A New York Times Editorial . . .
The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who splits her time between the United States and Havana, traveled to Cuba in recent days seeking to pull off a bold experiment. She called on Cubans from all walks of life to meet at Havana’s iconic Revolution Square on Tuesday at 3 p.m., where they would take turns at a microphone to outline their vision for the new era in the country. Word of the event, which was billed as both a performance and a street protest, was shared on social media using the hashtag#YoTambiénExijo, which means “I also demand.”
Ms. Bruguera’s plan was the first test of whether the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba earlier this month would prod the Castro regime to be more tolerant of critical voices. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the government barred prominent critics, including Ms. Bruguera, from reaching the square. Some were detained and others were reportedly prevented from leaving their homes. In the end, the performance wasn’t held.
Authorities in Cuba appear to have wrestled with how to prevent Ms. Bruguera’s project from turning into a mass gathering of critics. They allowed her to travel to the island, though she had publicized her project well in advance. In recent days, officials from the state-run arts council summoned her for a meeting. In a statement, the council said it had made clear to her that her plan was “unacceptable,” because of the location and the “ample media coverage” in outlets that are critical of the government. Officials proposed that the event be held instead at a cultural site, according to the statement, and said that the government would “reserve the right” to bar people whose “sole interest is to be provocative.”
It became clear early on Tuesday which people authorities had in mind. State security personnel detained journalist Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of popular dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, outside their home and prevented her from leaving, according to the digital news site the couple runs, 14yMedio. Eliécer Ávila, a young government critic who leads the political movement ‘Somos +’ — which means, “there are more of us,” was taken into custody alongside Mr. Escobar.
By stifling critical voices, the Cuban government is showing its unwillingness to tolerate basic freedoms most citizens in the hemisphere enjoy. This move, unfortunately, will amplify the criticisms of those who opposed Mr. Obama’s historic shift on Cuba policy.
Heavy-handed tactics by the Castro government will give them ammunition next year, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, to stymie the Obama administration’s steps to ease the embargo through executive authority and dim the prospects of legislative change to pare back the web of sanctions Washington imposes on Cuba. That result would be a shame and, in the long run, self-defeating for Havana.