Five years ago today, Raul Castro took over from his big brother Fidel as Cuba's dictator-in-charge, which as events have unfolded has proven to be little more than a historical curiosity. Cuba's dictatorship is as impoverishing and repressive as ever, and most of the talk of "reform" has been just that -- talk designed to distract from the Castro family business's commitment to holding onto power.
Nothing has changed under Raul Castro, and for that Fidel -- if he is anywhere near cogent -- must be so proud.
If there has been "reform," it's been more like this, a move by the regime to clamp down even harder on its opposition:
HAVANA -- Cuban lawmakers are seeking tougher punishment for anyone who takes U.S. government funds aimed at promoting democracy, state media reported Saturday.The reaction followed a decision last week by U.S. Senator John Kerry to end his personal hold on US$20 million in democracy promotion funds earmarked for Cuba.
The funds have not been released yet, however.
They have been on hold as a U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross is jailed in Cuba, seeking an appeal of his 15-year sentence for taking part in a U.S. campaign to allegedly help Cuban Jews use the Internet. Cuba says he illegally smuggled in communications equipment.
Cuba's five-decade-old regime is the only one-party Communist country in the Americas, and has steadfastly refused any political opening. Cuba and the neighboring United States do not have full diplomatic ties.
The Cuban National Assembly's international relations committee said that if a U.S. national took money from a Cuban for any reason, he would be jailed.
“So why should any Cuban national be allowed to take major amounts of money approved by the U.S. Congress for nothing less than seeking to undermine Cuba's domestic order?” the committee said.
Cuban authorities call Cuban dissidents in the pay of the United States “mercenaries.” It was the justification used in a major rounding up of dissidents in 2003 in which 75 foes of the regime were sentenced to terms of up to 28 years in prison.
They were released starting in 2004 for health reasons, or as part of a dialogue between the government of President Raul Castro and the Roman Catholic Church after May 2010.
Gross was accused of being a U.S. agent and convicted, following a brief trial, of “acts against the independence or territorial integrity” of Cuba. The case has heightened tensions between Washington and Havana.