The Discreet Terror of Fidel Castro

This spring marks the third anniversary of the wave of repression in which Fidel Castro’s regime arrested and handed down long sentences to 75 leading Cuban dissidents. Soon afterwards, many friends and I formed the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba.

The bravery of those who found their social conscience, overcame fear, and stood up to communist dictatorship remains fresh in my memory. It reminds me of the jingle of keys that rang out on Prague’s Wenceslas Square -- and later around the rest of what was then Czechoslovakia -- in the autumn of 1989.

This is why I rang keys during the conference calling for democracy in Cuba that our committee held in Prague three years ago. I wanted to draw the international community’s attention to the human-rights situation in Cuba, to support that country’s opposition, and to encourage all pro-democratic forces. The European Union then introduced diplomatic sanctions, albeit mostly symbolic, against Castro’s regime.

Soon after, however, a contrary position came to the fore. The EU opened a dialogue with the Cuban regime, sanctions were conditionally suspended, and it was even made clear to dissidents that they were not welcome at the embassies of several democratic countries. Cowardly compromise and political alibis – as so often in history – defeated a principled position. In return, the Cuban regime made a sham gesture by releasing a small number of the prisoners of conscience – mostly those who were tortured and seriously ill – who the regime most feared would die in its notorious prisons.