New Year's Day marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba's communist revolution. It is the oldest — indeed the only — full-blown dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. As Human Rights Watch noted in April, no other country in Latin America is ruled by a regime that "represses virtually all forms of political dissent." More than half a century after Fidel Castro seized power with the promise that "all rights and freedoms will be reinstituted" — and more than seven years since Raúl Castro succeeded his brother as tyrant-in-chief — Cuba is consistently rated "Not Free" in Freedom House's annual index of political and civil liberties worldwide.
All this is borne out by the US State Department's most recent report on Cuba's human-rights practices. Though written in mostly dry bureaucratese, the document confirms that the island is no Caribbean paradise for Cubans who have the temerity to oppose the regime. Skim just the opening paragraphs and phrase after phrase stands out, evoking the reasons why Cubans remain so desperate for freedom that even now many will gamble their lives at sea to escape the Castro brothers' nightmare:
"Authoritarian state" … "Communist Party the only legal party" … "elections were neither free nor fair" … "government threats, intimidation, mobs, harassment" … "record number of politically motivated [and] violent short-term detentions."