Cuba is suffering its worst economic crisis since the 1990s.
The bankruptcy of its Venezuelan sponsor, the lack of courage to undertake vital economic reforms, and international support for the cause of democracy in our country, mainly from the United States, all mean Raúl Castro can no longer rely on comfortably holding on to power.
In such desperate circumstances, the only means of conserving power is through repression. While virtually all Cubans are victims of the Castro regime, opposition activists are subject to particularly high levels of persecution. There are many cases of opponents being evicted from their homes, beaten, subjected police intimidation and prevented from traveling – not only abroad but also within the country.
These measures are intended to harm not only human rights defenders, but their family members, neighbours and friends too. To use my own example, in recent weeks I have been subject to arbitrary arrest, fines, the confiscation of my phone, removal of internet access and a travel ban, which has prevented me from being in Britain this week as I had planned.
Others have been subject to much greater brutality. One of the worst cases is that of José Daniel Ferrer, a remarkable political leader in eastern Cuba, imprisoned for five months without due process in the worst conditions, subjected to torture and a lack of both medical attention and food.
What passes for ordinary in life in Cuba is also brutal. The average salary does not exceed $50 a month. The government monopolises education, health services, supply of food and medicine, and legal services – all of which are provided to such a low standard that we Cubans are deprived of the basic conditions of existence.
My denunciation of this barbaric state of affairs has meant a series of aggressive measures from a regime which cannot tolerate dissent, including the current block on my right to leave the country. Mine is a situation experienced by many others in Cuban civil society who have tried to speak out.
What can a country like Britain do? Historically there have been embassies which are very sensitive to the human rights situation on the island, expressing their own governments’ commitment to our cause. Unfortunately, at least in recent times, the British embassy has not stood out as one of them.
The UK has made some of the right noises, including by being one of the countries committed to the Global Pledge for Media Freedom. At the diplomatic level, greater collaboration from the UK with Cuban civil society would serve as an example to other countries that have refrained from getting involved – precisely because they do not see their allies doing so.
That collaboration would also be a great support for Cubans languishing in prison because of their commitment to democracy along with all the others who suffer all kinds of attacks and intimidation from this ghastly regime.
What else can the outside world do to help? Recently the US government has taken a lead by denying visas to Cuban government officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses. Among those denied visas are Raúl Castro himself and his children, as well as the Interior Minister and his children. These specific measures address the unacceptable situation in which Cuban officials can move with complete freedom throughout the world, while denying Cuban citizens the same rights.
In December, the British people chose wisely not to put their trust in a group of politicians who have repeatedly shown their enthusiasm for totalitarian regimes. Some 62 years after our own revolutionaries came to power, we can attest that getting rid of these people and restoring democracy is not an easy task. We could do with a little help from our friends.
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