Two reports this week put the human-rights problem in Cuba into stark, and discouraging, relief. In the period since the landmark agreement in December reestablishing full diplomatic relations with the United States, the Castro government appears to be doubling down on repression.
One report, delivered Tuesday at the General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, is contained in a depressing overview of press freedom in the Americas. No country is safe from the wave of censorship sweeping the region, the report says. Yet Cuba is a special case:
"In Cuba, despite the reestablishment of relations between the Cuban and U.S. governments, little progress has been made in freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of the press, and two journalists remain behind bars. The methods of repression include censorship of critical websites, inspection of emails, suspension of mobile phone service and physical and verbal attacks on activists and independent journalists."
In other words, nothing has changed: Expressing an independent opinion in Cuba is hazardous to your civil liberties. On Monday, the independent Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation put it into numbers: The Havana-based group said it recorded 882 political detentions in September, the most in the past 15 months.
And, according to the commission, being a dissident is hazardous to your health, as well. It accused government agents or their surrogates of carrying out 93 beatings of political dissidents during the past month, an "abrupt" escalation over the 21 registered in August.
What's even more outrageous, if such is possible: The commission said the government unleashed "a genuine wave of political and social repression that led to at least 353 'preventive detentions' " during the visit of Pope Francis and in the days leading up to it, with the aim of keeping dissidents from attending any gathering with the pontiff.
Keep in mind that all of this is taking place within the context of a "normalization" of relations with the United States based on the presumption of concessions by both sides. For the United States, as President Obama made clear in his declaration last December, improvement in the human-rights climate on the island is one of the principal objectives of U.S. diplomacy. Yet so far, Cuba couldn't seem to care less about its obligation to treat its citizens with respect.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that "a full democracy takes time, but there is progress." He compared the establishment of full relations with China and Vietnam to the process underway in Cuba and said that in both of the other countries, improvement in democracy was gradual.
But he also implied that there has to be a commitment by the government to do its part. "There has to be a path traced to improve the relationship of the government with its people." We wish we could report signs of betterment, but Cuba's record is just the opposite. Things are certainly getting worse.
Kerry tied his remarks on gradual improvements in the democratic climate to the administration's desire to get rid of the trade embargo. He said that would help the people of Cuba. Perhaps he's right, but it's up to Congress to take decisive action, and at this point, dropping the embargo would be premature.
No one realistically expected an overnight improvement in the climate of democracy in Cuba as a result of the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States. But until the government takes concrete actions to lift the stifling repression and allows Cubans to speak without fear of retaliation, Congress shouldn't budge.