- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

Just over one year ago, Fidel Castro demonstrated to the world once again what his power in Cuba depends on: brutal repression. On March 18, 2003, Mr. Castro’s security forces arrested as many as 75 dissidents, 27 of them journalists. Shortly afterward, those dissidents were sentenced to up to 28 years in prison by Cuba’s corrupted courts. The imprisonment of those Cubans remains a testament to the dictator’s illegitimacy.

Many world leaders have tried to cast ambiguity on that illegitimacy. Supporters of democracy must firmly challenge that dangerous illusion and remind the world of the dissidents languishing in Cuban jails, many of whom have become seriously ill after being confined for long periods in dank cells. While opinion-makers may not be able to stop Mr. Castro’s repression, they can deny him the international acceptance he craves.

Around the world, champions of democracy have mobilized to do just that. In the Czech Republic, 75 politicians, human rights leaders and others sat in a mock prison cell in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in solidarity with Cuba’s political prisoners. Prague Mayor Pavel Bem launched the effort and was joined by Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, Senate Chairman Petr Pithart and Alexandr Vondra, former ambassador to the United States and deputy foreign minister.

A group of journalists from Miami — as well as Peru, Argentina and Venezuela — paid a visit to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington to deliver a letter condemning Mr. Castro’s crackdown. The journalists, with the Organizacion de Periodistas Ibero-Americanos, told The Washington Times that they were forced to throw the letter through the gate at the Cuban mission, since they weren’t able to even get a receptionist to receive it.

The group, funded solely through journalists’ contributions, campaigns for freedom of expression. Through bare-knuckledrepression,Mr.Castrohas extinguished the light of liberty that dissidents risked their personal freedom to uphold. It is the task of the free world to continue exposing that glaring injustice and campaign for the release of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience.

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