As a wee young thing my mum used to send me to ballet lessons. A bittersweet pill I recall because while I disliked immensely ballet, I used to love the tap dance and jazz dance classes which followed.
One of the reasons why I hated ballet so much was because of my teacher – ‘Madame’ – who would often cry in dismay as she saw my crooked knees and arms as I struggled to drop a demi-plié. “Non! Non! Not good enough” she would cry, “Don’t curl your back. Better posture, more poise!” She would then grab my gangling arms or back or some other part of me and desperately try to infuse grace and poise into my dance routine. An arduous experience each week. Thankfully a few months into my practice I had a growth spurt and I was able to convince my mum she was wasting her money because I’d never seen a ballet dancer over 5 feet 5 inches.
You’re probably wondering why I’m rambling down memory lane in today’s news blog. Well in reading the news today that the American Ballet Theatre will be performing in Cuba for the first time in 50 years, the voice of ‘Madame’ came flooding back. “Non! Not good enough Mr Castro!”
Some may interpret the USA’s relaxing of travel restrictions to Cuba, and the arrival of three more former Cuban prisoners of conscience into Spain as a sign that the authorities in Cuba are enabling a more open society.
On the surface it may seem that way. But scratch the surface – and you don’t need to scratch too deeply – and you’ll see that for many Cubans, the situation remains as oppressive as before.
The decision to release 52 of the 53 prisoners of conscience was only a partial success. For although they were released from prison, they have been exiled to Spain – thousands of miles from their homeland.
Also one other prisoner of conscience who wasn’t arrested during the main March 2003 crackdown but a few months afterwards is still being held, and there is no sign of his release. Amnesty will continue to campaign for the immediate and unconditional release of Rolando Jiménez Posada.
Some of those who were arrested in March 2003 did not experience the opportunity of being released. Orlando Zapata Tamayo for example, died in February this year after going on hunger strike. In his memory, Orlando’s mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, has decided to march through her hometown every Sunday. Since doing so, she has been subjected to a torrent of harassment. Last Sunday Mrs Tamayo was physically stopped from marching by supporters of the government who blocked her from leaving her house. Loudspeakers have also been used to hurl insults at her while she has been at home. The police reaction to all this? To sit by and literally watch it all happen. Amnesty is asking people to take action to appeal to the Cuban authorities to ensure an end to this harassment.
Also in recent weeks several independent journalists and dissidents have been arrested. For example, just two days ago writer Luis Felipe Rojas Rozabal was detained by the police in his hometown of San Germán.
So all is not rosy in the beautiful city of Havana (or the rest of Cuba) just yet for any Cuban who dares to express his or her own opinion, or to speak out (or march) in protest of the government’s actions.
Mr Castro clearly has a long way to go. Until there are any real signs of improvement I, like Madame, will have to cry out in dismay and say ‘Non! Non! Not good enough!’
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