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Jewish World Review May 16, 2005/ 7 Iyar, 5765

Nat Hentoff

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Castro: Rule by fear | We've seen the worldwide broadcasts showing courageous Iraqi citizens risking their lives to vote. But much less media attention is being paid now to Cubans — still free in spirit and conscience — who plan to gather in Havana on May 20 for a general meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, an organization comprised of 365 independent groups whom Castro has yet to terrify into silence. Assembly members risk long-term imprisonment in Fidel's gulags.

Among the delegates to that May 20 meeting are two librarians from Eastern Cuba — Elio Enrique Chavez and Luis Elio de la Paz. They cannot attend, however, because in a secret trial they were sentenced to prison on a charge of dangerousness (peligrosidad). Castro does indeed see the attendees to this Assembly, as well as other resisters across the country, as a danger to his brutal regime.

In a statement on the librarians' imprisonment, the executive committee of the Civil Assembly reports to the world: "This case demonstrates that Fidel Castro and his regime are employing all their resources and methods to frustrate the preparations and ultimately prevent the General Meeting of the Assembly to Promote the Civil Society in Cuba on May 20th.

"We are calling the attention of the international organizations and community in general to the risks facing the participants of the Assembly."

As is his practice, Castro has undoubtedly inserted spies among the planners of, and delegates to, the assembly, with the obvious intentions of limiting the attendance and spurring the fear of resistance throughout the country.

Castro still fears hostile international reaction — especially from the European Union — to the savagery of his dictatorship. In the May 6 Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, a ceaseless recorder of Castro's cruelties, quotes an example of that savagery as reported in the March 30 Toronto Globe and Mail by Marcus Gee:

"Amnesty (International) says prison guards beat one handcuffed dissident by stomping on his throat till he lost consciousness."

But Castro's continuing sensitivity to international disapproval of his thuggery has been revealed in a letter smuggled out of their prison by librarians Chavez and de la Paz. As reported on the Web site

"The police told the defendants that their prison terms would be publicized as a government work/study program rather than a form of punishment," According to the prisoners, "(The colonel said) it would be made known that we are not prisoners, that it (i.e., their detainment) was for a work/study program of the Revolution; we told him we did not agree, that we weren't going to work or study but that they were sentencing us for our political position. ... We're going to serve our sentence behind bars."

Their refusal to be broken by Castro is also exemplified by others in the dictator's gulag, and by those who, as of this writing, will be facing is police, overt and secret, on May 20. Oswaldo Paya, whose Varela Project got more than 10,000 brave Cubans to sign his petition for democracy, told the Associated Press in March:

"When Cubans are capable of saying that, beyond our fear, we want change, that hits the nucleus of power." What also can cause Castro more fear is if the international media covers the May 20 Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba. Though time is short, surely the resourceful executives at American television and cable networks can try to get their cameras into Havana by that fateful day.

It would also be a great impetus to the further dissipation of what Oswaldo Paya calls "the culture of fear" in Cuba if the world can see on television what Mary Anastasia O'Grady describes in her Wall Street Journal Article:

"For more than two years now, Fidel Castro has faced a frightening scene in Havana every Sunday. Some 30 women dressed all in white meet at St. Rita's church; when Mass is over they form a silent procession and walk 10 blocks to a nearby park. This is the kind of stuff that keeps dictators up at night.

"They are the Ladies in White, wives of prisoners of conscience doing time in Castro's gulags. The ladies are appealing for the release of all political prisoners, in the name of justice and humanity. Their pleas go unheeded. But that doesn't mean that their act of defiance hasn't been effective. Indeed, sources say that similar groups of women decked out in white have begun forming processions in other cities around the country."

What a wonderful, liberating final chorus it would be for Ted Koppel's "Nightline" (soon to be banished by ABC-TV in an act of nonpublic service) to be in Havana on May 20, with Koppel on-site reporting live on the assembly, or the assault on it by Castro's hoodlums.

Maybe some of the American entertainment and literary elite, who have basked in Fidel's glowing presence, will also be there to provide the maximum leader with their amoral support.

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.

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