Cuban Dissidents Fear Repression after Castro Death


While Cuban-Americans partied in the streets of Miami after Fidel Castro died, dissidents in Cuba stayed home, fearing more repression though some hope his brother Raul will enact reforms.

The wild celebrations in Florida, where many Cubans have fled since the 1959 revolution, contrasted sharply with the subdued reaction of government critics who endured his iron-fisted rule on the island.

The Ladies in White movement called off a regular protest on Sunday "out of respect" for those who mourn Castro and to avoid being accused of committing acts of "provocation," said the group's leader, Berta Soler.

The group was founded in 2003 after Fidel Castro's regime imprisoned 75 dissidents who were the women's husbands or sons. While all have since been released, the group has marched almost every Sunday, dressed in white.

Fidel Castro already transferred power to his brother Raul after falling ill in 2006, and Soler predicts that the communist regime will not change with the death.

"It will be the same Cuba with one dictator instead of two. The dictator Fidel Castro died and the dictator Raul Castro remains," she said, adding that she expects the repression to "intensify."

Police officers who were posted, as usual, outside the group's headquarters left in the afternoon as it became clear no demonstration would take place, Soler said. 

A picture of Castro featuring one of his speeches was placed across from their house about six months ago.  

"It's to remind us that Fidel is present," Soler said, wearing a white shirt, white trousers and white shoes while fielding calls from journalists.

- Change thanks to Trump or Raul? -Her husband, Angel Moya, is hoping that US President-elect Donald Trump will take a harder stance against the government than Barack Obama, who restored diplomatic relations with Raul Castro.

"We are hopeful that this new US administration will at least firmly condemn the Cuban government, condemn it for its repeated human rights violations," said Moya, 52, who served almost eight years in prison.

Trump called Fidel Castro a "brutal dictator" after his death and his advisers said he would strike a "better deal" with Cuba, but his incoming administration has yet to indicate what it will do about the diplomatic detente.

But other dissidents see Fidel Castro's death as an opportunity for change on the island.

"Initially there will be more controls and repression, but eventually he or whoever succeeds him will have to start serious, deeper economic and political reforms," said Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of the 75 former prisoners. "I think it's a matter of time. How long? I think in one or two years"

Ferrer, who lives in Santiago de Cuba, said protests would not be held by dissidents in the eastern city, where Fidel Castro will be laid to rest next Sunday.

Raul Castro has implemented modest reforms that have slightly opened the government-controlled economy and in 2010 he released the last 52 of the 75 dissidents who had been jailed in 2003. 

He has vowed to step down in 2018, but the one-party system has remained firmly in place.

Marta Beatriz Roque, one of the 75 people detained in 2003, said Fidel's passing could prompt Raul Castro to enact more changes.

"Raul has a freer hand to do things that he couldn't do before... out of respect for his brother," Roque said from her home in Havana, where a signed picture of former US president George W. Bush hung on a wall.

She was watching television in her home on Friday night when Raul Castro appeared to announce his brother's death.

"I am not happy about the death of anybody -- even if it was the devil," Roque said.