Compassion fatigue on Cuba
Posted on Tuesday, 10.04.11
Compassion fatigue on Cuba
BY MICHAEL PUTNEY
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 —
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
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