Change is coming soon to Cuba. Oh really? Well, that’s what Nobel Peace Laureate and former Polish President Lech Walesa said in early February according to the Miami Herald. Of course that was before jailed Cuban activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo died from a hunger strike, and the ex-wife of a Cuban spy filed a lawsuit that could stop flights to Cuba, and oh, did I mention that Fidel is back in charge? Walesa wasn’t the only one hopeful that a new day was dawning in Cuba. After all, when Raúl Castro became president in 2006 he told Cubans that they would be able to stay at tourist hotels that before were off-limits, buy cell phones and computers, and he encouraged young Cubans to fearlessly debate issues within the country. Now, according to a Newsweek article, some who study Cuba such as former CIA analyst Brian Latell, don't anticipate any significant change in Cuba’s policy in the foreseeable future. So what happened?
There are many opinions on the subject and I believe that many of them hold an element of truth; however, I’ll outline a few factors that I believe are more plausible. First and foremost, the philosophical head of state, Fidel Castro, seems to like the current policy. In a series of commentaries called “Reflections” Fidel has reiterated his views concerning Cuban policy towards the U.S., Cuba’s economic policy and his views towards Cuban dissidents. Also, according to an article by the Miami Herald, there are those who state that Fidel has no real desire to see the U.S. embargo against Cuba end and uses it to incite anger towards the U.S.
Another reason why change is slow in Cuba is because there is no significant catalyst for cultural change. Yes, there are Cuban ex-patriots who lobby for change and there are Cuban dissidents who do the same, but these two groups hold little clout with Fidel Castro; and where the head goes…the body follows. International groups who send representatives as change agents to Cuba run the risk of sending these people to Cuban jails if caught. Just ask Jan Bubenik, who went to Cuba to “spread hope” and instead found a jail cell and endured weeks of interrogations, sleep deprivation and other psychological pressure; or ask Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor who was arrested for delivering satellite communications equipment to Jewish groups; Gross was not formally charged with anything. Cuban dissidents can be jailed for far less, and can go to prison for many years.
On the other hand, there have not been substantive changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba and a recent poll indicates that forty percent of U.S. citizens support continuing the embargo against Cuba. Meanwhile, in Cuba, Cuban dissidents like Guillermo Fariñas, protest put their lives on the line by means of hunger strikes.
So, is change coming soon to Cuba? Perhaps. We’ll have to wait and see.