Cuba: Change is yet to come

Posted in Human Rights , Other , Latin America | 13-Nov-03 | Author: Prof. Dr. Ludger Kuehnhardt

Prof. Ludger Kühnhardt is Director of the Center for European Integration Studies (ZEI) in Bonn
Castro: "Wounded like a bear by the EU"
It is hard to believe for strong realists, but soft policy decisions of the European Union can matter. One example is the EU's policy towards Cuba. The ailing and impoverished totalitarian regime under the Caribbean sun has felt wounded like a big bear since the European Union imposed a measure of punishment in response to the latest violations of human rights in Cuba.

The EU Ambassadors have invited Cuban dissidents to the receptions they are hosting in their residences. In Europe, such receptions are not even noticed in public. In Cuba, the invitations to dissidents have stirred deep frustration and outright helplessness on the side of the regime. The government feels provoked by Europe in a way never seen before. What sanctions could not achieve, invitations did: the Cuban regime feels being under pressure, both moral and political. This, of course, will not lead to any substantial change on the island as long as Fidel Castro is alive. And he might be followed one day by young technocrats with strong ideological bias, Cuban Young Talibans.

The economic perspective is equally murky. The country is impoverished and can only survive due to the hypocritical reality of a dual economy, one in pesos, one in US dollars. While regular shops are filled with goods of secondary quality, the dollar-shops live on the basis of money flowing into Cuba from Miami: this provides soap and juice for the Cuba’s citizens and further dollar reserves for the Castro regime. A troubling, vicious circle, only exacerbated by other dimensions of hypocrisy that follow from the American sanctions, like the reemergence of (mainly) American sex-tourism.

All in all, Cuba is no paradise under the sun, but the last remaining communist purgatory on earth. Repression of the Church has rather increased than decreased since the historic visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Yet the country has the potential of becoming again a hub between North and South America. There is a very long way to go, not the least because Cuba has fallen behind years, if not decades, in the process of globalization. It is in this context that the hypersensitive reaction of the Cuban regime to the EU invitations for dissidents is a sign of hope: hope that the regime might begin to feel the moral pressure it provokes as a political pressure with which it has to reckon with. It is through such pressure that any serious transformation in Cuba may take place in a civilized and stable manner.