August 10, 2006 – 8:11 AM
Swiss eye Cuban situation with interest
Switzerland is closely watching events in Cuba where the “temporary”
withdrawal from power of leader Fidel Castro has many wondering who is
running the country.
Bern has a particular interest in the republic as it represents the
interests of the United States in Havana and those of Cuba in Washington.
Despite all the confusion about what is really happening in the Cuban
hierarchy, ties between Bern and Havana remain on an even keel.
Castro recently told the nation that his brother Raoul would be assuming
power temporarily while he underwent surgery. But neither man has been
seen in public since the end of July.
“For the time being, what is happening in Havana has had no direct
consequences on our relations with Cuba,” commented Swiss foreign
ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which has been active
on the Caribbean island since 1997 in relatively modest programmes, also
says that up till now there have been no repercussions.
“But we are following the situation carefully,” cautioned agency
spokesman Joachim Ahrens.
In Cuba itself, there is wild speculation about who is really in charge,
as well as among Cuban exiles and in political circles around the world.
“The many theories about what is happening just illustrate the misty
nature of the Castro regime,” commented Claude Auroi, a Latin American
expert at Geneva University’s Graduate Institute for Development Studies.
“In reality no one or nearly no one knows what’s really happening.”
Geneva editor Orlando Blanco, who was chargé d’affaires at the Cuban
embassy in Bern from 1964 to 1967, said that from its beginning the
regime had lived in a thicket of “lies and contradictions”.
He noted that there is a cult of secrecy surrounding the constant
repression of political opponents and dissident voices.
According to the human rights organisation Amnesty International, there
are 72 prisoners of conscience detained in Cuban jails.
“” The state apparatus is divided into numerous services that keep an
eye on each other. And everyone is armed.””
Orlando Blanco, former diplomat
At the Swiss foreign ministry, spokesman Knuchel said that Swiss
diplomats always brought up the subject of human rights when they met
representatives of the Cuban government.
This was also the case when Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey
met her Cuban counterpart, Felipe Perez Roque, in Bern on March 23.
In its 2006 report Amnesty wrote that human rights activists, political
dissidents and unionists had been the target of acts of harassment and
It added that freedoms of expression and association were “very
restricted”, that there was “complete control exerted by the government
on all media outlets” and that independent media were “prohibited by law”.
Editor Blanco does not exclude complete chaos when Castro’s rule comes
to an end.
“The repressive and security-conscious apparatus is immense and divided
into numerous services that keep an eye on each other. And everyone is
armed,” he commented.
Auroi also mentioned the possibility of a violent scenario but said it
was more likely to be provoked by the destabilising tactics of Cuba’s
powerful neighbour the United States, by exiled Cubans in Miami and even
by a power struggle at the very heart of Castro’s regime.
But he added that in a first stage the transition would likely be calm.
“The Cuban state and the Communist party will certainly rally round
Raoul Castro if he really does become head of the country,” he said.
Auroi pointed out that Raoul is head of the military, which manages the
main sectors of the Cuban economy.
But he noted that Raoul was just five years younger than brother Fidel.
“It is therefore inevitable that the government will open up. We could
in the short or medium term see a struggle between those who advocate
liberalisation of Castro’s regime and hardliners.”
swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand