What's the state of human rights in Cuba? To read today's press from the island's controlled newspapers, one would think everything's wonderful. fidel says that, as of 3PM yesterday, 92.09% of Cuban voters had cast their ballots in municipal elections. The turnout, of course, is President Bush's fault:
The large vote is seen on the island as a counterpunch to an official Bush administration document that advocates the overthrow of the Cuban government and the reinstatement of the system prior to the 1959 revolution. Back then, according to Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon, voting was a privilege instead of a right and gangsters allied to the US government decided who would be the candidates.
Periodico 26 even trots out an old man who says he's voting in memory of his friends who died during the revolution:
"I feel I am watching them," says Machado and he mentions the names of Eduardo Perez Sanchez, Pelayo Cusido, Calixto Sarduy y a Reynaldo Bermudez - youths who were assassinated by Batista's executioners and whom Cubans are honouring today as they cast their votes in the country's nationwide nonpartisan municipal elections.
"I voted before the revolution because I didn't like those governments. Then, I was a worthless nigger, but since January 1959 I am an honourable man, instead of the object of discrimination..."
Suppression of Independent Journalists
Then there's the supression of independent journalists, as summarized in an editorial by DailyBreeze.com, a California site.
Under Castro's aging but still rigid dictatorship, even the merest vestiges of democracy are, of course, nonexistent as the regime continues to suppress any hint of free expression and freedom of information.
The Cuban government's Draconian crackdown on dissent in March 2003 focused harshly on the brave band of 100 or so Cubans acting as independent journalists. In a country where the state controls all media and all information released to the public, Cuba's independent journalists defied this monopoly by self-publishing newsletters and a magazine (it lasted four hand-produced issues) and by acting as stringers reporting for foreign news outlets.
As has been written about here, 75 dissidents were arrested and imprisoned in 2003. 31 of them were independent journalists. The arrests sparked the Cocktail Wars with the European Union, during which fidel and the EUrocrats refused to attend one another's cocktail parties. And last week, even the U.N. Human Rights Commission condemned castro's human rights record, although the 21-17 (with 15 abstentions) vote gave both sides room to claim victory. The U.N. in 2003 appointed Christine Chanet as envoy to investigate Cuba's human rights, but fidel won't allow her to visit the island. So, struggling almost alone, Cuba's independent journalists continue to work hard at getting the word out - again from DailyBreeze.com.
The latest reports from inside Cuba are that about 30 independent journalists are trying, against oppressive odds, to continue operating. They haven't given up their struggle on behalf of a better future for the Cuban people. They deserve whatever help can be provided by governments, human rights groups and press organizations outside Castro's miserable tyranny.
The Case of Dr. Hilda Molina
One nation abstaining on the U.N. Human Rights vote was Argentina. The Buenos Aires Herald takes the government to task, sort of, for failing to cast a vote. The newspaper points to the special case of Dr. Hilda Molia.
Argentina has recently acquired a very specific grievance against Cuba in the form of the Hilda Molina case - the Cuban brain surgeon prevented from seeing her grandchildren here. The stock excuse of not interfering in the affairs of other countries does not apply here because these grandchildren are Argentine.
Dr. Molina is a very famous Cuban brain surgeon who ran afoul of fidel. From Val:
Dr. Hilda Molina is a top Cuban brain surgeon who was denied a visa at the Argentine Embassy in Havana last year. She desperately wanted to visit her grandson in Buenos Aires. fidel suspected she might not be back, and so, instead of showing the world his 'family man' "concern" about uniting families, as he pretended to do in the case of Elian, he told her no, declaring that she was a commodity product belonging to the state, and therefore could never leave the country. Shamefully, the Argentines caved in and denied her an exit visa in response to savage pressure from fidel.
This wasn't the first problem Dr. Molina has had with fidel. She was a prominent doctor, a top researcher, and a member of parliament and even knew fidel. However, that meant nothing when she defied fidel over his preferential system of health care for foreigners versus, well, you know what kind of health care Cubans get under fidel. It made her sick. She also defied fidel over stem-cell research, because she didn't want to chop up aborted babies for the research as he did. For those two unforgiveable things, fidel has made her life hell on earth for the past ten years.
Val has translated a letter she wrote to the U.N. The Buenos Aires Herald brings up a good point, before it gets kind of wimpy at the end of the editorial.
The question placed before the UN Human Rights Committee on Thursday was really a very simple one - are human rights respected in Cuba or are they not? - and deserves an equally simple answer.
... At least Argentina was in step with the rest of South America, whose representatives (Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru) all abstained along with some Afro-Asian countries - Mexico (perhaps seeking US support in the deadlocked election of the new Organization of American States secretary-general) and Central America voted against Cuba. But was Argentina being true to human rights, a cause so close to President Nestor Kirchner's heart?
I'm very annoyed with the whishy-washy state of affairs in South America. One would think that with the recent history of military juntas, dictators and civil rights violations in the region, the people and governments would be more sympathetic with the plight of Cubans. The Herald has it right - it's a simple question, are human rights respected or not? I think the answer, for all except fidel's apologists, is no.