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Al-Jazeera Shames the U.S. Media by Telling the Truth about Cuban Repression

Ronald Radosh

As the Obama administration does little to free Alan Gross from imprisonment in Cuba, and at the same time acts to make it easier for U.S. citizens to travel there, we tend to forget the truth about the Castro brothers’ prison island. Our media does little to report about conditions there, about the state of their civil society, and about the continuing repression of its citizens by the Communist authorities.

Filling the gap is a bold and truthful report from an unexpected source: al-Jazeera [1].

Yes, that al-Jazeera — their reporters took dangerous steps to alert their audience to the truth about the Communist regime. In our country, had it chosen to do so, 60 Minutes might have been the outlet for this kind of brave investigative reporting. The last time it reported on Cuba, however, it was the usual kind of soft story carried out with the cooperation of Cuban government authorities. No one, it seems, loves Fidel and Raul Castro more than our American TV correspondents, who from Barbara Walters on down would do anything to gain the adoration and respect of our own hemisphere’s left-wing tyrants.

You must watch the amazing video linked above before reading further. “What is it like,” their reporter asks, “to live in such a pervasive culture of surveillance and fear?” To answer that question, the network sent a journalist from their program People and Power to the island. In order to protect his ability to gain access later, they did not give his name or show him on camera, something I suspect any U.S. journalist who wants recognition would agree to as a condition of an assignment.

He worked with independent Cuban journalist Ivan Hernandez — who is now in hiding, and the two prepared a video that would document how the state security forces carry out repression of the civilian populace. In 2003, Hernandez was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime of publishing what the regime called “false information.” Hernandez was put in a high-security prison, isolated from other prisoners, and deprived of contact with anyone except his guards. The “state secrets” he wrote about? Simply the truth about the tough conditions in which average Cubans live.

In 2011, he was set free as a gesture of good will towards Pope Benedict, who was coming to visit Cuba in 2012. (The pope refused, in return, to pay heed to the dissidents’ plea that he meet with them during his visit.)

His spirit undaunted, Hernandez willingly worked with al-Jazeera despite the assumed risk of future imprisonment. The report continued:

To Fidel Castro, Ivan is a ‘counter-revolutionary’ working for the American right-wing Cuban lobby. In reality, Ivan is just an independent freelance journalist, albeit one with a very critical view of the Cuban Revolution. … The released prisoners were given the option of leaving the island. Most of them did. But not Ivan. ‘This is my country,’ he told me when I asked him about his decision. ‘Why would I leave? This is my calling, my mission — to tell the truth. Life is terrible here. There’s a U.S. blockade against Cuba, and inside Cuba there’s a blockade of the government against the people.‘ “

One out of every five Cubans, Ivan told the network, is most likely a police informer — something undoubtedly developed from the days in which East Germany’s STASI was brought to Cuba to train the island’s security forces. To avoid their suspicion, they decided to film with tiny mini-cameras that would escape detection. They gave human rights activists their own cameras in order to film a daily diary of their lives. In addition, they set up safe houses in which to conduct interviews.

They succeeded in doing five interviews without detection, until they filmed Antonio Rodiles, a 40-year-old man with a degree in physics who returned to Cuba voluntarily after living abroad in order to do his part to open up the regime. Rodiles set up a group called SATS, an organization of artists, intellectuals, and professionals who want what he calls “a better reality.”

One has to marvel at the audacity and bravery of these dissidents, who risk not only imprisonment but the chance that they will even be murdered by the regime. Even a tiny percentage of dissidents who speak out is seen as a threat by the government to its stability. Once the public no longer fears the regime, it could be the beginning of the end. Rodiles began, as seen in the video, by pointing out the surveillance cameras constantly aimed at his home by state security.

The al-Jazeera crew proceeded to Revolution Square, the site of all the mass rallies, and witnessed a brave rickshaw driver unveiling a sign saying “Down with Repression.” This act led to his immediate arrest.

Then, on July 22, an incident took place which reveals the true face of the Cuban regime. Cuba’s leading dissident, Oswaldo Paya, was driving in a car with two passengers. He phoned his daughter on a cell phone to tell her he was being followed by state security. A moment later, a crash occurred. Paya was killed.

His daughter rightfully concluded that his death was not an accident. Hernandez secretly filmed Paya’s funeral, which turned into a demonstration against the regime, which is captured in his video. Soon after, al-Jazeera was unable to reach him. The other dissident they filmed at home, Antonio Rodiles, was arrested. The network’s correspondent writes:

This film, which will probably go to air as Antonio is in a cell for daring to speak his mind, will no doubt confirm the government’s suspicions of him — but like all the dissidents we spoke to in our film, he would not have had it any other way. Only by speaking out, they say, will Cubans bring change to their country.

