Castro strikes again

Prisoners of conscience charged with 'disrespect' and 'disobedience.' This is socialism?

William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, has written a penetrating analysis of the relationship between global terrorism and the often blurred focus on human rights by Americans who profess to care about those rights. In Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights (Nation Books), Schulz reminds us that certain nations favored by members of the right or the left in this country are brutal to those who dissent against the state.

"Amnesty International and other human rights defenders," he writes, "are called upon to set aside personal political predilection, doctrine, or ideology, and 'call them as we see them.'

"Some of us may not sympathize, for example, with American policy toward Cuba, but when Fidel Castro imprisons dozens of peaceful dissidents and executes people for hijacking a ferry in order to reach freedom, we must call the wrath of heaven down on his repression."

On January 29, Amnesty International issued a report, Newly Declared Prisoners of Conscience. These new names are in addition to the 75 prisoners of conscience Amnesty International listed in detail after the Castro crackdown last April.

On the new Amnesty list: ROLANDO JIMÉNEZ POSADA, 33, director of the Democratic Human Rights Centre in Isla de Pinos. Among his previous busts: While peacefully commemorating the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2001, he and several others were reportedly beaten by police, shoved into police cars, and dumped in remote areas.

Arrested and imprisoned on April 25, 2003, he is still being held without charges, but he may be accused of "desacato" (disrespect) and "espionaje" (espionage) for writing anti-government slogans on public buildings.

At his prison in the Ministry of the Interior headquarters in Nueva Gerona, Amnesty notes, "An official there reportedly told his wife and mother of their four-year-old son that if she abandoned her husband, she would get economic help and a good job."

RAFAEL MILLET LEYVA, 33, president of the Martin Luther King Civic Resistance Movement in Isla de Pinos, arrested March 21,2003, is being held without charges in Guayabo Prison, Isla de la Juventud. When his home was searched in March 2003, officials of the Department of State Security and the police confiscated such incriminating books and documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and he was taken away.

MIGUEL SIGLER AMAYA, arrested March 18, 2003, is a member of a multiply subversive family. His two brothers, Guido and Ariel—Amnesty International prisoners of conscience—are serving 20-year sentences, as part of Castro's crackdown last year, for failing to revere the glorious works of Cuba's liberator.

Currently serving 20 months for "desobediencia," Miguel Sigler Amaya may soon be tried by a prosecutor looking to put him away for 15 to 25 years. But, Amnesty says, "it is not known what the charges are." They'll think of something. Meanwhile, at Aguica Prison, in the province of Matanzas, "he is said to be constantly threatened by the prison authorities and harassed by common prisoners. He is reported to be suffering from a respiratory infection and diabetes."

ORLANDO ZAPATA TAMAYO, a member of the Alternative Republican Movement, has been charged—with "desacato," "desordenes publicos," and "desobediencia." Busted on March 20, 2003, for taking part in a hunger strike to demand the release of a number of political prisoners, he has not yet been brought to trial. However, he has suffered trials of another sort:

"According to reports, on 20 October 2003, he was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison in Havana by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations."

I remain deeply puzzled at those who pride themselves as being on the left who regard the prisoners I have named as the victims of a United States policy of aggression against Cuba that keeps "provoking" Castro to lock up these threats to national security.

This is how Amnesty International speaks to these admirers of Castro's revolutionary socialism: "While Amnesty International believes that nothing can justify the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience or other violations of fundamental human rights and continues to condemn Cuba for these violations, it also recognizes the negative effect of the U.S. embargo on the full range of human rights in Cuba, and therefore calls on the United States to review its policy."

I am opposed to the embargo, but I have followed Castro's contempt for human rights throughout his regime, starting long before the U.S. embargo. He didn't need provocation to act like the dictator he is. So, I thoroughly agree with Amnesty that nothing can justify his Mugabe-like brutishness.

In "A Visit With Castro" (The Nation, January 12), Arthur Miller writes of how "the repressiveness of his one-man government was still grinding away at my sympathy [for the revolution]." Miller ends his article, after conversations with Castro, by noting that to Cuba's dictator, "it is the [U.S.] embargo that automatically explains each and every failure of [his] regime to provide for the Cuban people."

Seeing bookstalls "displaying for sale tattered old Marxist-Leninist tracts . . . on shelves undisturbed during the days," Miller wonders "what . . . is keeping [Castro's rule] alive?"

Is it the U.S. embargo, or rather, the fear of what happens to Cubans who dare dissent from Castro's "endless rule," which seems—writes Miller—"like some powerful vine wrapping its roots around the country"?

 
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