What Abba Eban Said of the Palestinians Could Also Be Said of the Cuban Regime

They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity:

The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who splits her time between the United States and Havana, traveled to Cuba in recent days seeking to pull off a bold experiment. She called on Cubans from all walks of life to meet at Havana’s iconic Revolution Square on Tuesday at 3 p.m., where they would take turns at a microphone to outline their vision for the new era in the country. Word of the event, which was billed as both a performance and a street protest, was shared on social media using the hashtag #YoTambiénExijo, which means “I also demand.”

Ms. Bruguera’s plan was the first test of whether the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba earlier this month would prod the Castro regime to be more tolerant of critical voices. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the government barred prominent critics, including Ms. Bruguera, from reaching the square. Some were detained and others were reportedly prevented from leaving their homes. In the end, the performance wasn’t held.

Authorities in Cuba appear to have wrestled with how to prevent Ms. Bruguera’s project from turning into a mass gathering of critics. They allowed her to travel to the island, though she had publicized her project well in advance. In recent days, officials from the state-run arts council summoned her for a meeting. In a statement, the council said it had made clear to her that her plan was “unacceptable,” because of the location and the “ample media coverage” in outlets that are critical of the government. Officials proposed that the event be held instead at a cultural site, according to the statement, and said that the government would “reserve the right” to bar people whose “sole interest is to be provocative.”

Obviously, this is appalling, and it shows that the Cuban regime is as vile as it ever was. It also shows that the regime is completely incapable of reciprocating the goodwill shown to it by the Obama administration in the administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba.

I imagine that there are readers who wonder whether I am rethinking my decision to endorse the administration’s move to change the nature of Cuban-American relations. Not in the least. I never expected that the decision to normalize relations would bring about an overnight change in the regime’s behavior, and my favorable link to Dan Drezner’s piece on the normalization of relations–which warned us that change would not occur overnight in Cuba–indicates as much. At best, normalization–and the lifting of the embargo against Cuba–will help Cuba move in fits and starts towards a more liberalized political environment. But again, we have tried diplomatic isolation and the embargo for over fifty years, and that strategy has failed to bring about any results. It is time for a new approach, and as Drezner notes, the Obama administration’s new approach can ultimately bring about a very good outcome:

First, the odds of orderly liberalization and democratization in Cuba have increased. Not by a lot — maybe from 2 percent to 10 percent. But that’s still an improvement. Even if full-blown regime transition doesn’t happen, economic liberalization does make a society somewhat more free. Today’s Post editorial points to Vietnam as the worst-case outcome for the Cuba policy. But Vietnam now has a considerably more liberal climate than before the US opening, so I don’t think that’s the best example.

Second, as my Washington Post colleagues Erik Voeten and Ishaan Tharoor have already observed, U.S. policy on Cuba has been, literally, isolationist — as in, it isolates the United States. Unlike other cases (see below), there is zero multilateral support for sanctioning Cuba — quite the opposite, in fact. Improving ties with Havana ameliorates a long-standing source of friction between the United States and Latin America. That’s called “good diplomacy.”

Third, when you consider the mammoth size of the United States and Cuba’s proximity, the only parallel economic relationship that comes to mind is China-Taiwan — if Taiwan were a lot poorer. If trade, tourism and investment takes off between the two countries, Cuba will quickly become the more asymmetrically dependent actor, no matter how hard the Cuban government tries to resist. This won’t make it much easier for the United States to affect regime change — but it will nudge Cuba towards a less confrontational foreign policy.

We gave the old policy half a century to work, and it didn’t. We should give the new one some time. And of course, it is worth noting that in the past, the Cuban regime tried to claim that American efforts to diplomatically and economically isolate Cuba were the catalyst for any repressive measures undertaken by the regime. They can’t do that anymore. And the world knows it.

“Moderate” Governments Don’t Jail People Over Facebook Postings

Just thought I’d throw that opinion out there:

An Iranian court has sentenced eight people to jail terms ranging from seven to 20 years for crimes including anti-regime propaganda posted on Facebook, an opposition website has said.

Kaleme, which did not cite a source for its report, said the sentences were delivered last week giving the eight Facebook users a combined 123 years in jail.

They were charged with “insulting the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the authorities, anti-regime activities, sacrilege and spreading lies,” Kaleme said.

There was no official confirmation of the court ruling and AFP could not independently verify the report.

Incidentally, are we still under the impression that the current Iranian president–weak though he is in comparison to the supreme leader–is a moderate?

Behold the “Moderate” Iranian Government

In all of its glory:

An Iranian court convicted on Sunday the editor and a contributor of a banned newspaper over a series of charges, including lying about Islam and spreading anti-regime propaganda, reports said.

