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Editorial: Repression in Cuba

When Yoani Sanchez talks about “alternative means of communication” in Cuba, she speaks with authority. Her blog Generacion Y has become a beacon of democracy and freedom on the island, where the news media are still held in the tight grip of the Castro regime. Producing a blog hasn’t been easy; Internet access is spotty. But she reports that alternate networks are throbbing with information that the government wants to suppress.

When the dissident Oswaldo Paya and activist Harold Cepero were killed in a car wreck in Cuba’s eastern province of Granma on July 22, Cubans learned of it through these alternative channels. Sanchez, visiting Washington last week, told us that Cubans sense that “the government seems to be hiding something” about the Paya and Cepero deaths and there has been a “manipulation of facts.”

The suspicions are well founded. On The Washington Post pages recently, Angel Carromero, a Spanish politician, said that the car he was driving and in which Paya and Cepero were riding was hit from behind by a vehicle with Cuban government plates and that he was threatened and intimidated by the authorities in an attempted coverup. Sanchez said that an independent, international investigation should be carried out as soon as possible, before the government manages to erase every last bit of evidence. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has just written to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, asking him to appoint a panel for such a probe, saying that Paya’s family, the Cuban people and the international community “all deserve to have the truth.”

Truth is not a currency well respected by Fidel and Raul Castro. Ten years ago this month, they launched a crackdown known as the “Black Spring,” in which 75 dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists were imprisoned. The authorities also crushed the Varela Project, Paya’s 2002 petition drive for guarantees of freedom; many of his colleagues were jailed. But Paya was not imprisoned.

Sanchez reminded us that such arbitrariness is characteristic of authoritarianism. “It is hard to think like a repressor, if you have never been one,” she said. “They have their own logic. One of the most paralyzing elements of the Cuban repression is its illogical nature.” While not in jail, Paya had no peace. According to family members, he was threatened repeatedly with death. The threats were often quite direct: You will die before the Cuban revolution does.

Cuba has lately seen some economic reforms and liberalizations; one of them allowed Sanchez to travel freely abroad for the first time. But she told us the real change in Cuba today is not from the top but rather from below. “People are losing their fear, moving from silent to open, from wearing a mask to showing their real face in public,” she said.

Sanchez stands at the cutting edge of this change yet sees a long road still to be traveled. Cuba has not yet relinquished a stranglehold on individual liberties.

The Washington Post