South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Public criticism of Cuban government warrants notice by Washington
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
February 11, 2008
ISSUE: Cubans speak out in town hall setting.
It wasn't the Boston Tea Party, or even a Tiananmen Square-like rebellion.
However, public criticism of the stagnant status quo in Cuba, in an official town hall-style meeting and other pronouncements, is noteworthy nonetheless. And it ought to prompt a much-needed review of Washington's own stagnant Cuba policy.
The Jan. 19 gathering with Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's national assembly, was marked by fairly sharp questioning by university students. The students were particularly insistent on having the right to travel and access to Cuba's hotels, which are mostly reserved for tourists.
Last week, others spoke up. Folk singer Sylvio Rodriguez, who has been an ardent supporter of the Castro government, chimed in favoring universal access to the resorts.
No, these aren't major concessions, like real elections or media free of government control, which are the bedrock institutions in a true democracy. They are small steps.
Nonetheless, they are steps that indicate that Cubans are making good on an opening presented to them by Raul Castro to speak up and engage in a debate. How far the country's communist leaders are willing to let this debate go is a major question mark.
But if Cubans are willing to speak now, risk potential reprisal later, then the global community needs to take note and act accordingly. Especially the United States, which has sat on its hands for way too long.
Washington can do its part by, first, acknowledging publicly that the process germinating in Cuba is important and desired. Then it can signal its intention to review its own hard line diplomatic stance if the era of openness in Cuba progresses.
No, it's wouldn't be a huge move, certainly no bigger than the small concessions being doled out in Havana, but right now they'd create more hope for change than has been seen in many years.
BOTTOM LINE: Small concessions, sure, but they are concessions just the same.
Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
My comment on line:
The immediate step that the Bush Administration--or Congress--should take is to restore the Clinton/pre-2004 Bush policy on family and non-tourist travel.
Also a small concession compared to what should happen when a new administration takes office, the end of all travel restrictions.