Freedom Marches in Place

We all know what happens when an undemocratic country is about to meet with an international critic: it makes various symbolic gestures to preempt and blunt criticisms, yet it fundamentally continues to resist change. Well, this very dynamic is currently playing out in Burma and Cuba.

In the former, 9,000 political detainees have been freed ahead of the ASEAN Summit. But, of course, the most prominent prisoner — opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi — has found her house-arrest order extended by a year. Kofi Annan, among others, has called on the military junta to reverse its decision, though such a reversal is elusive, especially as its neighbors have seemingly returned to their passive form and allowed the situation to worsen:

ASEAN Takes Up Violence in Thailand, But Not Human Rights in Burma (VOA)

ASEAN leaders meeting in Laos discussed this year’s violence in Thailand’s mostly Muslim south, but did not address Burma’s human rights record, despite news it is extending the detention of its top pro-democracy leader.

[…]

Western nations have long criticized ASEAN’s non-interference policy, when serious issues should be addressed. But ASEAN members say its policy of non-confrontation is more effective and in tune with Asian cultural ways.

Burma’s military leaders have avoided any official mention at the summit of their human right violations, or failure to deliver on promised political reform.

This despite news Monday, that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will stay under house arrest for another year.

One of her party’s spokesmen, U Lwin, spoke to VOA from Rangoon.

“The day before yesterday, the police officers arrived at her house … and they meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and read out an order, known as section 10B that they have extended one year house arrest to her,” he said.

Burma conducted heavy public relations before the summit, releasing more than 9,000 prisoners, including a dozens of democracy activists. Burmese ministers also promised to resume talks on political reform and possible elections early next year, despite replacing its moderate prime minister with one who has more hard-line credentials.

The same applies to Cuba. Though it’s released dissidents, including economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, amid the Spanish socialist government’s announcement to resume formal contacts, circumstances remain bleak:

Cuba Frees Dissident Poet Raul Rivero (Reuters)

Rivero said last year’s wave of arrests had achieved its goal of dismembering a growing opposition movement in Cuba and he expected the government to gradually free all dissidents.

“Everything changed. There is another political situation now. The main group has been deactivated,” he said.

Cuba Releases Leading Dissident (BBC)

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which campaigned for Mr Rivero’s release, also welcomed the news but said Cuba’s human rights record remained worse than it was before his arrest.

See RSF’s complete press release here. It’s annual report on Cuba is also worth a look.

Needless to say, when you combine these cases with Ukraine, it’s hard to feel optimistic this holiday season.

FILED UNDER: Asia, General, Latin America, World Politics
Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.