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Cubans in the streets push back the police of the dictatorship

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In December of 2014, U.S. president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro simultaneously announced their two countries were about to normalize relations.

The Obama administration would reopen an embassy in Havana and ease trade and financial restrictions on Cuba, as well as allow Americans to travel to the island, except for tourism purposes.

Castro indicated his willingness to discuss the “profound differences” between the two nations, “particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy.”

But what has changed? “Nothing”, says Dr. Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, co-founder and spokesman of the Cuban Democratic Directorate based in Miami, Fla., who is also a lecturer at Georgetown University and an award-winning author.

In a interview about the human-rights situation in Cuba, Gutiérrez-Boronat said Obama “had good intentions but did not understand how a totalitarian state works — even though he opened the doors, Cuba did not reciprocate in any way — no political opening, no real economic opening … this regime is an enemy to the United States who will change only when its forced to change.”

In remarks made during a trip to Cuba in 2016, a still-hopeful Obama said he was “confident that Cuba can continue to play an important role in the hemisphere and around the globe — and my hope is, is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.” Referring to the end of apartheid in South Africa, Obama said, “We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid. But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela.”

One thing is for certain however: Castro and Obama were no Mandelas in achieving freedom. Freedom House, an American organization that measures freedom and democracy around the world, rates Cuba as “not free” and scores it 1.0 out of 40 on political rights and 11 out of 60 on civil liberties. The organization says plainly that “Cuba’s one-party communist state outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent and severely restricts basic civil liberties.”

The canadian dollars are powering the continued repression in Cuba, said Gutiérrez-Boronat. “Cuban economy is controlled by the military and the Castro family. It’s a dictatorship that controls resources and especially tourism income. And that income is not being used to build hospitals, schools or fix roads. It’s being used for oppression and to enrich these military dictators.”

Worse, only a three-and-a-half-hour plane ride from the 49th parallel in North America, Cuba’s continued alliance with some of the most despotic regimes in the world — including Russia and Iran — poses an incomprehensible threat to Canada and the United States. Putin’s order to put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert after invading Ukraine harkens back to the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the Soviets used the island to threaten America with nuclear weapons. “To this day, the number one ally of the Russian Federation in the Western Hemisphere is the regime in Cuba,” said Gutiérrez-Boronat. “They have been at the forefront of the diplomatic defence of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine … These people are ideological allies of Putin.”

The axis of repressive regimes goes deep and is fundamentally ideological. The Cuban regime’s alliance with Iran is equally disconcerting. According to Gutiérrez-Boronat, Cuban pilots were sent to help Iran suppress the Syrian people in their uprising against Bashar Assad. “These people have entrenched alliances where they share intelligence, operational tactics and they also implement them on the ground, repressing these different countries.”

That hostility has turned against Israel as well. In 1947, Cuba was the only Latin America country to vote against the UN partition plan, although it did establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish State in 1949. “The regime in Cuba is an ally of those who present an existential threat to Israel” said Gutiérrez-Boronat. “It’s a very anti-Zionist regime which has always identified itself with Arab hardliners.” He agrees with the proposition that the benefits of establishing economic and diplomatic relations with Israel far outweigh any relationship with despotic regimes. However, he contends that the Cuban regime is threatened by Israel’s open and pluralistic society, which it fears could empower Cubans to seek freedom and to emulate the “Zionism” — a dream Gutiérrez-Boronat said his movement aspires to follow in members’ quest to return to their homeland.

Cuba is rich with history, and the warmth and hospitality of its beautiful people is felt wherever one visits. As Canadians however, if we stay true to our core beliefs in freedom and democracy and our desire to combat repression, we need to reconsider how we are channelling our resources. Cuba is the fifth most popular foreign designation for Canadians, while trade between the countries is over $1 billion annually. Sadly, very little academic, political or civil society discussion seems to be taking place among Canadians to set forth new public policies on how to effectively encourage Cuba to facilitate positive change while protecting our own national security.

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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