Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Waiting for revolution in Cuba, Burma and North Korea

    Posted on Saturday, 09.17.11

    Waiting for revolution in Cuba, Burma and North Korea

    For all the luxuries they enjoy, dictators live in a state of constant fear.

    Without the trust of their people they must always protect themselves
    against real, imagined, or even potential plots. They may be paranoid,
    but they're right to be afraid. That's true now more than ever.

    These are scary times for tyrants. Some of the world's most enduring
    dictatorships, the ones that looked as though they would never end, have
    met their demise in recent months. For now, the popular revolts have
    spread only through the Middle East. Unelected governments in other
    parts of the world are trying to make sure they're not next.

    In countries like Cuba, North Korea and Burma (renamed Myanmar), and
    others, unelected regimes are raising the walls as they try to keep
    themselves safe from the very people they claim have nothing but love
    for their long-time rulers.

    As has happened throughout history, information and communications are
    pivotal to revolutions. That's why the message, news about what's
    happening in places like Egypt, is being either blocked or pre-digested
    for public consumption.

    When Egyptian protesters, fed up with 30 years of Mubarak rule, forced
    the president out of power, Cuba's Fidel explained the events as
    a revolt against America. In his column in the Communist Party daily
    Granma, the iconic former Cuban president wrote, "After 18 days of harsh
    battling, the Egyptian people attained an important objective: to defeat
    the ' principal ally in the heart of the Arab countries."

    A similar narrative explained other events in the region. Castro
    defended Libya's Moammar Gadhafi until the end, painting the uprising as
    a brutal NATO onslaught against the defenseless Libyan people, an
    example of colonialist Western aggression aimed at grabbing Libyan oil.

    To protect against other versions, the government ordered CNN's Spanish
    language network removed from the foreign programming available only to
    luxury hotels and foreign companies. The order came in January, as
    Cairo's Tahrir Square was boiling with the heat of revolution.

    Most Cubans have little if any access to the or other sources
    of non-government-controlled media.

    An American contractor, 62-year-old , was sentenced to 15
    years in a Cuban after he was found to have brought equipment to
    allow Internet access for members of the country's tiny Jewish community.

    Information is even more tightly controlled in other dictatorships. In
    North Korea, television sets come factory-tuned to government propaganda
    channels and there is essentially no Internet and virtually no cellphone
    service. Even so, a report by South Korea's Institute for National
    Unification says the North reacted to Arab rebellions with a number of
    urgent measures to prevent contagion. stations, according to INU,
    were ordered to intensify their ideological indoctrination programs.
    Other reports say additional security forces were deployed to prevent
    any trouble.

    If any significant uprising happened to occur, there's little doubt
    Pyongyang, with more than a million soldiers receiving privileges from
    their loyalty to the state, would quickly use force to suppress it.

    Burma's rulers have also shown a willingness to use force to stop
    protests. Long before the Arab uprisings, young Burmese took to the
    streets to demand democracy. It happened on Aug. 8, 1988 (8-8-88). The
    military killed thousands of demonstrators and imprisoned their leaders.
    Buddhist monks launched another protests in 2007. The government again
    responded with , leaving another trail of blood.

    Still, the Burmese opposition lives on, and the regime has put on a
    democracy charade. Fraudulent elections produced a new, supposedly
    civilian, parliament, in fact dominated by the military. The new prime
    minister is a former general. But opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi,
    after years under arrest, has been freed.

    In an interview with the BBC she told Egyptian demonstrators, "We're all
    with you." But most Burmese find it difficult to get information. The
    government says 0.8 percent of the country has Internet access. Local
    newspapers offer a parody of the news. Stories from Egypt during the
    January uprising, for example, included news of secret chambers
    discovered in the pyramids.

    The real news, of course, is that tyrants can be toppled.

    No dictatorship lasts forever. For the people who have struggled against
    all odds, facing imprisonment and worse for demanding democracy, the
    truth about what is happening to Middle Eastern dictators will slowly
    filter in. Their rulers already know the truth. They are watching
    closely, and they are not sleeping well at night.