I’m old enough to remember when the death of Fidel Castro was seen as a possible sign that things might be getting better in Cuba. When you add in the positive effects of capitalism and tourism, enhanced by American rapprochement under Barack Obama, the place should be looking downright democratic at this point. There does appear to be one person who isn’t seeing things quite that way, however. That would be Fidel’s brother Raul Castro, who is still large and in charge and he wants everyone to know it.

There was recently a planned demonstration where protesters were scheduled to demand the release of political prisoners as part of this new, more open atmosphere in Cuba. Do I really need to tell you what happened to them? (India Express)

Authorities across Cuba have cracked down on dissidents, arresting dozens, keeping others from marching in Havana, and detaining an American human rights lawyer, activists have said. In the first such anti-dissident operation since Fidel Castro’s death last month, President Raul Castro seemed to indicate the Americas’ only one-party communist state was in no mood for dissent. A roundup in the country’s east snared dozens and derailed street protests planned to demand that political prisoners be freed.

“There was a joint operation at 6:00 am in Santiago and Palma Soriano. They searched four homes, and so far we have 42 reported arrests — 20 in Santiago, 12 in Palma and 10 in Havana,” Jose Daniel Ferrer yesterday told AFP by phone.

The 46-year-old, who heads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), had called the demonstrations to demand that political prisoners be set free. Castro insists there are no political prisoners, just lawbreakers.

So 42 people were arrested or “detained” because they wanted to demand the release of political prisoners. Irony doesn’t seem to be Raul Castro’s strong suit. To be fair, not all of the those who are “detained” are in jails, or at least they weren’t kept there for long. Some are simply barred from leaving their homes. That’s what happened to the Ladies in White this time.

“At least 20 homes were blocking the residents to keep us from marching today,” said group leader Berta Soler. It was a step backward for the Ladies in White. They long have been considered the only dissidents the Cuban government allowed to march regularly; they hold one weekly protest outside a church in Havana.

But not yesterday, Soler said.

They even arrested an American human rights lawyer named Kimberley Motley on Friday, though she was released in short order. It would appear that Castro is quite happy to see more American money flowing into the island, but he still has no fear of America nor of the protesters in his own streets. In fact, it seems to be little more than business as usual in Cuba.

So should this signal yet another shift in policy? When the White House first announced these rapprochement plans I somewhat glumly decided to endorse them. I made clear at the time that I didn’t hold any high hopes for a brighter future with Cuba, but what we’d been doing for literally my entire life clearly hadn’t moved the bar very much, so we might as well try something else, right? At this point I see no need to backtrack. It’s not as if things will suddenly get any better in Cuba if we cut them off entirely again. And in the meantime, at least some people may be doing a little better off from increasing trade. Also, some families are able to be in touch a bit more easily than they were before.

It’s not much, I know, but I suppose it’s marginally better than nothing. Yeah, yeah… I know. Merry Christmas.

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