The media watchdog banned the reformist Bahar daily in October 2013 after it published an article the authorities deemed as an insult to Shiite Islam for questioning one of its core beliefs. Its editor-in-chief, Saeed Pourazizi, who was detained and released on bail following the closure, was on Sunday convicted of “propaganda against the establishment and spreading lies and rumours,” ISNA news agency reported. The Tehran criminal court found Ali Asghar Gharavi, the article’s author, guilty of writing “against the standards of Islam” and “spreading lies and rumours,” the agency added.

Reform Cannot Come Fast Enough to Iran

I’m sure that Iranians will be the first to tell you as much:

In a rare expression of regret by an Iranian official, President Hassan Rouhani has said that he is sorry for any troubles with the distribution of a food ration to the poor, following reports that three people have died waiting for the goods in subzero weather.

Local media have reported that the three died in recent days while standing in line in freezing temperatures. Authorities were quoted as saying that they had pre-existing heart problems.

Most provinces in Iran have experienced unusually low temperatures in recent days.

Rouhani told state TV late Wednesday that he “as the president expresses regret if people have faced trouble in receiving the commodity basket.”

It’s unusual for an official in Iran to take responsibility for problems in a governmental plan.

That last sentence is as troubling as anything found in the excerpt. Incidentally, maybe Iranians wouldn’t have to freeze to death while waiting for food if they had a government that cared as much about the lives of Iranians as it does about exporting terrorism, developing nuclear weapons technology, and preventing Iranians from enjoying basic civil liberties and political freedoms.

Surprising–and Unsurprising–News from the First Round of Iran’s Presidential Election

First, the surprising news: The leading moderate candidate for the presidency has emerged as the strongest of all of the candidates after the first round of voting

Early results from Iran’s presidential election put the reformist-backed candidate, Hassan Rouhani, in the lead.

With 2.9m ballots counted, the cleric had 1.46m votes, or 49.87%, well ahead of Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, with 488,000 votes, or 16.65%.

If no candidate wins more than 50%, a run-off will be held next Friday.

It remains to be seen if a second round can be avoided. If we end up having a second round, my fear is that at that point, the regime will work to ensure that the deck is stacked against Rohani. Unless the regime is absolutely determined to ensure that no one ever again accuses it of rigging presidential elections, I can’t believe that it will allow a moderate to become president and give Ali Khamene’i yet another round of headaches.

And now, for the unsurprising news: 

Millions of Iranians took to the streets to demand a re-run after the last presidential election in June 2009, when the Supreme Leader dismissed claims by the three defeated candidates of widespread fraud.

Two of them, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi and senior cleric Mehdi Karroubi, became leaders of a nationwide opposition known as the Green Movement, after its signature colour.

They were placed under house arrested in February 2011 when they applied to stage a protest in support of the anti-government uprisings which were sweeping the Arab world. They are still being detained.

No foreign observers are monitored this year’s election and there have also been concerns that media coverage in the run-up has been unfair.

Many reformist newspapers have been shut down, access to the internet and foreign broadcasters restricted, and journalists detained.

On Thursday, the BBC accused the Iranian authorities of “unprecedented levels of intimidation” of BBC employees’ families.

It said Iran had warned the families of 15 BBC Persian Service staff that they must stop working for the BBC or their lives in London would be endangered.

Tehran has so far made no comment on the allegation.

Proof positive that no matter who becomes president, the nature of the regime prevents the emergence of democratic discourse and the thriving of basic political/social/media freedoms.

Political Freedom–Or the Lack Thereof–in Iran

I really look forward to the day when I don’t have to read stories like this one.  But I fear that day won’t arrive for a very long time:


A senior Iranian diplomat linked to Iran’s reformists, who has been detained at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for three months, has been denied access to his attorney for the entire time, sources familiar with the case told Reuters on Monday.

Bagher Asadi, who was previously a senior diplomat at Iran’s U.N. mission in New York and most recently a director at the secretariat of the so-called D8 group of developing nations in Istanbul, was arrested in mid-March in Tehran for unknown reasons, sources said last month.

“He has a lawyer but he has been denied access to him for three months,” a source familiar with the case told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “He (Asadi) has not been given the papers to sign by the authorities so he can see his lawyer. It’s just a way of denying him (the lawyer) access to his client.”

Another source confirmed the remarks. Iran’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What the Chinese People (Shockingly) Don’t Know

June 4th was the 24th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre. NPR reports  that thanks to Chinese government censorship, a lot of people know very little about the history of the massacre:

. . . it’s important to remember that a lot of people here have some familiarity with what happened 24 years ago, but a lot of people aren’t that clear on it. For instance, I’ll just give you an example. Back in 1997 when I first came to Beijing, I met a number of young women – they were in their 20’s – and they were chatting with some American men. And the American men said, you know, we really respected what the Chinese did back in 1989 and that man standing up against those tanks.

And the women said: What man? What tanks? They hadn’t actually ever seen that image. More people now, because the Internet is so big here, have seen it. But by and large, people aren’t that familiar with what actually happened.

In China, Big Brother is winning. 

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