Cuba's Repression Escalates
The loosening of travel restrictions by the U.S. is read as weakness in Havana.
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."
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 their liberation.
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 the record.