The Real 'Talks' That Need to Take Place in Cuba

Thursday, July 28, 2016
Great column by renowned author and journalist, Andres Oppenheimer, in The Miami Herald:

Castro mediates Colombian peace deal — but won’t talk to Cuban dissidents

What irony! Cuban President Gen. Raúl Castro has been applauded by world leaders for his mediation in Colombia’s peace talks, but he steadfastly continues refusing to hold peace talks with his own country’s internal opposition.

The irony of Castro’s mediation in Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC guerrillas was brought to my attention this week by Guillermo Fariñas, the well-known Cuban dissident who started a hunger strike in his hometown of Santa Clara, Cuba, on July 20. He wants to call world attention to the plight of Cuba’s peaceful dissidents, and wants the Castro regime to start a dialogue with them.

More than 12 other dissidents have joined Fariñas’ indefinite hunger strike, and the National Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) dissident group has announced that an additional 200 of its members would hold a 12-hour fast in a symbolic gesture of support for the hunger strikers.

It sounds absurd, but even now — a year after Cuba and the United States resumed diplomatic relations and U.S. cruise liners with American tourists are descending on the island — Cuba’s military regime refuses to talk with any of Cuba’s peaceful opponents under the ridiculous claim that all of them are U.S. “mercenaries.”

Since 1959, Cuba’s unelected regime, which Raúl Castro has inherited from his older brother Fidel, has not allowed government critics to vote in free elections, form political parties, speak on the island’s television broadcasts, write in independent newspapers or exercise their United Nations-sanctioned universal right to freedom of assembly.

And while President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March and has dismantled much of the U.S. trade sanctions on the island, allowing American Airlines, Sheraton, Netflix and dozens of other U.S. companies to resume operations in Cuba, the Cuban government continues to use the fairy tale of “U.S. aggression” as an excuse to deny basic freedoms to its people.

“It is hypocritical for the Cuban government to act as the mediator in Colombia’s talks with that country’s violent guerrillas, and at the same time be incapable of being tolerant with its own country’s peaceful opposition,” Fariñas told me in a telephone interview.

Fariñas, who has held hunger strikes before, said he is starting this one to demand that Cuba stop the beatings and political detentions of opponents. He wants Castro to appoint one of his vice presidents to sit down with 12 representatives of Cuba’s peaceful opposition.

Police beatings and detentions of peaceful dissidents and detentions have risen significantly, Fariñas told me. As I reported recently, the non-government Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation says there were 6,075 political detentions during the first six months this year, which — if the current rate continues during the next six months — would be a significant increase over last year’s 8,616 detentions.

Fariñas was arrested and beaten by police on July 19, when he went to a police unit to ask about a fellow dissident.

“Two members of the anti-riot police started punching me repeatedly,” he told me. “After that, I was questioned for five hours.”

What should the United States and other democracies do? At the very least, he responded, “they should freeze any kind of negotiations with the Cuban government until there is a commitment by the government to stop the beatings.”

My opinion: It’s time for the Obama administration, Europe and Latin American democracies to ask Cuba’s military dictatorship to comply with the international treaties it has signed, including the 1993 United Nations Declaration of Vienna, and the 1996 Ibero-American Summit’s Declaration of Viña del Mar.

The latter one commits all signatory countries, including Cuba, to support “freedom of expression, association and assembly” and “free elections.” If treaties like these are forgotten, and countries that routinely violate them are not even reminded about them by their fellow signatories, how can governments ask us to take them seriously?

Pretty soon, when Colombia’s peace talks are finalized and formalized, Pope Francis, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President Obama and most other democratic leaders will hail the peace accords, and Gen. Castro will be at center stage as the big peacemaker. It will be high time to demand that he allow peace talks in Cuba, too.