Is the Castro-friendly Cuba policy working?
IN THE PAST few months, proponents of lifting U.S. and international sanctions against Cuba have been gaining momentum. Their argument is that the strategy of isolating the Castro regime has failed and that more trade, more visits by Americans and more diplomatic engagement will produce better results. The thaw they advocate is well underway: Cuba's suspension from the Organization of American States has been lifted, and the Obama administration has removed some restrictions on travel and remittances. A coalition in Congress is pressing for the elimination of remaining constraints on food exports and travel, while Spain, which holds the presidency of the European Union, has been advocating a new policy of cooperation with Havana.
Since the critique of the old Cuba policy was grounded in its supposed ineffectiveness, it seems fair to ask: Is the new, Castro-friendly approach working? A good answer to that question came Tuesday, when Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42-year-old Afro-Cuban political prisoner, died after an 83-day hunger strike.
Mr. Tamayo, a construction worker, was one of 75 Cuban dissidents swept up by the regime in March 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms. Initially jailed for three years on charges of public disorder and "disobedience," he later received a sentence of 36 years because of his acts of defiance while in prison. He launched his hunger strike in December to protest repeated beatings by prison guards and to demand that the government recognize his status as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
As Amnesty put it, that Mr. Zapata "felt he had no other avenue available to him but to starve himself in protest is a terrible indictment of the continuing repression of political dissidents in Cuba."
Human rights groups agree that Cuban totalitarianism has not eased since 79-year-old Raúl Castro replaced his 83-year-old brother, Fidel. "Rather than dismantle Cuba's repressive machinery, Raúl Castro has kept it firmly in place and fully active," said Human Rights Watch in a report last November. "Deplorable prison conditions, torture, and lack of medical attention" explained Mr. Zapata's death, said Freedom House, which in 2009 designated Cuba one of the "worst of the worst." Yet the stroking of the Castro brothers goes on. As Mr. Zapata died, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was arriving in Havana for another warm reunion with the brothers -- his third in the past two years. The embarrassed Brazilian president said he "deeply lamented" Mr. Zapata's death. Too bad he and other Castrophiles were not willing to speak out on his behalf before he died.