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Two articles from yesterday on the increased oppressions in Cuba.



Oliver Stone gets the ax
Mona Charen

April 18, 2003

Tim Robbins, call your office. The "chill wind" he detected in the nation is at it again. This time, HBO has decided to pull "Commandante," Oliver Stone's adulatory "documentary" about Fidel Castro, from its May lineup.

"In light of recent alarming events in Cuba," an HBO spokesman explained, the network decided "not to air Oliver Stone's film in May as scheduled. Had we aired the film in March, I don't think we would have had an issue with it. But now, the arrests and trials are an important piece of what's going on in Cuba, and the film's incomplete."

It's all a matter of timing. Castro has been rounding up and arresting dissidents for decades -- but that wouldn't have affected HBO's willingness to air a fawning tribute. It was just so unseemly for Castro to do his dirty business just before the film was about to air.

One wonders whether Oliver Stone is embarrassed by the dragnet Castro has spread over the island. (Of course, one wonders whether Stone is capable of shame.) What does the good director think when he reads of more than 80 independent journalists and human rights activists arrested?

On April 2, 2003, a number of Cuban men hijacked a ferry and attempted to make the 90-mile trip to Florida. The ferry ran out of gas and was towed back to Cuba. Last week, three of the hijackers were given one-day trials and then executed by firing squad. Four others received between two and 30 years in prison.

Hijacking is serious business, of course, but these executions seem to be part of a wider crackdown on dissent. (Just by the way, why do liberal groups always say that the United States and China are the only countries in the world that practice capital punishment?) Hijacking may deserve the death penalty, but not after a one day trial. Besides, it looks pretty obvious that these hijackers were motivated by a desperate hope to escape Cuba, and nothing more sinister than that.

Castro's crackdown began late last year, when the security services began arresting dissidents for offenses like running small businesses and selling food or other goods from their homes -- widespread practices that permit Cubans to scrape by, but which are illegal under Cuba's communist system. The human rights movement in Cuba has been picking up steam despite the regime's ferocious repression.

Recently, a petition demanding free elections garnered more than 20,000 signatures in a country of 11 million. Now more than 80 dissidents are being tried in what the State Department has condemned as "kangaroo courts." No outside observers. No independent journalists. And, it need hardly be added, since Cuba is one of the last Stalinist nations on earth, no possibility of acquittal.

According to Ann Louise Bardach, writing on The New York Times op-ed page, "Commandante," Stone's encomium to Castro, depicted the dictator "in a chummy mood, affable, playful, sometimes defensive, yet exposing more of his personality than most Americans are used to seeing." At the recent Sundance Film Festival, Stone described Castro as "warm and bright ... a very driven man, a very moral man. He's very concerned about his country. He's selfless in that way."

But not quite selfless enough to hold a free election, eh Oliver?

In a way, this story is the same old same old. Lefty Hollywood type lionizes a communist thug -- ignoring copious evidence that the man is a despot and a monster. Like Leni Riefenstahl producing admiring film portraits of Hitler, Oliver Stone is able to find the positive side of Castro.

But there is a new twist to this story. HBO has pulled the plug. What got into them? Am I wrong in thinking this would not have played out as it did absent the Iraq War? Surely the revelations about Saddam's torture chambers and children's prison have diminished everyone's tolerance for dictators.

Well, maybe not Oliver Stone's. If he and Michael Moore are seeking a good retirement spot, they might consider Havana.

©2003 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

The Wall Street Journal   

April 18, 2003

From: http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB105062568985395500,00.htm 

Once Again, We Learn There Is No 'New' Fidel


On April 11 Fidel Castro heaved the bodies of three more innocents atop his towering monument of corpses known as the Cuban revolution. That mountain of the dead is his instrument of fear, without which he'd be selling peanuts on a street corner in Ho Chi Minh City.

These latest victims were young, humble Afro-Cubans. Their crime was an act of desperation, the hijacking of a ferry that they hoped to take to Florida, to liberty. Not one person was harmed. But to seek freedom in Cuba is a crime punishable by death. They were executed by a Cuban firing squad.

When a full history of Castro's reign of terror is written these three men may not get much ink. Their story will blend with millions of others, lives destroyed in all manner of unspeakable cruelty by Ted Turner's yachting buddy Fidel. They died slowly in the dungeons, they were killed in an instant by firing squads, they drowned at sea, they were eaten by sharks, they died of heartbreak as families were torn apart. Many survived the gulags physically but intolerable psychological torture and deprivation drove them to sign up for "rehabilitation" and they lived out their days as broken souls.

