Posted on Fri, Mar. 21, 2008
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A regard for common decency has never stopped either Fidel or Raúl Castro from punishing political dissent even as they pretend to support internationally recognized standards of freedom. As long as they have something to say about it, Cuba will never abide by any commitment to respect basic human rights. Rarely, however, has the hypocrisy and cynicism of Cuba's leaders been as evident as it is this week, on the fifth anniversary of the so-called ''black spring'' of March 2003.
While world attention was focused on the invasion of Iraq, the Castro brothers seized the moment to arrest nearly 80 dissidents on the island in one of the harshest crackdowns on government opponents in recent years. Today, many of them remain among the estimated 234 prisoners of conscience held in Cuban jails. They include at least 19 of the 27 journalists who were arrested during that period and unfairly sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years.
Carting political dissidents off to jail is standard operating procedure in Cuba. So are long sentences and harsh treatment. What distinguishes this particular event on this sad anniversary is that Cuba recently signed two agreements designed to promote standards of human freedom around the world. They are:
• The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It guarantees ''civil and political freedom,'' including the right to self-determination, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, privacy, freedom to leave a country, and equal protection before the law.
• The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It requires countries to ensure the right to work, fair wages, freedom to form and join trade unions, social security, education and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The documents were signed at the end of February, days after the official transfer of power to Raúl Castro by his ailing brother. Some saw it as a promise of change, but there's little sign of that. Cuba remains one of the most censored nations in the world. Only China has more journalists behind bars. Not surprisingly, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque said his government would submit what he called ''interpretations and reservations'' regarding certain provisions. We can hardly wait.
A few timid gestures
Raúl Castro's presidency has done nothing to improve human rights beyond a few timid gestures, such as making it easier to buy computer equipment. Other countries must continue to press for the release of the victims of the ''black spring'' of 2003. As long as the dissidents remain in jail, Cuban signatures on international agreements will remain meaningless.