Connect to share and comment

Cuba's opposition, on a plane to Spain

Analysis: After amnesty, a tough path for Castro opponents.

Trying to achieve unanimity among different anti-Castro groups isn’t a realistic goal, he said, since infiltration by government agents has generated so much distrust among activists. Instead, Farinas said, “It’s a matter of finding common themes that unite us. We need to continue to denounce the abuses that take place here every day.”

But if freedom for Cuba’s jailed activists gave a common cause to the disparate factions of Cuba’s opposition, it now risks pulling them apart. At least one member of the Ladies in White has suggested the group disband, having achieved its purpose, while its leaders have vowed to keep marching until all imprisoned activists are freed.

Government opponents are also split over whether to lend their moral support to new U.S. legislation that would lift restrictions on U.S. tourism to the island. Then there are deeper ideological differences about what a post-Castro Cuba should look like.

Several activists said their efforts should remain focused on freeing the 100 or so political prisoners who will still be behind bars once the first 52 are released. But that no longer seems like a far-fetched goal, either. In recent days, Cuban officials have said the amnesty will extend beyond the first group of 52 prisoners, and other dissidents who weren’t convicted of violent crimes will be considered for release.

In that case, about 70 of the remaining 100 political prisoners should qualify to go free, according to Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. All 100 would not be eligible, Sanchez explained, because the prisoner list includes some violent offenders, including a man convicted of a hotel bombing in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. Sanchez considers him a political prisoners because he said the man's death sentence was politically motivated.

But even if the government does release most of those inmates, it’s unclear how many will continue working on the island to change Cuba’s one-party system. Most forms of public protest are banned, and the Castro government still considers the dissidents to be mercenaries and traitors because of the support they get from Washington and other foreign interests. Meanwhile, Sanchez said the government is shifting its tactics to rely less on imprisonment and more on temporary detentions, intimidation and harassment.

Even if most of the prisoners go to Spain, Sanchez predicted, new activists will rise up to take their place. “The situation here hasn’t changed,” he said. “We have the worst situation in the hemisphere in terms of human rights, political rights, economic rights, and cultural rights.”

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.