Now Washington must lift its Cuban embargo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2008, 12:00am

Cuban President Fidel Castro's resignation may seem like the end of an era, but it means little for the people of the Caribbean island.

With his brother Raul certain to replace him, and the institutions that deny Cubans a host of basic rights remaining in place, change is not in the offing any time soon. Their best hope instead lies in the US lifting its embargo so that Cuba can be flooded with pressure for change.

Although Raul Castro is 77 he is, unlike his brother, in good health. Beyond him in the leadership are ministers waiting in the wings who are well grounded in the Castro revolutionary ideology.

This has served the ordinary people of Cuba poorly over the past five decades. Until the early 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the end of financial patronage, they at least had a buffer from the depths of poverty.

Since then, the economy has slid ever deeper into decline. How well Cubans are being served by their famed medical and education systems is, because of a lack of transparency and freedom of speech, unclear.

What is certain, though, is the abuse that they are enduring. They are deprived not only of free expression but also the right to privacy, free association, assembly and due process of the law.

To ensure they conform politically, they face surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions and dismissals from employment. Democracy is a distant dream.

There is hope, but it lies to the north in the US capital, Washington. There, lawmakers need to admit that the embargo imposed almost as long as Dr Castro was in power should be scrapped.

The end of the embargo will bring trade and economic revival to Cuba. With the businesspeople and tourists will come the seeds of foreign ideas, democracy among them.

The US embargo has been a failure. It is time it was lifted so that the people of Cuba can have the opportunity of a better future.