Romantics in North America and Europe would like to believe that the rule of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has mellowed over the decades. Recent events, however, show his regime still has a murderous streak.
Bypassing the courts last week, Mr. Castro ordered the summary executions of three men accused of hijacking a Havana Bay ferry April 2. His government recently rounded up more than 70 pro-democracy activists and sentenced them to 1,454 years in prison - an average of 20 years each.
He justifies the executions by pointing to seven boat or airplane hijackings in the past seven months. Certainly no one wants to encourage hijackers. But the crime in no way justifies the punishment, and the fact that so many Cubans are that desperate to leave speaks volumes about their supposed love for "socialism."
Some analysts believe Castro, mindful of the economic catastrophe that is most Cubans' daily lives, seeks to foment another exodus to Miami. That would rid him of the most discontented and maybe allow him to empty his jails onto American streets, as he did in 1980. Other observers think Castro's regime is on its last legs and is cracking down to prevent, not provoke, instability.
Castro could solve his problems easily. He need only stop the political repression and allow a freer press, political activity, trade unions, and market reforms. American aid would flow freely, and the ingenuity of the Cuban people would do the rest.
But Castro is not interested in the well-being of the Cuban people. Like any Communist, his main interest is preserving power.
Some argue that if the US would only lift its economic sanctions, political change would follow. But Canadian tourists on Cuban beaches don't seem to have made much difference. Castro's latest actions are a slap in the face to those who argue for lifting sanctions. The US should keep them in place until the dictator either goes or gets the message.