Cuba’s Repression Escalates
THE AMERICAS – OCTOBER 3, 2011
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson returned home from an attempted
hostage-rescue mission to Cuba last month empty-handed and "still
scratching [his] head" as to why the Castro regime double-crossed him.
What is truly baffling is why Mr. Richardson expected anything different
from a dictatorship operating in extreme-repression mode.
In a Sept. 14 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Richardson said he
had been invited to the island to discuss the release of U.S. Agency for
International Development contractor Alan Gross. Mr. Gross was arrested
in December 2009 and is serving a 15-year sentence.
Mr. Richardson admitted that he got stiffed by Cuba's "foreign ministry,
which a lot of the people there I know and have been friends" with. What
he could not grasp is why those "friends"—a strange designation for
individuals who might one day be hauled before an international
human-rights tribunal—don't appreciate the Obama administration's
outreach. Yes, they are "hardliners," he admitted, but they ought to
understand that the White House has been bending over backward to get along.
Actually they do understand, and that's why they treated him so badly.
Mr. Richardson told Mr. Blitzer that he was "flabbergasted" when, after
a "delightful" three-hour lunch discussing how U.S.-Cuba relations might
be improved—including, he told me by phone Friday, the possibility of
removing the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism after
the release of Mr. Gross—the foreign minister "slammed me three ways:
one, no seeing Alan Gross; no getting him out; and no seeing Raul Castro."
Civil rights protester Sonia Garro after a seven-hour interview with
Cuban state security.
What happened was very predictable. The "loosened travel restrictions"
and increased "remittances [from] Cuban-Americans" that Mr. Richardson
cited as signs of Mr. Obama's willingness to deal are read as weakness
by the bullying regime. It has something, i.e., somebody, the U.S. wants
back very badly, and the administration acts as if it is powerless. Why
should Castro deal?
Mr. Richardson did even less for Cuba's dissidents. One Richardson pearl
of wisdom, shared on CNN, was that Cuba's "human-rights situation has
improved." In fact, human rights in Cuba are rapidly deteriorating. To
claim otherwise is to abandon the island's brave democrats when they
most need international solidarity.
Ask Sonia Garro, pictured in the nearby photo. For years Ms. Garro has
denounced the regime's discrimination against Afro-Cubans. Despite her
own poverty, in 2007 she created a recreation center in her home for
poor, unsupervised children, according to a report by an independent
Cuban journalist. One of her goals: to get young girls out of
prostitution. Ms. Garro is also a member of Ladies in Support, a group
that pledges solidarity to the Ladies in White, which was founded by the
wives, sisters and mothers of political prisoners in 2003 to work for
In October 2010, Ms. Garro was detained by state security and held for
seven hours. She emerged from the ordeal with a broken nose. Another
woman taken into custody with Ms. Garro had her arm broken.
The nongovernmental organization Capitol Hill Cubans has reported that
in the first 12 days of September, authorities detained 168 peaceful
activists. These "express detentions" are designed to break up dissident
gatherings, which risk spreading nonconformist behavior. Locking up
offenders for long periods would be preferable, but the regime wants
people like Mr. Richardson to go around saying that human rights have
improved. The regime is also making greater use of civilian-clothed
"rapid response" brigades that are trained, armed and organized to beat
up democracy advocates.
Mr. Richardson told me he considers Cuba's record improved because 52
political prisoners were sent to Spain in 2010. Yet exiling promising
opposition leadership hardly qualifies as a humanitarian gesture. Nor
are gruesome Cuban prisons anything to ignore.
Last month in a speech in New York, one former prisoner, Fidel Suárez
Cruz, described his seven years and seven months of solitary
confinement, including two years and eight months in a cell with no
windows, ventilation or artificial light. One favorite pastime of his
torturers: Four military men would pick him up and then drop him on the
floor. His testimony, posted on Capitol Hill Cubans website, is required
viewing for anyone who doubts the evil nature of this regime.
Nevertheless, Cuba's dissidents remain relentless, and there are signs
that the regime is giving up on the express-detention strategy. Fearless
democracy advocate Sara Marta Fonseca and her husband Julio León Pérez
have been in jail since Sept. 24. Ms. Fonseca's son has seen her and
says she is black and blue all over and has an injury to her spinal
column. Word is the regime is preparing to charge the couple; 11 other
dissidents are awaiting trial. Meanwhile, Yris Pérez Aguilera, the wife
of the prominent dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez," and two
peers were detained on Sept. 26. Their whereabouts are unknown.
Any hope of protecting these patriots lies in international
condemnation. Mr. Richardson could help by returning to CNN to correct