- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2000

In 1992 in Cuba, Luis Grave de Peralta was sentenced to 13 years in prison for "rebellion using peaceful means." His imprisonment and exile discredits Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's recent posturing as a defender of family unification. While in prison, he wrote "The Magic of Affection," a collection of short stories which he would write, hide, then send home for safekeeping. For years, Mr. de Peralta has had to keep faith in the message of his book. His story of loss and family separation deserves every bit as much attention as that of Elian Gonzalez.
In 1980, Mr. de Peralta graduated from the Universidad de Oriente, where he had a distinguished academic career in physics. He joined the Communist Party because he "truly believed there shouldn't be either very rich or very poor people," Mr. de Peralta told The Washington Times. In 1989, during the Perestroika era in Russia, Mr. de Peralta made a fateful trip to Italy.
There he had the opportunity to read what Russians said of their own country. He also saw reports on the massacre in Tiananmen Square. When he returned to Cuba, Mr. de Peralta noted the difference between what the official press said about Tiananmen and what he heard in Italy. He decided to drop out of the Communist Party.
Shortly after leaving the party, Mr. de Peralta was fired from his job teaching at the university. In the following months of idleness, he made frequent visits to his local library, where he reviewed the speeches of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and official press reports from 1970 to 1990. He then decided to compile a book, about 80 percent of which consisted of Mr. Castro's words. "The smart reader can draw his own conclusion," Mr. de Peralta believed. What was revealed were falsehoods and contradictions.
The Cuban government drew its own conclusions and put Mr. de Peralta in prison. His colleagues, who had failed to report reading the book, were sentenced to 10 years in jail. Mr. de Peralta shared a cell of about 2 meters by 4 meters with a convicted murder and thief who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
"I never received physical torture," said Mr. de Peralta in an interview. But he added, "you had to be careful in this jail because there were many cases of prisoners attacking each other."
Hunger was a problem, however. "I was very, very thin," he said. "A little bit better than what you see in Ethiopia," he added. Mostly, prisoners were given rice with water and on special occasions, cooked cow blood, he said.
After four years in jail Mr. de Peralta was released from jail, thanks to the entreaties of Amnesty International and Bill Richardson, who was then a Democratic congressman from New Mexico. The condition was that he leave Cuba immediately. The U.S. government gave Mr. de Peralta and his family asylum in the United States, but the Cuban government would not let many of his family members join him. It still won't.
Mr. Castro, who vociferously advocates the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, won't let Maria Bouza Fortes, the mother of Mr. de Peralta's two sons, leave Cuba with the children for unnamed security reasons. Mr. Castro's claim is rather curious, since Mrs. Fortes is an English teacher. Mr. de Peralta has been appealing to the Cuban government for four years to allow his family to be unified in the United States.
He now hopes that the publicity generated by the custody case of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez will create interest in his plight. In the meantime, Mr. de Peralta thinks of "The Magic of Affection," the story that gave name to his book. In the story, a character in one of his son's drawings comes alive. "And now, charmed and sad, I look at your drawing that stays here, glued to the wall … I am thinking about you: my son and in the magic of affection and in those two figures that will always be together, like you and I," goes the story.
That wish should become reality. The idea of Fidel Castro as a family unifier ought to be held up to shame until such a time as Mr. de Peralta and his two little boys are reunited in freedom.

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