For more than four decades Cubans have been beaten, locked in solitary confinement, tortured, drugged, drowned, spiritually suffocated, gunned down, impoverished, starved, deprived of the right of parenting and brainwashed. In the evil genius textbook this is supposed to produce happily enslaved tropical proletarians who cut sugar cane 12 hours a day and never raise a peep against El Maximo Lider.

Yet, scores of escape attempts and more recently the Varela Project, a non-violent democracy movement that collected over 11,000 signatures last year to call for a referendum on civil rights, are clear signs that even after nearly a half-century of repression, the Cuban spirit remains defiant. There is no Marxist "new man" in Cuba. Only a pathetic, despised old man, who after a lifetime of sincere despotism has been unable to stomp faith, passionate creativity and feistiness out of the Cuban soul.

The persistence of his people no doubt frustrates the old codger. For a time he seems to have toyed with the idea of giving some breathing room to the dissidents in return for a boost in his image and a few economic handouts from the Free World. But he has learned that he cannot meet basic humanitarian standards set forth by Jimmy Carter or the Pope and simultaneously keep the population sufficiently terrorized to preserve his power. That's why last week he sentenced some 77 civic activists, union leaders, librarians, and journalists to up to 28 years in prison. The message to the Cuban population is clear: the culture of fear is alive and well and if it comes down to satisfying the international community or maintaining total control, he will choose the latter. Even a sliver of daylight into his dungeon of darkness risks inspiring resistance not seen since the early 1960s.

The news out of Cuba in these weeks is so heart-wrenching as to provoke intense anger and despair. Yet there are some remarkable things going on inside and outside the country that ought to help advocates of suffering Cubans bear the terrible news. The path to freedom remains difficult but the cause is far from lost.

To start with there is the courage of the Cuban people. Far from cowering, they have responded with defiance. One Cuba watcher has described it as a moment in time when Cubans have decided there is no other choice. "It's like they've crossed the threshold and there's no going back."

The mother of one of three men who faced the firing squad had some choice words for Fidel. "I have always had a tremendous affection for the comandante [Fidel Castro] . . . but now I don't. He assassinated my son. Now I have no faith in the revolution. They didn't even let me talk to him before he died or see his body," she said, according to the Cuba Transition Project at the University of Miami.

Any mother, of course, would feel the same about the killing of her son, devastated and angry. In Cuba, though, expressions of disgust launched at Fidel can earn one attacks by "neighborhood watch" thugs, years in the slammer, torture or worse. That this courageous woman spoke her mind cannot be seen as a mere footnote to the story.

There are scores of other expressions of solidarity with the dissidents at a time when retreat would seem the more prudent course. When Raul Rivero, a journalist and poet sentenced to 20 years, was led away from the courthouse, reports estimated that somewhere between 100 and 300 Cubans packed the streets cheering for him. There are similar reports of large numbers of neighbors and friends descending on courthouses and demanding access to the trials of the accused. State security barred them but these public cries of support for "enemies" of the state such as Angel Moya, Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero and Librado Linares are noble acts of a dignified people and go well beyond a small circle of dissidents.

Oswaldo Paya, the leader of the Varela Project, has not been arrested and has pledged to continue his work. He is actively recruiting new participants throughout the country and continues to speak out.

Thankfully, some Latin members of the U.N. are lending unprecedented moral support to the oppressed Cubans. Costa Rica released a tough denunciation of the crackdown and called for the release of the prisoners. Yesterday, the U.N. Human Rights Commission passed a resolution condemning Cuba. Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru all voted in favor of the resolution. The European Union has also harshly condemned the executions and the prison sentences.

Notably, Argentina -- that beacon of moral clarity -- abstained from the vote, as did Brazil. Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde explained it was because, "We consider the vote very inopportune given this unilateral war that has violated human rights." Apparently, Mr. Duhalde objects to the toppling of dictators and human liberation as does Venezuela which voted against the resolution.

Perhaps most remarkably, the Nobel Prize winning Portuguese writer and onetime friend of Fidel, Josť Saramago, broke with the regime this week saying that it has "lost my trust, damaged my hopes, defrauded my vision." He also said, "Dissent is a right that one finds and will find written in invisible ink in every declaration of human rights, past, present and future. Dissent is an inalienable right of conscience."

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Updated April 18, 2003

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