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    What pigs protest says about Cuba

    What pigs protest says about Cuba
    By Will Grant
    Cuba correspondent, BBC News
    13 October 2015

    In the days after last December’s historic announcement that the US and
    Cuba were to re-establish diplomatic relations, a number of dissidents
    were released from Cuban jails as part of the deal.
    Among them was Roberto Hernandez.
    In a small, dank apartment in a rundown neighbourhood of Havana, I paid
    him a visit as he was reunited with his family and fellow government
    opponents.
    He said his time in jail had only strengthened his resolve against the
    Castro government.
    “My ideas won’t budge,” said Mr Hernandez. “If anything, they’ve
    hardened a little more. I’m more sure than ever about what I believe.”
    Mr Hernandez was jailed for five years, and served two, for taking part
    in a demonstration with the anti-government Patriotic Union of Cuba
    (UNPACU).
    But just as Roberto Hernandez was being released, another dissident was
    being detained – a graffiti artist called Danilo Maldonado, commonly
    known as “El Sexto”, whose work is unrelentingly critical of the Cuban
    government.
    On this occasion, the authorities decided he had gone too far: he had
    mocked the leaders of the revolution.
    On 25 December 2014, he painted the names Fidel and Raul on two pigs and
    intended to release them in a plaza in Havana.
    His idea was that people would try to catch the pigs and the winner
    could keep them.
    Whether you see it as a cheap publicity stunt or a valid artistic
    expression, the event was never likely to be allowed to happen in Cuba.
    Maldonado was stopped by state security officers before he got to the
    square and was put in jail, reportedly without trial.
    The government say “El Sexto” is a mercenary in the pay of anti-Castro
    groups in Washington and Miami.
    But Amnesty International recently deemed him a prisoner of conscience.
    “To jail an artist for painting a name on a pig is ludicrous,” said
    Carolina Jimenez, the organisation’s Americas Deputy Director for research.
    Complicates Obama case
    Now, there is some expectation that Maldonado might be released soon,
    after he spent days on hunger strike and US President Barack Obama
    apparently discussed his case in person with Cuban President Raul Castro
    earlier this year.
    No official release date has yet been confirmed.
    Either way, the Obama administration will hope he is out soon.
    The arrest of what they consider seemingly harmless young opponents does
    not bolster their argument that engagement with Cuba is the right
    approach after decades of hostility.
    “They’re hoping that the Cubans will begin to ease up on human rights
    and open up politically. That would enormously helpful,” says Michael
    Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue organisation in Washington DC.
    “It makes it more difficult for Obama to make his case with Congress on
    the embargo – which is that it should be lifted – when these kind of
    practices continue and there is really no sign of significant change so
    far.”
    US embargo
    The US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1959 after Fidel
    Castro and his brother Raul led a revolution toppling US-backed
    President Fulgencio Batista. The Castros established a revolutionary
    socialist state with close ties to the Soviet Union.
    The following year, the US imposed a trade embargo covering nearly all
    exports to Cuba. This was expanded by President Kennedy into a full
    economic embargo that included stringent travel restrictions.
    The embargo is estimated to have cost the Cuban economy more than
    $1.1trillion, and to cost the US economy $1.2bn a year.
    In September, the US announced eased restrictions on business and travel
    with Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve
    relations with the country.
    US businesses will now be allowed to open up locations in Cuba.
    Even small overtures by the Castro government towards dialogue with some
    of the more high-profile human rights activists would go a long way to
    helping Obama’s position, says Mr Shifter.
    But he also points out that even the sight of the Cuban government
    sitting at the negotiating table with the Ladies in White opposition
    movement or UNPACU activists would not be enough to appease those
    members of Congress staunchly opposed to lifting the embargo.

    Some analysts believe they would “keep changing the goalposts” over
    human rights and would not back removing the embargo under any conditions.
    None of this is necessarily a surprise to Washington.
    Raul Castro indicated the one-party system in Cuba was not up for
    negotiation in his closing speech to parliament in December.
    “We shouldn’t expect that in order for relations to improve with the US,
    Cuba is renouncing the ideas for which we have fought for more than a
    century and for which our people have spilled so much blood and run such
    great risks,” he told the deputies gathered in the chamber, as well as
    millions of ordinary Cubans watching at home.
    Cuba did not not expect the US to change its political system, “so we
    demand that they respect ours”, he said.
    A new diplomatic relationship has begun and further economic easing
    could come with it.
    But even if El Sexto is released soon, it is unlikely to herald any new
    political winds on the island.

    Source: What pigs protest says about Cuba – BBC News –
    www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-34503221

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