Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cuba Warns Foes That Recent Reforms Strengthen, Not Weaken, Socialism

By Manuel Roig-Franzia

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 17, 2008; A17

MEXICO CITY, April 16 -- Cuba's government said Wednesday that recent reforms applauded by democracy advocates will actually strengthen socialism on the island, rather than undermine it.

"There is no space for the dreams of adversaries," a strongly worded editorial in the Communist Party daily Granma stated. "There will be a more perfect socialism sustained and by a united people led by Fidel, Raúl and the party's leadership."

Since being named president in February, Raúl Castro has legalized ownership of cellphones and computers, lifted a ban on Cubans staying in top tourist hotels and allowed farmers to buy some supplies from private providers instead of the state. Castro, who succeeded his ailing older brother Fidel, has also clarified property laws to ensure that Cubans can live long-term in their state-owned apartments and pass along the dwellings to their relatives after death.

The reforms have been widely hailed as possible signs of larger changes to come, including private property ownership and even democratic elections. But Wednesday's editorial asserted that "the genuine, and only, strategic change took place in Cuba on the first of January in 1959 with the victory of an authentic revolution."

Manuel Cuesta, a Cuban dissident, said in a phone interview from Havana that the editorial's message was clear: "It's a way of saying that 'We're still in charge even though there have been some changes.' "

The editorial seemed to have been provoked by the "Cuban Democracy Roundtable," a day-long conference held April 8 in the exile stronghold of Coral Gables, Fla., and hosted by U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). Martinez, the first Cuban U.S. senator, was quoted by the Miami Herald as saying the international community should be prepared to react if Cuban dissidents "take to the streets" in protest.

The Granma editorial scoffed at the conference as the work of "mafiosos" and alleged it was an attempt to subvert the Cuban government. "The Cuban Revolution is not a castle made of cards," the editorial stated, "but an impregnable fortress."

As the Cuban and U.S. governments have traded barbs in recent days, Cubans have seemed to be adapting quickly to some of their new freedoms. Huge lines formed this week when cellphones and calling plans went on sale for the first time, a development that Cuesta and other dissidents say will "empower" the population.

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