appeal to tourists; and second, that Cuba will ignore the need to preserve its own culture and heritage.
Cuba’s official media offered scant coverage of Argentina’s recent electoral process. In Machiavellian fashion, they postponed announcing the victory of the right (predicted since well before) until the very end, unwilling to share the news, Yenisel Rodriguez Pérez writes for The Havana Times:
The Cuban government knew that the end of Argentina’s Kirchner governments would send a signal to Cuban civil society, and that it would be directly associated, in popular opinion, with the worsening of the crisis affecting Venezuela and some regional allies.
Can an authoritarian regime like Cuba’s convert to democracy by itself? The historical record isn’t encouraging, The Washington Post notes.
When President Obama’s opening to Cuba was announced in December 2014, the proclaimed U.S. purpose was to “unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans,” to “engage and empower the Cuban people,” and to “empower the nascent Cuban private sector,” among other things. Yet there is scant evidence so far of a sea change in Cuba, The Post adds:
Since the United States has placed no human rights conditions on the opening, the Castro regime continues to systematically engage in arbitrary detention of dissidents and others who speak up for democracy. In fact, detentions have spiked in recent months. The state continues to monopolize radio, television and newspapers.
The administration has defined one of its goals as opening Cuba to the Internet, but the nation still suffers from some of the lowest connectivity rates in the world. The regime established a few dozen Wifi spots but charges people $2 an hour to use them; the average salary is $20 a month. The state retains a chokehold on the economy, including tourism; the benefits of a 50 percent increase in U.S. visitors are being garnered by Raúl Castro’s son-in-law, the industry’s boss….The hoped-for explosion in individual enterprise has not materialized either. On the contrary: The number of licensed self-employed workers has been dropping.
Meanwhile, the shape Cuban politics will take beyond 2018 (the year Raul Castro is slated to step down) remains somewhat unclear, notes STRATFOR:
Nominally, power will reside with Miguel Diaz-Canel, Castro’s likely successor. But economic clout as well as a significant share of political influence will probably continue to be concentrated within the elite circles of the country’s Revolutionary Armed Forces.
The most important of these elites is Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Castro’s son-in-law and the head of GAESA, Cuba’s largest conglomerate. He and his fellow military leaders will determine the future of U.S.-Cuban relations as they preside over the creation of a lasting regulatory regime for U.S. companies entering Cuba. However, as long as the political structure of the Cuban Communist Party and the security apparatus created by the Castro brothers remain intact, even these powerful military personalities can be held in check.
Once a loyal son of the Cuban Revolution, Amir Valle is the latest writer to be forced into exile.
The minister “decided I was a rotten apple and rotten apples have to be set apart before they contaminate the rest,” he tells the Global Journalist.
As French President Hollande prepared to receive Castro at the Elysée Palace on February 1-2, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged him not to shirk from his duty to raise the disastrous situation of the media in Cuba:
RSF wrote to Hollande before that trip to remind him of what he once said about the need to end censorship in Cuba. The visit was not however followed by any significant improvement in media freedom.
RSF wonders about the reasons for this new meeting with the leader of what is one of the world’s worst countries from the viewpoint of journalists. In Cuba, independent journalists and bloggers are constantly persecuted by the Castro government, which has ruled the island for 57 years.
The regime has an almost total monopoly on the circulation of news and information, using harsh laws and police harassment to gag independent and opposition media outlets. Cuban journalists who try to resist government control are subject to intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrest and the confiscation of their professional equipment.
“We urge François Hollande not to dodge the fundamental question of media freedom in Cuba during his talks with Raúl Castro,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “The Castro government’s many attacks on Cuban journalists are unacceptable. France must use this visit to advance the debate about media pluralism and the protection of journalists in Cuba.”