- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

Tuesday morning, Fidel Castro got a surprise. As he speechified in front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Abraham Lincoln spoke. The great liberator’s words appeared in huge red letters, courtesy of liberty-minded American diplomats, behind the Cuban dictator: “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” Castro reportedly muttered, “They already turned on the sign — the cockroaches are brave.”

The “sign” is a large news ticker, which, for the past four days, has broadcast news and commentary from the 5th-floor windows of the U.S. Interests Section. It is reportedly visible throughout much of Havana, meaning tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of Cubans have seen it. With the words of Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa and healthy doses of uncensored news does the United States hope to reach Cubans directly with words to counter Castro’s agitprop. Call it the “News Ticker of Liberty.” A big promotion for whomever dreamt this up.

“[W]e are simply trying to communicate with the Cuban people,” diplomat Michael Parmly told ABC News. “Only a dictator would be upset.” The dictator is indeed upset: “It is clear when they decided to do this outrageous act they could not have had in mind anything but a provocation to destroy fragile relations.”

He is now trying to block it. On Tuesday, Castro ordered construction crews to work around the clock to erect massive Cuban flags to shield Cuban eyes from the ticker. He reportedly wants it to be finished today — the 153rd birthday of Jose Marti, the Cuban patriot who led the country to independence in the late 19th century.

Is this just another spat in U.S.-Cuban relations? In some senses, yes, not unlike the occasional disputes erupting in Korea’s demilitarized zone, where North Korea, South Korea and U.S. troops sometimes intermingle. But in this case, the possible damage to Castro’s regime is real and immediate. What if thousands of Cubans came to rely on the ticker? What if a reliable source for expatriate or economic news also broadcast messages of freedom?

Castro can’t tolerate that, so he is moving to block it. But will he build a wall when the diplomats move the ticker to the side? A dictator can only build so many walls till he blocks himself in.

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