Reality Bites: Living in Communist Cuba in 2017
“The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream.” – Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls, 1993
In the debate over U.S. – Cuba policy the discussion often times pretends that the crimes of the Castro regime are a thing of the past. This does not reflect the current reality of living in this communist country. Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016, but his equally ruthless brother Raul Castro had already been in charge since July 31, 2006 when Fidel became deathly ill. General Raul Castro formally took power on February 24, 2008 and repression worsened.
Cubans who did not sufficiently mourn Fidel Castro’s death were arrested and jailed. Cuban physician Eduardo Cardet, jailed since November 30, 2016, was sentenced to three years in prison in March 2017 for giving a critical assessment of Castro’s legacy.
During General Raul Castro’s tenure politically motivated arbitrary detentions of opposition activists increased exponentially, along with political violence, and the murder of prominent dissident leaders.
In 2016 there were new prisoners of conscience behind bars and 9,940 politically motivated arbitrary detentions over the course of the year. By comparison in 2009 there were 869 arbitrary detentions documented. Religious repression escalated in Cuba in 2016 including the beating of pastors, the confiscation of Churches, some were demolished by the dictatorship.
Rising violent repression against political dissidents in Cuba, including crippling and disfiguring machete attacks, became a high profile regime tactic starting in 2013. The case of Sirley Avila Leon in May of 2015 is well documented, even if it is not widely well known.
The murder of prominent opposition leaders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010, Laura Pollán in 2011, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero in 2012 happened under General Raul Castro’s tenure. Refugees have been killed trying to leave Cuba, shot in the back by Castro’s secret police, as recently as 2015.
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