Revenue for the regime, a crackdown on society, and the repression of dissidents
Antonio Rodiles, Coordinator of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (ForoDyL):
A year ago relations were restored but, if one counts the 18 months of the confidential political process leading up to that achievement, it has been some 3 years of rapprochement between Washington and Havana. During this period what has been most evident is an increase in repression and violence on the Island.
This is a trend that has affected not only the opposition and human rights activists, but also the population at large, ordinary Cubans who do not get involved in politics because they are afraid to; the self-employed, for example, with fines, controls, and the whole issue of abusive and excessive taxes.
What we are seeing is a regime that, though it has opened up in the international sphere, at home is doubling down on its repressive policies. A sign of this is the relentless flight of Cubans abroad we have been recently been witnessing.
The Obama Administration had stated that this was best way to bring about positive change in Cuba, but I think it is high time that it at least begin to publicly recognize that things are not going as they expected, because what we are experiencing is a process curtailing all the freedoms and rights of Cubans.
From the outset the Forum for Rights and Freedoms identified the need for a real political process in which the regime also had to take steps. This is not what has happened. The people behind this agenda of continuing to grant concessions, without requiring anything from the regime in return, are proving to be somewhat obstinate.
It is very worrisome that in recent weeks we have seen a wave of imprisonments, not only temporary arrests, while Washington remains utterly silent about the situation. Moreover, the famous empowerment that the self-employed were going to enjoy has yet to materialize.
The regime's response to the Obama Administration's measures has been its traditional backwardness, and it is surprising that there have been no statements released, by any institution, including human rights groups, with respect to the current situation.
Laritza Diversent, Director of Cubalex
The rapprochement between the two governments has been positive, although we have not seen any steps forward by the Cuban Government in terms of greater respect for human rights on the Island.
It is up to Cuban civil society to expand strategies to achieve the recognition of its rights.
The repression against dissidents is getting even harsher, but I think this is more due the regime's fear than its privileged position.
Eduardo Cardet, National Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement
For the people of Cuba this has been a very tough, difficult year, characterized by a worsening economic and social crisis, and an alarming increase in the exodus of Cubans who are heading abroad, by any means possible, especially to the United States, as almost the only opportunity to improve their lives.
The political regime has exhibited no changes of the kind we have been striving for, as dissidents. The repressive control has only increased, and we're not the only ones saying it. There is a palpable level of violence being perpetrated against the Ladies in White, and against all opponents of the regime in general, and any manifestation of independent participation.
Unfortunately, there has been no democratic opening-up, at all. At the public relations level, however, the Government of Cuba has managed to project a fraudulent mirage of change. Many democratic countries around the world, such as in the European Union, have sought to rethink their relationships with the Government of Cuba, as if almost everything was resolved.
We remain without any opportunities, and participation in our country's political life is still an impossibility. The economic changes have been minimal; only a small group of citizens can participate in a very controlled manner in economic activities, and every day things are more and more difficult. There is also a campaign against Cuba's small farmers, with a series of measures that are counterproductive and, in general, to the detriment of all those who are self-employed. No real mechanisms for participation in the economic life of the country have been established, and the results are all too evident.
The Government is the entity that has benefited, because this exchange with United States has been primarily between Government representatives. The main agreements have been reached between them.
There is nothing that has really had a positive impact on the lives of our people. There was some level of anticipation, which quickly dissipated as events unfolded and, of course, Raúl Castro and his toadies erased any hope for real change in our country.
In the negotiations everything has been handled with great secrecy, making it difficult to have a clear idea of what is going on. This was only to be expected by the Cuban Government, but not by the US.
Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White
One year after the Interests Section gave way to an Embassy, the change has been very great, not only in terms of the name, but how the Embassy of the United States is behaving.
Right now I can say that many human rights activists who had computer time there, to communicate with the outside, and be able to report on their work and the situation on the Island, have been affected.
Civil society's access to the computers is not facilitated in any way. I cannot say that attention by or contact with US officials has ceased to exist, but we have seen everything change.
The computers to which we had access are now being used for English courses for young people. We are not against this, but these are young people affiliated with the Communist Party. They are not representatives of civil society, and they are not opponents of the Government. They are persons hand-picked by the Cuban Government.
These relations between the US government and the Cuban regime have not benefited the people of Cuba at all. What we see is that the only thing President Barack Obama is interested in is business: doing business with the military because here it is the Revolutionary Armed Forces that run Gaviota, and the TRD.
These are businesses transactions that will not benefit the people of Cuba or bring about change. After Obama's visit, we have seen how police and State Security Department repression against people who want to exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration, has only gotten worse.
For example: the Ladies in White. We have been harassed for 62 Sundays in a row. And the US government has not spoken up to demand that the Cuban regime cease its actions.
Manuel Cuesta Morúa, leader of the Partido Arco Progresista (party)
It has been a very important first year for those of us who maintained that the best option was a change in US policy towards Cuba. Like any political process, it is gradual, and not all goals are achieved immediately.
