Jewish World Review April 11, 2003 / 9 Nisan 5763
'Hammer time' for Castro
I admit it. I've committed the same crime that Raul Rivero has allegedly committed.
I have criticized the Cuban government. I have done it in print, too. But hardly anyone in Cuba read it, except perhaps the state police. Political literature that criticizes Castro is technically illegal. A lot of things are technically illegal in Cuba. In countries like Cuba, the safest word for you to remember is, "Don't!"
Nor was anyone in Cuba legally allowed to read Rivero's critiques of the regime, either. But that did not stop Rivero, with whom I visited in Havana last year, from becoming perhaps the island's most prominent living poet and independent journalist.
Now, suddenly, the old muzzle is no longer enough for the Castro regime. Echoing the American general who proclaimed, "It's hammer time!" before invading Iraq, Castro is bringing down his hammer heavier against dissenters than anyone in recent years can remember.
Since mid-March, Castro's goons have rounded up 78 human rights advocates, independent trade union leaders and independent journalists, including Rivero. All were charged with ambiguous state crimes, punishable by as much as life in prison, for allegedly "collaborating" with United States diplomats.
Ah, yes, the United States. What would Castro do without the American embargo to blame for his island's mounting economic woes? He might actually have to face up to the fact that farmers and others produce more when they know they will be paid by how much they produce, not by how much political clout they can scrape together.
What kind of "collaboration"? The regime has not bothered to be very specific and its so-called "trials" have not been open to outside journalists or diplomats.
By the time the courthouse doors opened again, Rivero, 57, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, essentially for the crime of failure to follow the Castro party line.
Most of those arrested were associated with the Varela Project, a courageous initiative that captured world attention and former President Jimmy Carter's endorsement during his visit to Cuba last year. It surprised the world and, by all indications, the Castro regime, by finding more than 30,000 people who were brave enough to put their signatures on a petition calling for free speech, free association, free enterprise and other democratic reforms.
Cubans, Cuban Americans and Cuba experts I have interviewed find it significant that the regime did not arrest Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and prime mover behind the Varela petitions. Instead, the regime arrested key people in the growing movement's infrastructure across the island. The old bearded fox apparently reasons that there's no need to make an international martyr of Paya. It is much easier for the regime to cut the heart out of the movement's support network.
Similarly, cracking down on a poet and writer like Rivero sends a signal to the island's growing movement of about 30 independent news agencies and other independent journalists that there's a big price to pay for their non-conformity, too.
But many of the experts are still scratch their heads wondering why Castro is hardening his heart like a biblical Pharoah now. He's spent the past decade trying to put a happy face on his tyranny to attract trade and tourism to replace the old Soviet Union's now-vanished million-dollars-a-day subsidies.
Now, while Uncle Sam's eyes are focused on Iraq, would seem to be a good time for Castro to sneak a crackdown past an international backlash. But the backlash has come anyway, from the European Union, the Roman Catholic Church, international human rights organizations and from Capitol Hill, just as efforts to lift trade sanctions were beginning to make some headway.
In fact, Rep. Jeff Flake, a conservative Arizona Republican and one of the boldest advocates in the House for lifting sanctions, says he believes Castro's crackdown has come now precisely because Castro does not want sanctions lifted.
The last thing Castro wants, Flake told me in a telephone interview, is to have more American capitalism chipping away at the underpinnings of his island's teetering socialist experiment.
And I believe that Flake is right. Castro passionately and personally hates capitalism, even the petty enterprise practiced by street vendors. Castro wants nothing more than to see dissenters leave his island. But Rivero, who was a kid when Castro took over in the 1950s, belongs to a different generation.
The new dissidents don't want to leave the island. They want to stay. They feel betrayed. They don't want to undo Castro's revolution. They only want it to listen to the people it purports to be saving.
They look to us in their hour of need and to the other freedom-loving people on this planet. We must not let them down.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on Clarence Page's column by clicking here.
04/08/03:Post-Hussein: Winning the true peace
04/03/03: Right story, wrong TV station
04/01/03: Remembering Moynihan's mind
03/27/03: A fog of war words: Shocking and awesome
03/21/03: A Moranic moment bites peace movement
03/18/03: Viewers beware when tv networks don't care
03/14/03: Powell's battle for Bush's ear
03/10/03: 'Embedded,' but not 'in bed with'
02/28/03: Bridging the black gender gap
02/19/03 Braun vs. Sharpton: A Dem dilemma
02/14/03: Bush's clean-up man
02/11/03: How feds fooled marijuana trial jurors
02/06/03: Time to re-think space shuttle's value
01/31/03: Why corporations like diversity, too
01/28/03: Shaq vs. Yao, a new world diss-order
01/23/03: Affirmative action will be remarketed under new name
01/13/03: Bond movie offers clues to Korea crisis
01/07/03: Dr. Frist to the rescue … of his party
01/02/03: Feeling a 'draft,' but not much
12/17/02: To rob a burning cross of its power
12/03/02: Closing black-white test-score gaps
11/19/02: Uncle Same wants your data
11/15/02: Marriage vs. 'player' impulse
11/11/02: How Oz can help the Dems
11/05/02: We reserve right to be complicated
10/22/02: What the pro-gun lobby and anti-gun lobby have in common
10/18/02: Take Sharpton seriously? For Prez??
10/15/02: A beauty and the bullies
10/08/02: Time to start 'fingerprinting' bullets
10/08/02: Poet laureate hater fell for Internet hoax
10/04/02: Keeping it real, despite howls from black 'leaders'
10/01/02: Revisiting the 'Jogger' horror
09/27/02: Sometimes freedom is a necessary nuisance
09/13/02: Foil Fidel with free trade
09/10/02: Measuring the myth of 'super weed'
09/06/02: A year later: A reality-check
09/03/02: Make better choices before some jury somewhere does
08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks
© 2001 TMS