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Castro's cocky gamble

By Steven Fantina
web posted April 28, 2003

Even the most vehement opponents of the war in Iraq can't help but (perhaps surreptitiously) smile at the sight of Iraqis -- finally free from the yoke of brutal repression -- celebrating in the streets. The joy of Iraq's populace at their newfound liberty is contagious and seemingly the entire world has joined in their roisterous jubilance.

Castro rolled the dice and won
Castro rolled the dice and won

Alas, not everyone's glee is magnanimous. Fidel Castro's saw the world's diverted attention as an opportunity to crack down mercilessly on innocent Cuban citizens who dare not tow his totalitarian line. While the news media obsessed over war in the Middle East, he initiated mass arrests of individuals whose trumped up crimes can all be decocted to a less than solid allegiance to his autarchy. In the month since the draconian purge began nearly 100 dissidents have already been tried and convicted and where applicable summarily executed. The swift imposition of these predetermined sentences surprises no one familiar with Castro's kangaroo courts. In the few instances where family members were able to secure defense attorneys, the lawyers were only allowed a few hours to study the cases.

Among the malfeasance of which these tortfeasors were convicted are some very strange offenses. In the sweep that predictably started March 18, when the Iraqi battle was imminent, 14 dissidents were rounded up for running non-state sanctioned libraries and according to Friends of Cuban Libraries at least 22 libraries were raided and had their contents seized. An abstruse law (Law 88) forbidding "disseminating news considered against the national interest" was invoked for the first time ever as 27 independent journalists were imprisoned for up-to-26 years.

Numerous Human rights advocates, who bravely speak out against Cuba's Iraqi-like practices, were charged with the equally vague "crimes against the security of the State." Many of these heroic souls likewise received decades-long sentences.

That Castro would seize such an opportunity to silence his opponents is not surprising. What is truly astounding is the amount of coverage his minatory actions have received. Numerous Cuban observers have remarked that America's media includes a disproportionately high number of Castro myrmidons who regularly overlook his human right violations. (Damien Cave discusses the willful blindness in the current Washington Monthly as does Mona Charen's recently published book, Useful Idiots.)

With the war waging scant coverage was afforded most other newsworthy topics. (Has anyone seen or heard a word about the Ivory's Coast's unrest lately?) Yet Castro's latest clampdown has earned unflattering coverage from some shocking sources. The Washington Post, the San Francisco Gate, the Boston Globe, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Los Angeles Times, and even the New York Times have accurately reported at least vestiges of the issue. Of Course the Old Grey Lady had to provide the Castro perspective in a few stories and editorials, but any acknowledgement of communist flaws on its pages represents a significant breakthrough.

Even liberal watchdog groups that generally overlook Cuba's violent breaches have denounced these latest actions. Human Right Watch's America's Division Executive Director José Miguel Vivanco declared "It is truly shameful that the Cuban government is opportunistically exploiting the world's inattention (due to War in Iraq) to try to crush domestic dissent." Amnesty International expressed outrage that the accused criminals "may have been arrested for nothing more than the peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms (and) have been sentenced after manifestly unfair trials conducted in haste and secrecy."

Most importantly, the response of the United States Government had been heartening. According to a straightforwardly reported story in the New York Times, President Bush "is considering a series of steps to punish the Cuban government for its recent crackdown," offering further evidence that we've come a long way from the Castro-appeasing Clinton days. It's safe to think that such an outraged attitude from the United States government will be backed up with appropriate actions. Responding to Syria's saber-rattling bluffs will not occlude America anymore than freeing Iraq's population

Castro obviously miscalculated badly if he thought this was a smart time to exacerbate his reign of terror. As we cheer for the glory of Iraq's rebirth and its people's liberation, we cannot forget that a tyrant closer to home still inflicts massive suffering on his people. Many Cubans have family members who are American citizens thanks to the mass exodus that has occurred during four decades of communist thuggery. Let's hope it is not too long before we see a free Cuban people smashing statues of Castro and reclaiming some of the riches and dignity he's pillaged from them.

This is Steven Fantina's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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