Hunger strike in Cuba
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    How life really is in Cuba

    Posted on Wednesday, 05.20.09
    How life really is in Cuba

    While the topic of future U.S. policy toward Cuba has been as hot as a
    summer night in Havana, it's disappointing that more of the debate
    doesn't focus on the lack of political and economic freedoms on the
    island, or the status of the hundreds of political and social activists
    sitting in Cuban jails.

    For those who think that Cuba is heading in the ''right direction'' of
    slow reform, look no further than the lightly covered news story that
    the Castro regime is taking new steps to restrict citizens' access to
    communication with the outside world. Specifically, the Cuban government
    recently imposed new regulations that prohibit Cubans from connecting to
    the from local hotels, an access point that many activists,
    students and younger people rely upon to e-mail, post messages and
    receive precious information about life outside of the island.

    Prior to their government's move to limit access to the Internet, it was
    estimated that a meager 2 percent of Cubans had access to the World Wide
    Web, a rate lower than Iran, Belarus or Zimbabwe. Despite the high costs
    to connect — one hour of wireless access runs about $10, the equivalent
    of a half-month's salary — hundreds of Cubans had been successful in
    using these links to communicate their thoughts and opinions about life
    and politics. World-renowned -activist Yoani Sanchez regularly
    posted her witty, satirist musings about life in communist Cuba via
    connections from local hotels.

    Denying free

    Apparently Fidel and Raúl Castro had seen enough of this free expression
    and decided to act.

    Connecting to the Internet is the least of the problems, however, for
    the estimated 250-300 political prisoners sitting in Cuban jails. They
    have been sentenced for trying to freely express themselves, for being
    entrepreneurial, for not accepting the rigid brand of Cuban communism
    and for trying to be leaders in a country where only Fidel decides who

    Forty-four-year-old Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez spent 17 years in
    Cuban prisons for voicing his opposition to the Cuban government. Known
    widely in Havana as ''Antúnez,'' he conducted a hunger strike during the
    last few months to draw attention to the plight of his former cellmates
    who are still serving terms.

    Normally this type of action would have generated more jail time, but
    Antúnez's high profile likely prevented the Castros from doing that —
    so he went under house arrest, and his family and visitors are under
    close watch.

    Antúnez's sister Berta, who escaped Cuba in 2007, recently spoke on
    Capitol Hill and told her brother's story. This event lent an important
    perspective that we should all be considering as we weigh new approaches
    toward Cuba — the suffering of Antúnez and Cuba's other political
    prisoners cannot be forgotten.

    Last year a day of solidarity was commemorated to recognize and
    contemplate the plight of Cubans whose liberties, and
    pursuits of happiness are limited in ways similar to other closed
    societies such as North Korea or Burma.

    Especially for those of us who are actively engaged in the debate of
    U.S.-Cuba policy, May 20 should mark a day when we ask additional
    questions about the real conditions on the island, and apply extra
    thought to how changes in our policies will truly affect those people,
    either for the better or for the worse. To engage in the hot Cuba debate
    without factoring in people like Antúnez or the college students who
    want to e-mail, Twitter and use Facebook is to ignore who we are as
    Americans and what we believe in.

    So no matter where you fall on the debate, use May 20 to learn more
    about la realidad de Cuba.

    Alex Sutton is the director of programs for Latin America and the
    Caribbean at the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C.

    How life really is in Cuba – Other Views – (20 May 2009)

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