President Fidel Castro is trying to stifle a debate within the government and society about the wisdom of opening up the Cuban political system to satisfy an evolving dissident human rights movement.
In a speech Tuesday marking the 35th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution, Castro emphatically asserted that he will never allow opposition political parties in Cuba or the emulation of the Soviet Union's glasnost-perestroika reforms.
"I will say here, once and for all, we only need one party," Castro said during a three-hour speech to a rally of 100,000 in the main plaza of Santiago commemorating the anniversary of the Castro-led attack July 26, 1953, against the Moncada army barracks.
Castro cited Cuba's proximity to the United States, the island government's chief nemesis, as the chief reason he will never accept Western-style democracy.
"Let us never forget where we are located," Castro said. "We are not in the Black Sea but in the Caribbean Sea. We are not 90 miles from Odessa but 90 miles from Miami."
While Castro's geography was wrong (Miami is about 200 miles from Cuba), his analogy conveyed the message as to why he doesn't want glasnost in Cuba.
Some freedoms allowed
But despite Castro's assertions to the contrary, foreign analysts of Cuba's human rights scene say that on-going pressure for political freedoms is unlikely to fade because of international pressure and increased awareness here of political reforms in the Socialist bloc.
And notwithstanding Castro's statement, a certain degree of political, press, cultural and religious freedoms have been allowed in Cuba over the last two years because of foreign and domestic pressures.
But a 56-page report published this month by the the Association of the Bar of the City of New York said that violations of internationally recognized human rights standards still occur frequently.
"Although there have been significant improvements in recent months with respect to several aspects of human rights, violations persist," the report said.
While Castro, in his speech, did not specify which groups or persons might be trying to form political parties, the New York report suggests that a main focus of human rights activists is to force an opening of Cuba's political system.
"As a practical matter," the report said, "speech that is critical of the government appears to have virtually no legal protection at all."
A figure prominently mentioned in the report is former University of Havana professor Ricardo Bofill Pages, leader of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights.
Bofill was first arrested in 1967 and served five years of a 12 year sentence. Subsequently he served another two years in prison, from 1980 to 1982, as a result of efforts to migrate.
In April 1983, Bofill received asylum at the French Embassy which he left only after the French ambassador was assured that Bofill would be permitted to leave Cuba. Within five months, though, Bofill was rearrested and served two years in prison. In August 1986 Bofill again sought asylum at the French Embassy and remained there until January 1987 when he was permitted to return to his apartment.
The report said the official treatment of Bofill seemed to have improved this year but that some surveillance and harassment continued.
The report also mentioned the case of Cuban filmmaker Nicolas Guillen Landrian, who was expelled from Cuba's Institute of Cinematography after making a movie in which Castro was shown climbing a mountain while the Beatles' Fool on the Hill played in the background.
Despite citing these cases of harassment, the report concluded that Cuba is becoming more open to international inspections of its jails and political system.
"In recent months," the report said, "the Cuban government has become more tolerant of internal human rights monitoring groups. It has admitted foreign groups concerned with human rights and given them access to the prisons and the prisoners. And it has released a number of political prisoners."
Thus, Castro's statements rejecting further political reforms appears at odds with the perceived evolving political climate.
Mica turned away
Nevertheless, it fits with the Cuban government's decision last week to cancel at the last minute a visit to Cuba by Rep. Dan Mica, D-Fla.
The Cuban government revoked Mica's visa because of a party at the Havana home of Jerry Scott, press officer of the U.S. Interests Section, where guests included Cuban human rights activists.
At Tuesday's rally, Castro took a harder line on democracy and
Soviet-style reforms, leaving no doubt that as far as he was concerned any
movement toward Western-style freedoms was a
"Cuba never will adopt methods, styles, or philosophies or idiosyncracies of capitalism," Castro said.
He also accused his government's critics of trying to
pressure Cuba into adopting Soviet-style reforms only to erode Cuba's revolution and its alliance with the Soviet Union.
The day after Castro's speech, a party official in Santiago said Castro
made reference to political activity apparently
because aides or government theorists might have suggested tolerance for opposition parties and emulation of Soviet reforms as a way to ease social pressures in Cuba.
Those pressures have been exacerbated by Castro's two-year economic austerity campaign, code-named Rectification -- a sort of Soviet-style economic restructuring but in reverse.
Another Cuban official, this one traveling with the U.S. reporters who covered Castro's Santiago speech, indicated that human rights dissidents may be deliberately escalating their activities in anticipation of a United Nations human rights team scheduled to visit Cuba in September.
The Cuban official, meanwhile, denied reports circulating abroad that the Cuban government was improving prison conditions in advance of the U.N. team's visit, but acknowledged that the Cuban penal code was being revised and that as a result hundreds of prisoners -- mostly common criminals -- were being released.
But the official said the release of the prisoners had been scheduled long before the decision to allow the U.N. team to visit Cuba.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.