- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

The effeteniks of Europe were in full cry a few weeks ago, bashing us roundly and soundly for what they thought was inhumane treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. For all the hyperbole, the wild accusations resulted only in proof that we are treating some of the world's most dangerous prisoners with consideration and respect. And we are doing so while still making sure they don't kill their guards or escape. For all the trouble the critics went to, it's a shame they didn't travel up the road a while to visit Fidel Castro's gulag. If they had, they would have come across real inhumanity, the type that only an old unreconstructed Stalinist dictator can create.

The old Stalinist has established his "republic" as a terrorist clearinghouse. Tied to Iran and the base for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Americas, Mr. Castro's Cuba is busily supporting the bloody-handed narco-terrorists, FARC, in their campaign to overthrow the government of Colombia. Three IRA members were arrested in Colombia last year, while teaching the FARC how to make land mines and other weapons. One is known as the IRA's man in Havana. It must be a comfortable place to rest and recuperate between sessions of training terrorists to murder civilians.

Many Americans, except for the vocal Cuban-American community, are pretty complacent about the Castro regime. Cuban-Americans a generally successful community with few needs other than freedom and more Republicans than your average Larchmont country club are not a media-protected minority. It's easy to forget what is going on in Cuba until you meet people like Maritza Lugo and Ramon Colas.

When you look at Maritza, you see an attractive woman approaching middle age. She's intense, entirely focused on her interlocutors. Through interpreters, she answers questions forcefully, directly and sadly. She seems burdened, and she is: Two children with her here, and a husband left behind in prison. After her family, her proudest burden is the leadership of the 30th of November Democratic Party, one of the few political activist groups daring to oppose Mr. Castro openly. The 30th November party was started in 1991 and promptly labeled illegal, as are all opposition parties in Cuba. Maritza became a leader of the party in 1993 when her husband, Raphael Ibarra Roque, president of the 30th November party, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for civil disobedience. The 30th of November Democratic Party preaches nonviolence and only wishes Mr. Castro would answer in kind. Of course, he does just the opposite.

It's about 400 miles from Camp X-Ray to Havana. Along the road between them is a prison the inmates call, "Manto Negro," or "Black Cloak." It's one of those places no one is allowed to go unless they are jailers or the jailed. It's a shame that those who criticized Camp X-Ray haven't seen what takes place every day at the Black Cloak prison.

Maritza was first arrested in 1997 and was imprisoned off and on until about nine months ago. Her crime was smuggling out tapes of conversations with political prisoners to give them to Amnesty International. When she was first imprisoned, her daughters then ages 8 and 3 were left to fend for themselves. Taken to Black Cloak, Maritza was put in a punishment cell for 10 days a concrete square about three feet across. There is a concrete "bed" that the prisoner can curl up on. If you stand up, you have to stay up. There are nails protruding from the walls that prevent you from leaning against them to rest. There are no baths, and the toilet is a hole in the floor. Meals, if served at all, are few and irregular.

When Maritza was released last year, she managed to get a message to her husband, still in prison. His reply told her to get out and take their two daughters with her. All three made it here. Now, she has dedicated her life to getting freedom not just for her husband, but for all Cubans.

Ramon, meanwhile, is a thin black man, his hair going to gray, with a ready smile and a professorial bearing. He is well-read, and a quiet sort of intellectual. He, like Maritza, was a political prisoner. His crime was not the same as hers. He was jailed for trying to establish libraries independent of government control. Libraries in Cuba aren't big, brick buildings offering thousands of books. They are small collections kept in private homes, lent to whomever comes around.

Of course, when they are discovered, they are closed, the books seized, and the librarians, like Ramon, imprisoned for indeterminate terms. Ramon was imprisoned for having the audacity to try to make available to the public books by authors such as Bertrand Russell and George Orwell. Perhaps "1984" sounded too much like everyday life in Cuba to legally be called fiction.

It's easier for critics in Europe or Congress to criticize the United States than to take on Mr. Castro. The Europeans risk nothing of their trade with us for making the wild charges about Camp X-Ray. Mr. Castro's European trading partners won't speak ill of him for fear their investments would be confiscated like American property seized when he took power. Some of that now bears the logos of some European and Japanese companies.

There are many in Congress including the entire Arkansas delegation, according to Rep. Vic Snyder who say we should end the embargo and open trade with Cuba. They say, correctly, that the embargo didn't achieve the goal of overthrowing Mr. Castro. But their solution, merely ending it, won't accomplish that goal either. We should do whatever we can to increase pressure on Mr. Castro. Radio Marti and its television partner should be given the capability to reach any Cuban who cares to listen, overcoming Cuban jamming. Their message should be: "We have not forgotten you. Your country will soon be free, because we shall make it so."


Jed Babbin is a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.


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