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How not to bring liberty to Cuba

Praising only hard-line dissidents ignores a wider pool of reformers.

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When President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet earlier this month, he honored the jailed Cuban dissident by calling his example "a rebuke to the tyrants and secret police of a regime whose day is passing." Two weeks earlier, Mr. Bush gave a rousing address on the cause of Cuban freedom for an audience that included prominent Cuban exiles and families of jailed Cuban dissidents, saying, "I join your prayers for a day when the light of liberty will shine on Cuba."

Such tributes make for good rhetoric, but it's not clear, to say the least, that they aid the cause of reform in Cuba. In fact, Bush's excessive attention to a handful of poorly organized hard-line dissidents ignores the new internal dynamics at play in Cuba since Fidel Castro relinquished power to his brother Raul more than a year ago. By focusing only on those dissidents who, like the White House, virtually reject all policies perpetuated by the Cuban regime, the administration is foolishly disregarding the will of many Cubans who favor a more moderate course of action by advocating economic changes within the existing socialist framework.

To varying degrees, both radical dissidents and reformers who prefer to work within the system support changes that would move Cuba toward the adoption of democratic practices. The crucial issue is that the latter group, encouraged by a national debate on economic reforms launched by Raul Castro, is more likely to influence developments than the radicals.

In spite of this reality, Bush refuses to reach out to those Cubans who are gaining clout in demanding meaningful changes. As noted by dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, "change in Cuba will never be radical and happen overnight like President Bush said."

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