The repression in Cuba continues unabated. Michael Allen of the National Endowment for Democracy has done a yeoman’s job of reporting about these developments. The NED reports [2] in its Democracy Digest:

Two leading Cuban dissidents have been threatened and attacked, “by people they took to be intelligence agents in separate incidents on the same day,” AP reports [3]:

Elizardo Sanchez said two plainclothes officials stopped him near his Havana home on Tuesday, shouting physical threats and using crude language. That night, dissident Guillermo Farinas was allegedly attacked by a man with a wooden stick elsewhere in Havana, resulting in light injuries.

The regime is keeping rights activists under intense pressure [4], with more than 5,600 dissidents, journalists and rights activists arrested or detained between January and the end of October this year, writes Ivette Martinez [4].

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation recorded 520 detentions in October alone. For the year, the group says it has documented 5,625 cases, which is ‘consistent with the high level of political repression in Cuba over recent years.’

The Communist authorities yesterday sentenced a labor union activist to two years in prison for his independent organizing activities.

Ulises González Moreno was sentenced in a trial whose outcome was predetermined, independent journalist Iván Hernández Carrillo reports via his Twitter account:

According to Cuba Sindical, González Moreno is 45 years old and was detained on November 15, 2012 at his home located in Concordia #414 apartment 2 in Central Havana by two plain clothes state security agents who identified themselves as members of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). The following day when his wife went to where her husband was being detained she was told that he would be tried for “Peligrosidad Social” (Social Dangerousness), which indicates that the activist has a predilection to in a possible future commit a crime against the regime. This law has been used to persecute nonviolent activists.

Their report quotes a recent interview they conducted with Rodiles, who was released after 19 days in detention. The brave dissident made the following statement:

I say to my friends and others with whom I have spoken, that my main experience is that at this moment in Cuba there are a great many people who understand that the country has to change, and that people thinking differently, that people having different views of things, political, ideological, is not a reason for people to hate them or to not respect them but, sadly, there is a group of people who up to now have demonstrated that they have carte blanche to use violence, who are committed to creating situations like this one and I think, what’s more, they are committed to creating even more critical situations.

I think it’s very important that all national and international public opinion support civil society activists because these people are not the preponderance of the people in this country.

As for Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen who is seriously ill and has been rotting in prison for three years for providing cell phones and internet capability to Jewish citizens of Cuba in a legal program — the reason he remains imprisoned is well-put by an anonymous Cuban-American activist, as well as by Michael Allen of NED [5]. The activist writes:

1) They seek to hold him as a hostage in order to try and obtain the release of the five Castro spies imprisoned in the U.S. for espionage activities conducted by the Castro Regime against the United States. The leader of the spy ring, Gerardo Hernandez “Giro” is serving a life sentence for directly participating in the orchestration and murder of four volunteer humanitarian Cuban American pilots over international waters in 1996. The continued imprisonment of these thugs has punctured the layer of invincibility with which the Regime has traditionally sought to clothe its repressive forces and is a living reminder to these forces that there will be no impunity for their crimes. The continued imprisonment of these individuals is a constant advisory to the Castro Regime.

(2) Raul Castro has kidnapped Americans before, in the Sierra Maestra, and has had successful results from it. He believes he will also be successful in this kidnapping because the State Department response has been so weak. No Castro diplomats have been expelled, no initiative has been undertaken by the U.S. in any international human rights body to press for Gross’ release and protest his ill treatment. On the contrary, with Gross still under arrest the U.S. government did not object to opening the door to Castro’s return to the OAS.

(3) They see negotiations for trading the imprisoned thugs for Gross as a way to short circuit the pro-democracy lobby in the U.S. Congress and open the door to normalization on THEIR terms.

(4) For the Castro Regime both Allan Gross and Carromero are proof positive of how the Regime can severely punish those foreigners involved in peacefully empowering Cuban civil society for democratic change. With continued support from abroad the movement inside Cuba has grown exponentially and is increasingly challenging the Regime on the streets. The Castors want to eliminate the human lifeline from abroad to the movement without hurting their own tourism in the process.

Allen gets it right on each point. The Castro regime wants to equate Cuban spies caught in the U.S. with Gross, who was on a humanitarian mission sponsored by Jewish groups to give Jewish Cubans access to communication with the outside world. Weekly, Gross’s family, fed up with the apparent unwillingness of the U.S. government to make his release a priority, is picketing the Cuban mission to demand action to free him, after waiting until now to abide by the State Department’s request that quiet diplomacy was the best way to achieve Gross’ release.

So many years ago, the New Left had a romance with the Cuban Revolution, believing that unlike the Soviet Union that was revered by the Old Left, Cuba would turn out to be the true paradise all the Left was continually seeking, and would build a New World socialism of a humane nature. As Rodiles says in his interview, the truth was that the Revolution was created by totalitarians of a Leninist bent, who always knew what they had in mind once the old authoritarian Batista regime was ousted.

When will our government and media make known to our own citizens the truth about Cuba? The brave people of Cuba are waiting.

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