Fear of Democracy in Cuba

During the 9 years that I have been writing for the editorial page of this newspaper (Reforma), I have been able to choose my own subjects and write purely from my own personal point of view, I have never once been subjected to the slightest form of censorship. Even after publishing articles such as La devaluacion moral ya toco fondo (the Devaluation of Morality has now Touched Bottom) Las salinas y el tercer socio (The Salinases and the Third Partner), El grito destemplado de Ernesto Zedillo (The Nasty Scream of Ernesto Zedillo), Antes del PRI votaba por mi (Rather than the PRI I voted for myself) and Fox contra el Usamacinta (Fox against the Usamacinta), nobody ever tried to take away my Sunday column, where I have been expressing my opinions on national and international politics, the environment, literature, culture and human rights; voicing my views and criticisms as I felt fit. When I enjoy such a freedom of expression here in Mexico, how can I ignore the persecution of fellow professionals in another country? The brutal attack on dissident Cubans (one of the worst waves of repression in decades, and coincidentally, at a time when the eyes and conscience of the world were focused on the war in Iraq), and the arrest of 79 people since March 18, is nothing more than a flagrant violation of human rights. The detentions were accompanied by house searches, and the impounding of notebooks, files, books, typewriters, computers, printers, fax machines and cameras.

The prison sentences given to the 79 dissidents ranged from 6 to 28 years, and were the result of trials that lasted for no more than a single day. They were held behind closed doors, and the accused were permitted no judicial advisors. State security agents, who had infiltrated dissident groups, were prosecution witnesses, evoking memories of the Stalinist purges. When the informer Odilia Collazo Valdes was cross-examined, she declared: “Today I am privileged to tell you that I am one of those selected by the Cuban government and by the Ministry of the Interior. Today, I declare before the whole world that I am an agent, Agente Tania”. (La Jornada, 12 – 04 – 2003, taken from Juventud Rebelde) .

The well-known poet Raul Rivero, a representative of the International Press Society in Cuba, and the journalist, Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, were accused of acting “against the independence and territorial integrity of the State”, and of having founded the Manuel Marquez Sterling Journalist’s Club, and the “subversive” magazine De Cuba. Both of them received prison sentences of 20 years. Among other journalists who received prison terms were Omar Rodriguez Saludes (27 years), Ivan Hernandez Carillo (25 years), Jose Luis Garcia Paneque (24 years) and Juan Carlos Herrera (20 years). Neither foreign journalists nor diplomats were allowed to attend the trials. Many of the verdicts came from charges of “committing acts that, in accordance with the intentions of the imperialists, serve to subvert the internal order of the nation, and destroy its political, economic and social system”. Martha Beatriz Roque, an economist, Director of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, and the only woman to be indicted, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Roque had been released in the year 2000 after being imprisoned for three years for having written a pamphlet entitled, “The Fatherland is for All of Us”. The harshest sentences were given to independent journalists, and to supporters of the Varela Project. This calls for constitutional reforms that would guarantee freedom of expression and association, allow the economic and political life to open up in Cuba, as well as a referendum on political change. Said the wife of one of those charged, “Cuba is not in state of war that would justify summary trials. And if the government is in trouble it should tell the people”.

In a letter to Fidel Castro, PEN International, the world-wide writers’ organization with 15,000 members in 93 countries, has called upon the Cuban authorities to recognize that these trials are a serious transgression of human rights, to immediately drop all charges and release all the dissidents. For their part, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (an organization that defends freedom of the press all over the world), declared in press release that, “our concern has turned into indignation since we learnt that about 30 journalists have been condemned to long prison terms for simply expressing their opinions”. But, as far as the Cuban government is concerned, the exercising of freedom of expression automatically becomes a “counter-revolutionary” activity, and one in the service of the United States.

As if this were not enough, last Friday, three of the eleven who hijacked a ferry boat in the bay of Havana with the intention of taking it to the United States, were executed, after their trial and death sentence on April 8. The Tribunal Popular declared their actions, “serious crimes of terrorism”. Ramona Copello, mother of one of those executed said, “the Comandante has gone too far. I no longer have any faith in him. I have never done anything counter-revolutionary, I’m just a regular citizen. I always loved him because he never did me any harm, but now he has”. The death penalty had not been carried out in Cuba since the year 2000. I fear that the summary executions of the three hijackers for their desperate attempt to escape from Cuba, coming so soon after the trials and detentions of the dissidents, is clear indication of a hardening of the Castro regime. Fidel’s swan song of repression is a deathly croak.

This current wave of repression in Cuba signifies a deep fear of democracy on the part of the government, a fear that the people’s desire for freedom might become an unstoppable force, one that could alter the passing of power by Fidel to his successor, who could be his brother Raul.

Our own politicians love dictators, perhaps because nostalgia for the tlatoani (Aztec emperor) rests in their souls. Violation of human rights in Cuba does not seem to bother them; nor does application of the death penalty, although in our own country they condemn it. Could it be that atrocities committed by a dictator of the left are less egregious than those committed by a dictator of the right? Does Lady Justice in our country have only one eye? Should not the United Nations, through its Human Rights Commission, with Cuba on the agenda for its annual meeting in Geneva this week, condemn the executions and violations of human rights, thereby showing its impartiality and commitment to guarantees of individual liberties? And what should our position be? If Mexico, by her vote should condemn the abuses in Cuba, would that make her an accomplice of the United States and a supporter of the embargo against the island? I do not believe so. Were we to abstain, it would mean supporting the repressors of those Cuban citizens who seek to enjoy the same rights as ourselves. If Fox’s government sincerely wishes to play an honorable role on the world stage, it must stand up for human rights wherever they are violated.