12th March 11:36
Free Trade Won't Free Cuba Re: ¿De donde saca tanta plata Cuba?
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Free Trade Won't Free Cuba
CLAUDIA MÁRQUEZ LINARES
According to our state television, the Castro regime was pleased that the
United States Senate passed an amendment easing restrictions on American
citizens traveling to Cuba. This was no surprise. Just days before the vote,
Fidel Castro met here with a group of American travel agents. Both sides are
impatient to make business deals in tourism on our island. But how much this
would really benefit Cubans outside the top Communist Party leadership
remains to be seen.
Democratic dissidents here are divided on the travel ban and the American
trade embargo. But there is unanimity that the Cuban government does not
deserve any sort of reward now, just half a year after it carried out the
worst crackdown on the opposition in decades - the arrest of 75 dissidents,
who were quickly given prison terms of up to 28 years.
Of course, American lawmakers have the right to defend the freedom of
movement for their citizens, and American farmers understandably want to
sell agricultural products to whomever they wish. But the assertion by
lawmakers that they want to lift the obstacles to travel and trade for the
good of average Cubans rings false.
"Unilateral sanctions stop not just the flow of goods, but the flow of
ideas," said Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming, a sponsor of the bill. "Ideas
of freedom and democracy are the keys to positive change in any nation." The
problem is that when it comes to Cuba, the flow of ideas, not to mention
people, is hardly free. Sharing ideas can land you in jail, and one has to
ask the government for a permit to travel abroad - and if you are a
dissident, the chances of getting one are almost zero. My husband, Osvaldo
Alfonso Valdes, has always been denied travel because he has headed the
Democratic Liberal Party of Cuba.
In addition, freedom to trade with the United States is a privilege reserved
for those who belong to the Communist Party nomenklatura. Merely selling
newspapers in the streets or refilling cigarette lighters without a permit
can get you arrested and fined.
My husband's party's platform calls for freedom of movement and free
markets. For the next 18 years, however, my husband's movement will be
reduced to the two square yards of his cell in the high-security prison at
Guanajay. He was one of the first of the 75 dissidents detained in March,
just weeks after he had met with Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota and his
family in Havana to talk about the Liberal Party and about the chances of
freedom and democracy in Cuba. The next day my husband met with staff aides
to six other senators, including Mr. Enzi. Two other Cubans at these
meetings were also condemned: Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an economist, to 20
years and Hector Palacios, founder of the Democratic Solidarity Party, to 25
Senator Conrad is not the only American politician to have shown an interest
in Cuba. In April, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa came to promote agricultural
products from his state. Senator Max Baucus came in September with farm
leaders from Montana; Senator Evan Bayh came last month to sign food accords
advancing the agricultural interests of Indiana.
Of course, all these senators voted in favor of easing the travel
restrictions. Could they not see the irony in that meeting with Senator
Conrad and with the Senate staffers were central accusations against many
dissidents, because talking to American officials can be considered an "act
against the security and the territorial integrity of the state"?
I understand that now the Senate amendment (and an identical House measure
passed long before) will probably be sent to President Bush for his
signature. Mr. Bush wants the travel ban to stay, but if he vetoes the bill
he would go against the majority of his own party. I can only hope that in
their deliberations, Mr. Bush, Congressional lawmakers and the farmers they
represent will consider the "freedom of movement" I and the other wives of
Cuban political prisoners will enjoy for years to come: traveling every
three months to spend just two hours with our husbands.
Claudia Márquez Linares is vice president of the Manuel Márquez Sterling
Society, a journalists' group. This article was translated by the Times from
(This article appeared in the op-ed page of The New York Times 11/06/03).
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