Monday, April 30, 2007

Releasing Dissidents Doesn't Mean Reform

There's a scene in Syriana where the CIA agent played by George Clooney presents at a meeting about Iran. An official refers to "students marching in the streets" and "Khatami making the right sounds," to which he responds:

They let young people march in the street and then the next day shut down fifty newspapers. They have a few satellite dishes up on roofs, let 'em have My Two Dads, but that doesn't mean the Ayatollahs have relinquished one iota of control over that nation.

This exchange comes to mind with the Castro regime's release of seven prisoners of conscience including Jorge Luis García Pérez, imprisoned since 1990.

Certain knobs, forever eager to soft-pedal the brutality of the regime, will cite the releases as proof of reform in Cuba. There are four responses to this:

1) Jorge Luis García Pérez and his peers shouldn't have been imprisoned to begin with. They are owed restitution for their immense suffering, and those who perpetrated this suffering must be held accountable for their crimes.

2) The "crime" García Pérez was convicted of, "enemy propaganda," remains. Nothing has changed institutionally.

3) Many more prisoners of conscience remain in Cuba.

4) This month, human rights activists Rolando Jiménez and Oscar Sanchez were sentenced to twelve years and four years for "disrespect" and "social dangerousness."

In 1976, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed of the Soviet Union after the Helsinki Accords, "They're released Plyushch, but continue to lock up others. There you have detente and the spirit of Helsinki."

Now Cuba releases some while locking up others, in this case to end European Union sanctions. The EU's likely response brings to mind another observation by Solzhenitsyn:

The Soviet Union and the Communist countries know how to conduct negotiations. For a long time they make no concessions and then they give in just a little bit. Right away there is rejoicing: "Look, they've made a concession; it's time to sign."...They give one one-thousandth of what natural law should provide--things which people should be able to do even before such negotiations are undertaken--and already there is joy. And here in the West we hear many voices that say: "Look, they're making concessions; it's time to sign."

There are still many voices like that.

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