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    Compassion fatigue on Cuba

    Posted on Tuesday, 10.04.11

    Compassion fatigue on Cuba

    Are we experiencing compassion fatigue on Cuba? I'm seeing signs of it,
    which doesn't bode well for Cuba's brave pro-democracy activists. Or for
    us. They're suffering and most of us — along with most of the world —
    are yawning.

    Thousands marched down Calle Ocho two years ago after Cuban human rights
    activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo went on a hunger strike and died. Now, as
    prisoners of conscience continue to suffer in the Castros' jails and
    pro-democracy dissidents on the outside are beaten and harassed, the
    response for the most part is a shrug.

    But not from South Florida's three Cuban American members of Congress,
    who are trying to sound the alarm. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario
    Diaz-Balart and David Rivera called a news conference last week to
    demand answers from the Castro government about the whereabouts and well
    being of three women dissidents picked up by Castro's goon squad. They
    were taken into custody Sept. 26 in Havana, held incommunicado and
    released just this past Monday.

    One of the women, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, is the wife of the well
    known pro-democracy activist "Antunez," Jorge Luis García Pérez. In an
    email he says his wife and the other two women were on their way to
    "Section 21," Cuba's main state security office, to demand information
    about the health of some political prisoners. Their detention came a day
    after state security broke up a peaceful march by the Ladies in White.

    What does it say about the Castro regime that it feels so threatened by
    a small group of non-violent, middle-aged women that it sics
    pro-government mobs and state police on them? Looks to me like a
    government that watched the Arab Spring and is deathly afraid of a Cuban
    Fall, literally and metaphorically.

    So the Castros and their security apparatus — about the only thing that
    does work in Cuba — are resorting to the most vile tactics available to
    stifle dissent. Of course, this is a government that has made
    "dangerousness" a crime. It is beyond Orwellian.

    "Before," says Ros-Lehtinen, "the modus operandi of the regime was to
    detain people for just a few hours to send a message, 'This is
    repression, you can't do this.' Now, they're actually sentencing the
    opposition leaders up to five years in jail."

    As The Herald's Juan Tamayo has reported, the Castro government — after
    recently releasing 52 dissidents from prison after eight years — appears
    to have lost patience with pro-democracy activists and has started to
    put them back behind bars.

    Eleven dissidents will be put on trial, according to a pro-government
    blog, and the Ladies in White may be crushed.

    So where's the outcry? The marches? The condemnations? And where, as
    Ros-Lehtinen correctly asked, are the stories in The New York Times,
    Washington Post and the TV networks? For that matter, where are the
    stories in local English-language media? I was the only English-language
    reporter at the congressional news conference.

    There are several reasons for the lack of attention. First, it's
    maddeningly difficult to get solid, verifiable information out of Cuba.
    Unless you're a network news anchor or sympathetic print reporter you
    can't get a visa to work there. Reporters who've been even mildly
    critical of the Castro government are shut out completely. I haven't
    been able to get a visa for a decade. Video from Cuba is hard to come by
    and when you get it Cuba stories are a hard sell for English-language TV
    stations, whose managers feel people interested in Cuba will get their
    news from a Spanish-language channel.

    Another, thornier problem is the very members of Congress who are now
    sounding the alarm. They've cried wolf so many times in the past that it
    would take a pack of wolves to get the media's attention. Our
    congressional delegation has spent much of its political capital
    protesting policies that most Americans see as reasonable — liberalizing
    travel to Cuba by exiles and American citizens and increasing
    remittances — or have sponsored laws that seem petty and vindictive.
    Like denying Cuba scholars the right to do research on the island no
    matter who's paying for it. They've also gone ballistic on even
    President Obama's most timid efforts to reach out to the Castro regime.

    The upshot is largely indifference when our Cuban-American members of
    Congress complain about Castro. And compassion fatigue for the
    courageous Cubans who are demanding reforms. "It's a lot different,"
    Ros-Lehtinen noted, "to say 'abajo Fidel' in Miami than it is to say it
    in Havana."

    She's right, of course, and we need to remember that brave Cubans
    calling for basic human rights and democratic reforms in Cuba are paying
    a terrible price — their freedom. We need to stand up and speak out for


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