Dictators need no excuses to crack down on dissent

Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:


Dictators need no excuses to crack down on dissent

Don’t give them an excuse to crack down on dissent,” is a favorite sophism spread among foreign-policy elites, lazy bureaucrats and big-chair academics. Dictators love it.  Why? Because as soon as it’s uttered, it shifts blame, immunizes them and effectively silences freedom’s advocates, even in the face of egregious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.

Opponents of U.S. policy toward Cuba have seized “Don’t give them an excuse to crack down…” to fuel their attack on a USAID program that introduced and cultivated Twitter-style communications. Officially known as “Zunzuneo” (Cuban slang for hummingbird), the U.S.-funded effort gave the Cuban people a social-media means for communicating freely with each other, with no regard for the dictates of the Castro regime. Zunzuneo ran from 2009-2012. It ended not because it was ineffective, but because it was so successful, so quickly. Eventually, its success became disproportionate to its funding. That demonstrates the repressed hunger the Cuban people have to communicate freely.

In a recent report, “Freedom on the Net,” issued by Freedom House, Cuba is ranked as the world’s second-worst suppressor of freedom on the Internet and in digital media. Only Iran has a worse record. (North Korea was not ranked due to lack of any information.)

Yet, critics argue that the revelation over U.S.-backing of “Cuban Twitter” now gives the Castro regime an “excuse” to crack down on dissent.

Seriously? If so, what was the Castro regime’s “excuse” for its widespread repression before the “Cuban Twitter” revelation? What’s the “excuse” for the Castro regime’s weekly harassment, arrest and beating of peaceful pro-democracy Cuban women, known as The Ladies in White, for trying to congregate and attend Sunday Mass? What “excuse” does Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro use to justify his continuing repression?  Political arrests are averaging more than 1,000 per month. Why? And what’s the “excuse” for the recent mysterious deaths of such Cuban democracy leaders, as Laura Pollan of The Ladies in White and of Oswaldo Paya, head of the Christian Liberation Movement?

Since taking office, the Obama administration has been implementing an “extended hand” policy toward the Cuba, by unilaterally easing sanctions and reinstating bilateral talks. Of course, there are some who blame Cuba’s repression on the U.S. embargo. But how does that explain Fidel Castro’s repression, mass executions and illegal confiscation of properties before the embargo?

Some critics try to extrapolate: A University of North Carolina Professor, Zeynep Tufekci, has called the revelation of U.S. funding the “Bay of Tweets.” She argues that the U.S. effort to provide Cubans with a Twitter-like platform has “just put Internet activists all over the world in danger” because oppressive regimes throughout the world will use it as an “excuse” to crack down on dissent.

Did Radio Free Europe and other historic U.S.-funded efforts to facilitate communications for democracy activists in the Soviet Bloc endanger them? Or did it empower them in their struggle against those repressive regimes?  Former Czech dissident-turned-President Vàclav Havel and Poland’s Lech Walesa would argue the latter. They, too, were labeled as “U.S. fascist mercenaries” — to no effect.

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