Spain Cracks Cuba’s Jailhouse


Few thanks are due Fidel Castro for the release of dissident Cuban poet and journalist Raul Rivero and several other prominent government critics from a Havana prison this week. None of the 75 people Castro jailed in a wide crackdown on dissent last year should have been imprisoned.

If thanks are to be issued, they are due to Spain. It is a poorly kept secret in diplomatic circles that Castro agreed to the releases, and may soon free more dissidents, to give Spain’s new socialist government and its prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, more leverage at a forthcoming meeting of the European Union to discuss the future of EU Cuba policy.

The relationship between Europe and Cuba has been tense since 1996, when European nations conditioned economic assistance on modest political openings that Castro declined to enact. His brutal crackdown in March of this year led the EU to snub Castro by opening its embassies for cocktails with dissidents and sending insultingly low-level diplomats on official visits to Cuba. Castro struck back by cutting off communication between his government and the embassies. Hardly war footing, but everyone was left in the dark.


Fresh from his electoral victory in March, Zapatero seems intent on looking past Castro’s intransigence, seeking ways to rebuild bridges for when the old Cuban revolutionary is gone. By winning freedom for a handful of dissidents today, Spain can later claim that its policy of engagement bore fruit.

Castro is in no way ready to accept true political or economic change. Ten U.S. presidents have failed to budge him. Others, like former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and former presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, tried their luck with friendly engagement, to no better success. Castro’s latest nose-thumbing was to outlaw the U.S. dollar as negotiable currency, allowing the government to take a cut from every dollar transfer.

The new Spanish position indicates that, as long as Castro is alive, even minor concessions are enough to keep lines of engagement open -- and the Cuban people will just have to endure him.

At 78, Castro’s prospects are all downhill, but Cuba’s aren’t. Spain’s comparative coddling may indeed have a payoff in sight, though deathwatches over Castro have come and gone for years.

Last week, the king of Spain visited President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. We hope they talked about Cuba. Perhaps he convinced Bush that tending a few more bridges -- not to Castro but to the Cuban people -- would give the U.S. an advantage when the old dictator finally fades away.