- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

Fidel Castro has never lacked for protectors around the globe when critics call attention to his swaggering contempt for human rights. Once more a galaxy of some 200 artists and intellectuals from a number of countries are petitioning the U.N.’s alleged Human Rights Commission to defeat a resolution by the United States again exposing Mr. Castro’s gulags where the International Committee of the Red Cross is forbidden by the dictator to visit.

Among these defenders of Fidel who claim the United States does not have the moral authority to indict Mr. Castro in view of America’s record of treating detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries are actor Danny Glover, novelist Alice Walker and historian Howard Zinn (who last year criticized Fidel for locking up dissenters). Also on board are Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadine Gordimer of South Africa and Jose Saramago of Portugal.

While I, too, have frequently written about how American treatment of detainees violates both our laws and international treaties, that doesn’t stop me from praising Amnesty International for its powerful recent report “Cuba: Prisoners of conscience: 71 longing for freedom.” Wherever there is injustice, sunlight, as Justice Louis Brandeis once said, should be used as a disinfectant.

In Cuba, as Amnesty International emphasizes: “Those who attempt to express views or organize meetings or form organizations that conflict with government policy and/or the aims of the socialist state are likely to be subjected to punitive measures including loss of employment, harassment and intimidation, and often imprisonment.” In America, there are many who criticize the Bush administration’s war on civil liberties as it continues to fight a war on terrorism; but we are free to speak, publish and organize without fear of a late-night knock on the door by authorities signifying the end of our liberty.

During Mr. Castro’s March 2003 crackdown on dissentingCuban human-rights workers, journalists and independent librarians (who opened their homes as libraries to books censored in official libraries) they were sentenced to 20 years and more. Described accurately as “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International, many of them are held in savage conditions.

“Some,” reports Amnesty International, are in confinement for infractions of prison rules in “celdas tapiadas, ‘walled-in cells’… said to be very small with no light and no furniture; they lack sanitary provisions including drinking water, and are often infested with rats, mice and cockroaches; the prisoners are not allowed out, not allowed visitors and are not allowed to take exercise and sometimes are not permitted to wear any clothing nor given any bedding.” In the interest of accuracy, Amnesty International does point out that “during 2004 and early 2005 a total of 19 prisoners of conscience were released, 14 of whom were only granted “licencia extrapenal,” or a “conditional release” permitting them to carry out the rest of their sentences outside prison for health reasons, in the knowledge they could be detained again” by their vigilant jailer, Dictator Castro.

There are two new prisoners of conscience, notes Amnesty International, including Raul Arencibia Fajardo, 41. His crime? He was a member of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights and the Human Rights’ Friends Club. What do the Nobel laureates protecting Fidel think of that? Amnesty is also investigating seven more cases of imprisoned dissidents.

Fidel’s supporters condemn America’s embargo on Cuba, but fail to make a corollary point, which Amnesty International underscores. It “recognizes that the imposition by the United States of a trade embargo undermines Cuba’s ability to provide appropriate nutrition and proper medical care to prisoners. However, it has also been reported that in some cases where the prisoners’ relatives provided medicines, these were withheld by prison authorities without any reasonable motive.”

Amnesty International “calls on the Cuban government to order the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, and to ensure that an independent and impartial inquiry is held into allegations of ill-treatment by prison guards and, that the officials implicated in these allegations are immediately suspended from duty and those responsible brought to justice.” Don’t hold your breath.

Maybe, however, if those distinguished Nobel laureates, artists and intellectuals petitioning on behalf of Fidel would also directly make these requests by Amnesty International to the Maximum Leader of Cuba, where, his protectors say, “there is not a single case of missing persons, torture or extra-judicial killing,” Fidel might actually show a concern, however fleeting, for human rights. Will they? Maybe Nadine Gordimer and Danny Glover would consider initiating such a petition. The prisoners in the “walled-in cells” would surely be grateful to these internationally renowned protectors of Fidel and allegedly of human rights.

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