What is important is the normalization of relations with Cuba. I think this has been one of the keys: pushing Cuba towards normalization, inside and outside the country.
Over the course this year, in general, we Cubans, as a country, have faced our weaknesses and taken on new challenges. What has become clear is not just the Cuban Government's stagnation, but its strategic failure and incapacity to provide any vision for the country's future, or to meet the challenges it is facing.
Cuba's citizens need to reinvent their lives. We are all moving in that direction. And for civil society, the challenge is to figure out what we can do and how we can work on democratization, strictly in political terms, and not just heroic ones.
Ángel Moya, former political prisoner, in the "Group of 75":
When the Cuban regime and the US government resumed relations, we insisted and warned the international community that it would not benefit the Cuban people at all, and that the regime would simply be fortified, as politically it would receive recognition by the Government of the United States, and that, moreover, this would create a situation of rapprochement with the rest of the world.
We have always asserted that any relationship with the Cuban regime must be contingent upon respect for human rights and the freedom of political prisoners, among other points.
One year after relations with the Cuban regime were normalized, in supporting the activities of the #TodosMarchamos campaign for the release of political prisoners, we have been brutally repressed by Government security forces, even when President Barack Obama visited the Island.
In reality, nothing has changed. The regime continues to strengthen itself, equipping and shoring up its repressive mechanisms.
The world is just watching this happen. Thousands of Cubans are leaving the country, fleeing the dictatorship. Doctors, engineers, lawyers and even military personnel are selling their property to escape and reach the United States. This is the state of things one year after diplomatic relations were re-established.
We have always maintained that the Cuban government cannot be treated with kid gloves. Rather, tough conditions must be placed. We know that Cuba's freedom depends on the Cuban people, but we call upon the international community to stand in solidarity with them, and to refrain from provisioning the Cuban Government with resources that never benefit the people, and are used to repress them.
Martha Beatriz Roque, former prisoner of the "Group of 75"
The high hopes sparked by the resumption of relations with the US government have been largely dashed. We have endured a year full of hardships, and the next one will be even harder.
People thought that an improvement in relations could mean an improvement for the people. This was what President Obama said at all times, that civil society was going to notice the improvements, but so far this has not been the case. The only thing it has experienced to date has been the regime's kicks and punches.
The regime, on the other hand, has benefitted from the easing of restrictions enacted by the Obama Administration, while the people continue to languish, with the same old problems, now aggravated by the deficient transport, power outages, and water shortages.
What the Obama administration has done is to funnel money into the pockets of the Castro brothers, not into those of the average Cuban. And the Washington-Havana relations have served to buoy the regime internationally.
Cuban Human Rights Observatory
The American government sought, through the restoration of relations with Havana, a political rapprochement that would help the regime to adopt more moderate policies favoring the people's welfare.
The American president also turned a spotlight on independent civil society at events such as the Summit of the Americas and his meeting with dissidents in Havana during his visit.
And he increased the remittances being sent to the Island. But he created expectations of change in the international community that are not realistic, as change seems an unlikely prospect, and the state of affairs in the country's inland areas has been sorely overlooked.
The Cuban government has taken advantage of this situation to generate an appearance of change abroad. It has been the main beneficiary, not the Cuban people, who are still in the same situation.
The Cuban government has intensified repression within the country. One only has to look at the numbers. It has not addressed the structural changes it promised, or the constitutional changes necessary to regenerate politics and improve Cubans' living conditions.
The Cuban Government has demonstrated a lack of interest in reforming the system and democratizing the country. It has not made a single gesture to implement the conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) or the United Nations pacts.
Therefore, we believe that the Government, once again, has exploited good intentions, aimed at improving the welfare of the Cuban people, to obtain revenue and greater international prestige, in exchange for a set of broken promises, without giving anything substantial in return.
The OCDH is carrying out a survey within the country, to be published in a few days. One of the central questions it poses is whether Cubans' lives have improved after rapprochement between the two countries.
Erik Jennische, director of Civil Rights Defenders' Latin America Program:
The restoration of relations with the US and the European Union (EU) are interdependent.
For years a new policy towards Cuba had been discussed at the EU. In fact, it began negotiations before it even knew about the United States' diplomatic efforts.
The two processes have created a race between international agents who want to be part of, or to lead, the change in Cuba. Governments, companies, NGOs, media, etc. are participating in this race. However, the only change they have produced is, precisely, these new international relations. And the only thing the Cuban Government has offered in exchange for these new relationships is "dialogue about human rights." But dialogue will be pointless if the Cuban government is not really committed to respecting and defending those rights.
The other problem is that the rapprochement with the Government will lead to a rift between international agents and independent civil society in Cuba. The Cuban Government refuses to tolerate international agents interacting with it while also pursuing relationships with independent civil society.
The most encouraging aspect of this new scenario is that Latin American governments no longer have an excuse to ignore the situation in Cuba. The process opens the door to democratic governments in the region placing pressure on the Cuban government to respect human rights. For this to happen, however, extensive relationships between Cuban and Latin American civil society will be necessary, and these do not yet exist.