This article has concentrated on the work of church leaders who are pushing against humanitarian restrictions but are not politically involved. We should also pray for the 75 prisoners of conscience (aka dissidents) jailed by the Castro regime a year ago, and the thousands who have been imprisoned longer. They have it rough.
Here's the first paragraph of a March 14 e-mail from one grieving mother, Alcira Avila: "On February 4, 2004, I got an anonymous call, telling me that my son, Leonardo Bruzon Avila, was defecating and vomiting blood. Our entire family and some friends went to the Combinado del Este prison. We found out that the authorities had taken my son to the section known as the 'triangle of death.' We began to pressure the authorities to let us see him. Coronel Rojas from Villa Marista was there, and he told me that I could not see my son who had been placed where he was because he was very rebellious."
Cuban officials play rough in other ways as well. I met in Havana with the wife of one of the 75 dissidents arrested a year ago. She is 26 with one child and a sweet smile that can't avoid a down-turned corner. When Cuban State Security agents interrogated her last fall, they threateningly asked her, "Do you love your son?"
A kiss-up-to-Castro documentary by Oliver Stone that HBO ran last month and will probably run again showed astounding ignorance, or worse. The online magazine Slate ran an interview of Mr. Stone that included a segment beginning with this question by interviewer Anne Louise Bardach: "When you were talking to the prisoners who tried to hijack a plane, one told you he was a fisherman, and you said, 'Why then didn't you take a boat?' Why did you ask that?" Mr. Stone: "Well, it seemed to me that if they were familiar with boats, it seemed to be the best way." Ms. Bardach: "Did you know that in Cuba there are virtually no boats? The boats that are used for fishermen are tightly controlled. One of the more surreal aspects of Cuba, being the largest island in the Caribbean, is that there are no visible boats." Mr. Stone: "I see."
Another segment showed Fidel Castro meeting with the eight prisoners who had tried to escape from Cuba. The prisoners, as Ms. Bardach put it, "happened to be wearing perfectly starched, nice blue shirts.... Cuba's leader for life is sitting in front of these guys who are facing life in prison, and you're asking them, 'Are you well treated in prison?' Did you think they could honestly answer that question?" Mr. Stone replied, "I must say, you're really picturing a Stalinist state. It doesn't feel that way." Ms. Bardach: "What about when you ask them what they think is a fair sentence for their crimes, and one of them starts to talk about how he'd like to have 30 years in prison?" Mr. Stone: "I was shocked at that. But Bush would have shot these people, is what Castro said."
One more striking segment: Ms. Bardach asked, "Did it strike you as interesting that at one point in the scene with the prisoners, Castro turned to the prisoners' defense lawyers, who just happened to be there, and he says, 'I urge you to do your best to reduce the sentences'?" Mr. Stone: "I love that. I thought that was hilarious ... the prosecutor and Fidel admonishing them, to make sure they worked hard. There was that paternalism. I mean 'father knows best,' as opposed to totalitarianism. It's paternalism, that's what I meant. It's a Latin thing."