- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Fidel Castro is more than just Cuba's dictator. He is also author of his island's alternate reality. Since the truth is often inconvenient for Fidel, he has created the fiction of an Edenic Cuban paradise uncorrupted by a world of capitalist vice. This fiction is supported by government-controlled media outlets, schools, universities and public-relations machines.

Unfortunately for Fidel, this scripted fiction collides with reality. On Monday, the White House took a step toward making the distinction clear. In a note to Cuba's diplomatic mission in Washington, the State Department said Fidel's regime was denying Cubans who hold U.S. visas the right to leave Cuba. The obvious question is why, if Fidel presides over an island utopia, he must bar his people from leaving.

In the note, the State Department said, "The Cuban government is punishing entire families, including small children, for the action of one family member," noting that Fidel retaliates against Cubans for escaping the island by forbidding other family members from leaving. Denied legitimate means of exit, these Cubans set out on shark-infested seas in unstable boats, risking their lives to escape Fidel's island and reunite with family.

Fidel's interest in family unity appears to have ended with his campaign to get Elian Gonzalez back. The State Department's note to Cuba said that in a recent 75-day period, 117 Cubans from 57 families who had U.S. visas had been denied exit permits by the Cuban government. And a senior State Department official told the Associated Press Monday that Coast Guard personnel have recently picked up an increasing number of fleeing Cubans who have U.S. travel documents.

In addition, Fidel's regime charges the Cubans permitted to leave the island exorbitant fees for exit permits, although the government itself prevents Cubans from making a decent living. While exit permits are around $600, the average salary in Cuba is about $10 a month.

It was high time the State Department exposed Fidel's cruel migration policies. While Fidel sermonized the rest of the world about parental rights, he deliberately and vengefully continues to keep families apart. And while many demanded the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, there are few voices condemning Fidel's practices today. Perhaps the recent note will help dispel some of the myths Fidel has so successfully propagated about his regime.

Still, the timing of the State Department's note was odd, since it was sent the same day Vice President Al Gore was campaigning in Florida, where politically influential Cuban-Americans could have a significant impact on November's presidential election. The White House should not limit itself to exposing Fidel during election season.

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