January marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and with it 50 years of the Castro totalitarian dictatorship there. Guerilla leader Fidel Castro imposed strict communist control on the island soon after seizing power, quashing his political opponents and even casting aside fellow revolutionaries who did not fit his communist ideals.
The democratic ideal did not die, however, and Cubans yearning for free speech, free press, freedom of worship and peaceful political activity can celebrate 2009 as the 50th anniversary of their struggle as well.
Two-thousand-eight was not kind to Cuba. Foreign trade, never robust even in good times because of the island’s tightly controlled economy, fell sharply along with world market prices for sugar, tobacco, nickel and other Cuban exports. Basic necessities became scarcer for the Cuban people, and 3 devastating late-year hurricanes left tens of thousands homeless, destroyed factories and flooded farms. Through it all, the Cuban government seemed to make things worse by repeatedly refusing offers of disaster relief from the United States.
In a speech to the National Assembly December 27, President Raul Castro said even tighter controls will be imposed in the form of austerity measures in the new year to attempt to pull the country out of its economic freefall. He failed, though, to say why more rigid control would succeed where the country’s already burdensome controls had not. Meanwhile on the political front, the government continues to suppress dissent with frequent and arbitrary detentions, imprisonment and intimidation.
In spite of the oppression, the urge remains strong among many Cubans for a peaceful transition to democracy. People still speak out, the Ladies in White still march on Sundays in solidarity with their jailed family members, and hundreds of Cuba-born men and women line the streets in front of the Spanish Embassy in Havana demanding recognition of their three-generations-removed Spanish citizenship in hope of obtaining a Spanish passport to freedom. The Castro regime may have reached a milestone anniversary, but it is no match for the timeless values of liberty and political freedom.