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    In Raul Castro’s Cuba, A Limit On New Freedoms

    In ‘s Cuba, A Limit On New Freedoms
    by Nick Miroff
    April 30, 2010

    Since Raul Castro took over the country’s leadership, there
    has been a greater openness to public criticism — within limits — in the
    one-party system. But for those who go too far or organize against the
    government, the response is swift and sometimes ugly.

    Last Sunday, six older women dressed in white walked out of their Havana
    church after Mass and attempted to march, carrying pink flowers. They’re
    part of a larger group that has been doing this every week since 2003,
    when their loved ones were jailed in a political crackdown.

    In Cuba, it is the closest thing to a public protest against the
    government. But this month, things changed.

    A plainclothes government agent ordered the women to stop their march,
    and when they argued, he walked away. Then a crowd of government
    supporters charged in.

    The group of women, known as the Ladies in White, shouted “” —
    ” — as dozens of pro-Castro counter-demonstrators surrounded
    them. The counter-demonstrators shoved the women, ripped up their
    flowers and screamed in their faces, calling them mercenaries, traitors
    and worms.

    Under Raul Castro, Cubans have more opportunities to vent. But the
    government has not tolerated open protests against the government.

    The crowd pushed the women into a nearby park and circled them to
    prevent their escape, chanting “Fidel, Fidel.” Plainclothes government
    agents with earpieces and aviator sunglasses stood nearby, directing the
    crowd and intervening when things got too rough.

    A few passing Cubans stopped to watch, but they neither joined in nor
    interfered.

    Greater Freedom Of

    Cuba has done more under Raul Castro to let its citizens vent
    frustrations. Raul took over Cuba’s leadership in 2006 because of the
    illness of his brother, , and officially took over as
    president in 2008.

    Letters to the editor and essays in the state media now openly denounce
    corruption or call for market-style reforms. Prominent artists and
    scholars are publicly urging changes. Last weekend, a popular hip-hop
    group with harshly critical lyrics was granted unusual permission to
    perform at an official venue.

    But some Cubans say the signs of openness are misleading.

    Cosmetic Changes

    “There’s no space for people who really think differently,” said a Cuban
    bystander in a city park who said his name is Eduardo. “The changes are
    merely cosmetic,” he said. “They’re for people who already think the same.”

    There no longer appears to be a place for the Ladies in White, who are
    the wives and mothers of jailed government opponents. Last month, they
    staged a week of daily marches, drawing international support for their
    cause.

    But for the past three Sundays in a row, the government has blocked
    them, sending a stern message with counter-demonstrators, like Aracely
    Keeling, who carry out what are called acts of repudiation against the
    women.

    “I’m here because I’m a Cuban citizen, and these women are trying to
    incite the rest of the country,” Keeling said. “They’re paid by the
    United States to form part of a media campaign against the Cuban people.”

    The Cuban government has released documents that it says show the Ladies
    in White have received financial help and support from U.S. officials
    and anti-Castro militants in Florida.

    Countering The Demonstrators

    The Ladies in White get no sympathy from Maria Elena Martinez, who was
    red-faced and hoarse from shouting at them.

    “These people are criminals; they’re the scum of this country,” Martinez
    said. “They’re only here because they know they can get the attention of
    the foreign media. They’re just using you to create this whole circus.”

    On that Sunday, the counter-demonstrators chanted “Cuba Si, Yanqui No!”
    as the harassment against the Ladies in White went on for seven hours.

    The women didn’t go to the bathroom, and they did not sit down. They
    just stood, staring straight ahead. And while their numbers have been
    dwindling each week, they say they are going to try to march again Sunday.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126415318&ft=1&f=1004

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