Monday, 28 March 2011


Despite the fact that the Cuban government is still in a state of denial when it comes to whether or not they actually hold political prisoners and basically considers dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of the US in order to destabilise the government. Despite this the Cuban Communist government has finally freed the last two political prisoners detained since a major crackdown on opposition activists in 2003. Felix Navarro, 57, was a teacher and political activist; 40-year-old Jose Ferrer a fisherman and member of one of the opposition movements. They were both sentenced to 25-year jail terms and considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

In all some 75 leading intellectuals, opposition figures and activists were detained during what became known as Cuba's "Black Spring". The Communist Dictatorship was exposed to widespread international condemnation at the mass arrests and long prison terms, with even the European Union suspending all its co-operation programmes. Some of them were later released on health grounds. However, it was not until last July that there was a breakthrough when a deal was brokered by the Roman Catholic Church in which Cuba's President Raul Castro agreed to free the remaining 52. The majority had left with their extended families for Spain within a few months. This process came to a halt when a dozen of the dissidents refused to leave and go into exile, they demanded that they be allowed to return to their homes in Cuba.

The Cuban government anxious to get out of the public eye has gone well beyond its original pledge and allowed at least 60 other prisoners to go to Spain. Another eleven more are due to leave Cuba shortly, including the last man listed as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. It was the death in prison in 2010 last year of the dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo that out Cuba back into the international Human Rights spotlight. The issue remained in the headlines after another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, also began his own prolonged hunger strike. Earlier this month the remaining Ladies in White and some of the released prisoners met at the house of one of the organisers intending to hold a short march. They were besieged by several hundred pro-government supporters chanting abuse and forcing them to stay indoors.

The EU is due to consider in the coming months whether to fully normalise relations with Cuba. Cuba remains a one party state and despite the release of dissidents, the authorities are continuing to harass opposition groups even though they appear to have little impact amongst ordinary Cubans. In relation to curbing dissent in line of what's been going on across the Arab world, I wonder how long it will be before access to the Internet is curbed in Cuba. Oddly enough at the moment Cuba has one of the lowest levels of Internet access and mobile phone ownership in the Americas, but social media, may well be slowly starting to have an impact.

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