Outside of Cuba, there are speculations, wishful thinking and outright delusions that Raúl Castro is in the process of bringing great change to his country.
Inside of Cuba, human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez isn't seeing it. In fact, Sanchez said this past weekend, the human rights situation worsened in 2009, and the new year promises little improvement.
"The year 2010 is not going to be better," he said.
Sanchez leads the unofficial Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which attempts to keep track on the number of political prisoners — there remain in Cuba about 200, according to Sanchez — and other information about the human rights situation in Cuba.
Instead of improving human rights on the island, Raúl Castro has stamped his unique brand on the repression by resorting to more subtle, but just as nefarious techniques. I've dubbed it, "Catch. Threaten. Release."
Sanchez said his group has documented at least 700 to 800 instances where Cuban police have arrested dissidents, detained them for a relatively short period of time — from several hours to several days — and released them, but not before threatening greater repercussions if they continue with their opposition activities.
The dictatorship also has maintained its information blockade on information about conditions in its prisons, blocking the International Red Cross and other groups from visiting.
"The government knows it has much to hide in its prisons," Sanchez said.
Sanchez also noted that the regime has not responded in kind to overtures from U.S. President Barack Obama for improved relations with the United States. The dictatorship, according to Sanchez, does not believe anything short of a complete lifting of the American embargo, is worthy of a response.
Sanchez said his group opposes the embargo, but said it is not responsible for Cuba's most serious problems.
The wishful thinkers and delusionists may dismiss Sanchez's assessment of conditions in Cuba, if only to maintain their insupportable positions.
But if efforts to bring change to the island are to succeed, they must start with an understanding of how bad conditions really are and how much must be changed.