No Absolution for Castro's Regime
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Villa Marista, Cuba's renowned state security headquarters in Havana, is a
grim symbol of state repression, where the regime has perfected its art of
interrogation and its brutal incarceration techniques.
But Villa Marista wasn't always a torture chamber. Before the Revolution,
the building was a Marist Brothers school. When Fidel Castro decided that
Marxism would best serve his interests, he quashed the Church by
confiscating its property and exiling, imprisoning or driving underground
the clergy. The conversion of the Villa Marista school from a Catholic
sanctuary into a secret-police center served as a metaphor for all that
Cubans were to endure.
In the past decade, the Cuban Church has regained some space, with Pope John
Paul II's 1998 visit to the island suggesting a new, minimal legitimacy. Yet
after the pontiff left Cuba, Fidel's actions made it clear that he had
hosted the Holy Father only as a public relations stunt, something to
relieve the intense international pressure that had been bearing down on
What the dictator may not have calculated though was what the pontiff would
leave behind. Since 1998 Cuba's dissident movement has swelled, led largely
by Catholics and other Christians who exhibit an enormous capacity for
The most famous of these is Oswaldo Paya who leads the Varela Project for
reform. Many others have suffered torturous confinement, but not in vain.
Their incarcerations have severely damaged Cuba's world image and alienated
much of the previously sympathetic international left. The fallout has also
included a split inside the regime, with military entrepreneurs unhappy
about the financial costs of bad press to their businesses.
Now Cuba's bishops are pushing further. In a paper released on Sept. 8, they
have openly condemned the regime. "In Cuba," writes Vatican-watcher Sandro
Magister in Italy's online magazine Chiesa, "the document is being
circulated clandestinely and one can understand why: it's the most explicit
and reasoned act of accusation the bishops of the island have ever made,
unanimously, against the regime of Fidel Castro. And Castro, so far, has not
Indeed, the bishop's document, which is posted in its entirety, in Spanish,
on the Miami Archdioscese Web site, La Voz Catolica, doesn't mince words:
"Notwithstanding the new language and the space that appeared to open during
the days of the visit of the Holy Father," the bishops write, "we have seen
almost immediately after it, the beginning of an apparent process of
revision that does not favor the aspirations of pluralism, tolerance and
opening that we discerned on the national horizon."
The parallels to Poland here are hard to ignore, even taking into account
the differences between that devoutly Catholic country and Cuba with its
complicated history linking Spanish colonialism and the Church. The pope's
visits to Poland revitalized an important nongovernmental institutional
force. That spiritual and moral energy moved more deeply through society and
gave vitality to another important institution: Poland's labor movement.
Solidarity eventually toppled the regime.
There is little doubt that, in a similar way, Cuban Catholics and civil
society more broadly have found a voice since the papal visit, and been
inspired to accept suffering in the struggle for freedom. It is their
willingness to stand up that has drawn the world's attention.
There are now hundreds of political prisoners, many of whom are Christians,
all of whom are incarcerated in grossly inhumane conditions. Every one of
them is a profile in courage and an important part of the whole.
Take for example Jorge Luis Antunez, who turns 39 years old today, Cuban
Independence Day. He has been in prison since 1990, when he was first
charged with "oral enemy propaganda." The story of this extraordinarily
intelligent young Catholic man and his conscientious battle against the
regime is remarkable.
Mr. Antunez was born into humble circumstances in the town of Placetas. He
was sent away to a state boarding school in the countryside but the
indoctrination he received there apparently didn't take. As he has written:
"My first political uneasiness emerged in high school when I had the
happiness to know, even in part, some articles from the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and to discern the acute lack of rights and
freedoms that Cubans are subjected to. These and other things made me reject
the doctrine and demagoguery that was imparted in class . . . ."
Independent thinking meant Mr. Antunez had little chance of advancing in the
Cuban system and becoming a lawyer as he had hoped. To support his household
and his sick mother, he resigned himself to a life as a laborer. Still, he
could not ignore the injustices of the regime. His public denunciations of
the Cuban model and calls for Eastern European-style reform landed him in
Afro-Cubans are supposed to be especially grateful to the regime, so Mr.
Antunez's dissidence does not sit well with Fidel or his henchmen. He has
been beaten repeatedly and locked in punishment dungeons without water. He
has testified that he once heard a Cuban doctor, assigned to treat his
wounds, announce "This Antunez's life is worthless because he is a black
counterrevolutionary. He should pray to God he doesn't fall into my hands."
When his mother was dying Mr. Antunez requested permission to visit her. He
was denied this but did manage to escape from jail in an attempt to reach
her. State security got to her first and told her that should her son come
to the house, he would be shot on sight. He did not see her, was eventually
captured and she has since died.
Mr. Antunez may be seriously ill. According to his family, he has
hypoglycemia, kidney problems, and respiratory difficulties. A cyst has been
discovered on his lung. Yet after moving their ailing captive to Ariza
prison in Cien Fuegos recently, authorities told his family that his medical
records have been lost.
If the Church sees a chance to raise its voice today it is due in some part
to the courage of Mr. Antunez, his fellow dissidents, and the international
pressure they are producing. What's needed now for the cause of Cuban
freedom to succeed is more of both.
NetforCuba International en Español, presione aquí:
"Solo la opresión debe temer al pleno ejercicio de la libertad. Libertad es
el derecho que todo hombre tiene a ser honrado, y a pensar y a hablar sin
hipocresía. Un hombre que oculta lo que piensa, o no se atreve a decir lo
que piensa, no es un hombre honrado. Un hombre que obedece a un mal
gobierno, sin trabajar para que el gobierno sea bueno, no es un hombre
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