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 Internet access.
Developments in Egypt over the last two weeks brought Cuba to my mind.
Why does a similar rebellion against five decades of repression there
still appear to be a far-off dream? Part of the answer is in the
relationship between the Castro 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 economy—retail,
travel 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 Freedom 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, China and Tunisia. Cellphone service
is too expensive for most Cubans.
Yet technology does somehow seep into Cuba. When Fidel took the life of
prisoner 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 Ladies in White—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 blogger 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
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.