Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Will Cuba be the next Egypt?

    Wall Street Journal:
    Will Cuba be the next Egypt?
    6. February 2011 22:38
    Feb. 7 – Article by Mary Anastasia O'Grady on Monday's Wall Street Journal.

    The most striking difference between the two countries is access.

    Developments in Egypt over the last two weeks brought Cuba to my mind.
    Why does a similar rebellion against five decades of there
    still appear to be a far-off dream? Part of the answer is in the
    relationship between the brothers—Fidel and Raúl—and the
    generals. The rest is explained by the regime's significantly more
    repressive model. In the art of dictatorship, Hosni Mubarak is a piker.
    That so many Egyptians have raised their voices in Tahrir Square is a
    testament to the universal human yearning for liberty. But it is a
    mistake to ignore the pivotal role of the military. I'd wager that when
    the history of the uprising is written, we will learn that Egypt's top
    brass did not approve of the old man's succession plan to anoint his son
    in the next election.
    Castro has bought loyalty from the secret police and military by giving
    them control of the three most profitable sectors of the —retail,
    and services. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to them every
    year. If the system collapses, so does that income. Of course the
    Egyptian military also owns businesses. But it doesn't depend on a
    purely state-owned economy. And as a recipient of significant U.S. aid
    and training for many years, the Egyptian military has cultivated a
    culture of professionalism and commitment to the nation over any single

    In Cuba there are no opposition political parties or nonstate media;
    rapid response brigades enforce the party line. Travel outside the
    country is not allowed without state approval. If peaceful dissidents
    with leadership skills can't be broken, they are eventually exiled. Or
    they are murdered.
    The most striking difference between Cuba and Egypt is access to the
    Internet. In a March 2009 House report on Internet and digital
    media censorship world-wide, Egypt scored a 45 (out of 100), slightly
    worse than Turkey but better than Russia. Cuba scored a 90, making it
    more Net-censored than even Iran, and Tunisia. Cellphone service
    is too expensive for most Cubans.
    Yet technology does somehow seep into Cuba. When Fidel took the life of
    of conscience Pedro Boitel in 1972 by denying him water during
    a hunger strike, the world hardly noticed. By contrast, news of the
    regime's 2010 murder of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo hit
    the Internet almost immediately and was met with worldwide condemnation.
    The military dictatorship was helpless to contain the bad publicity.
    In a similar fashion, when the —a group of wives, sisters
    and mothers of political prisoners—walking peacefully in Havana were
    roughed up by state security last year, the images were captured on
    cellphones and immediately showed up on the Web. It was more bad PR for
    the Castro brothers and their friends like Mexican President Felipe
    Calderón and Spanish President José Luis Zapatero.
    Technology-induced international pressure is making the regime
    increasingly reluctant to flatten critics the old-fashioned way. In an
    interview in Argentina's Ambito Financiero on Jan. 27, internationally
    recognized Cuban Yoani Sánchez said the "style" of state
    repression has shifted from aggressive arrests and long sentences to
    targeted attempts at defamation and isolation. Ms. Sanchez also said
    that uniformed police are "distancing themselves from the political
    theme, not by orders from above, but because they no longer want to be
    associated with the repression." Now, she said, the intimidation and
    arbitrary arrests are largely carried out by the secret police in
    civilian clothes.

    A little more space has emboldened the population. Ms. Sánchez also said
    in the interview that she is "optimistic about the slow and irreversible
    process of interior change in Cubans. In that the citizen critic will
    grow, will have less fear, and will feel that the mask is increasingly
    unnecessary and that it doesn't any longer translate into privileges and

    Last week a leaked video of a Cuban military seminar on how to combat
    technology hit the Internet. It demonstrates the dictatorship's
    preoccupation with the Web. The lecturer warns about the dangers of
    young people with an appealing discourse sharing information through
    technology and trying to organize. Real-time chat, Twitter and the
    emergence of young leaders in cyberspace—aka "a permanent
    battlefield"—are perils outlined in the hour-long talk. The lecturer
    also shares his concerns about U.S. government programs that try to
    increase Internet access outside of officialdom on the island.

    On Friday, the regime further displayed its paranoia by charging U.S.
    Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross with spying.
    Mr. Gross has been in jail for 14 months for giving Cuban Jews computer
    equipment so they could connect with the diaspora.

    With very limited access, Cubans are already using the Internet to share
    what has until now been kept in their heads: counterrevolutionary
    thoughts. If those go viral, even a well-fed military will not be able
    to save the regime. But for now, Cubans can only dream about the
    freedoms Egyptians enjoy as they voice their grievances.