Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Montaner Speaks

And people should listen...

Fidel Castro And His Cosa Nostra
Carlos Alberto Montaner

When a mutual friend complained to Abel Prieto, the Cuban Culture Minister, about the beating administered by a mob to Mrs. Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, an infirm 60-year-old economist, he lowered his head and begged out of the question, saying that those were "Fidel's doings." He was ashamed that such a cowardly act could be committed. He would have liked to prevent it, but the matter was out of his hands. All he could do was to resign from government, but he didn't have the nerve to do it.

He was right. Except for international pressure, nothing and nobody in Cuba can stop the wave of violence and abuse suffered by the democrats in and out of prisons, because it's the Comandante himself who has ordered his numerous thugs to beat, humiliate, spit upon and insult anyone who dares to criticize his government publicly.

It is not a question of isolated acts perpetrated by sadistic characters. It's a carefully thought-out plan. Inside the prisons, the guards have been instructed to kick political prisoners mercilessly and to let them die if they fall ill, as is happening to Héctor Maseda, Héctor Palacios, Oscar Elías Biscet and a dozen other democrats incarcerated for writing articles, lending forbidden books, asking for a referendum or distributing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Outside the prisons, that task of violent repression falls upon the Communist Party and the implacable political police adjunct to the Ministry of the Interior. The minister, Gen. Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, supervises even the tiniest details of the so-called "acts of repudiation," the pogroms against the dissidents. He has them filmed and gives Fidel and Raúl Castro detailed descriptions of the attacks on the opposition, along with the videos recording those acts.

This barbarousness derives from Fidel Castro's psychological nature and his upbringing while young. Fidel is a corpulent and aggressive fellow who constantly needs to prove to himself and to the world that nobody can challenge him with impunity on any grounds. As a teenager in school, he bet that he could run headlong into a wall. He did so, and the concussion kept him in bed for four days. Later, at the university, he grew up in an extremely violent environment, where leadership was imposed through the physical elimination of adversaries or by total intimidation.

Such was the atmosphere of political gangsterism in Havana in the 1940s. When he was 19, Fidel Castro tried to shoot dead another student, Leonel Gómez, merely to demonstrate that he was capable of doing anything. The pistol Castro carried constantly at his side was a signal. He was simply establishing his superiority through a behavior that's quite common among animals: he was displaying his ability to inflict unlimited harm.

A few years later, in the early 1950s, when opposition to Batista was split between the pro-election advocates who sought to end the dictatorship by civilized means and those who chose the path of armed insurrection, Fidel Castro organized his first pogroms to terrorize the peaceable politicians, many of them former colleagues of his in the Orthodox Party.

To Castro, the revolution was another way to express his vocation for gang life and he learned (unfortunately) that the method works. Instilling fear helped him to rise to power and to remain there for almost half a century. One of the phrases he most likes to repeat in private -- something he usually does in grim tones accompanied by fierce gestures -- reveals his nature and convictions: "We attained power by force. Whoever wants that power will have to wrest it from us by the same means."

This thuggery is not limited to Cuba. Castro has instructed his ambassadors to behave similarly outside the island. That's why Cuban embassies, using their supporters and sometimes the diplomats themselves, "bust" the press conferences or public appearances of noted opposition figures such as writers Raúl Rivero, Zoé Valdés, Ángel Cuadra, comandante Húber Matos, professor Orlando Gutiérrez, or human rights activist Frank Calzón, who was beaten into unconsciousness by a Cuban functionary at the United Nations palace in Geneva, no less, during a debate over whether the liberties of citizens in Cuba are violated.

Every day I receive three or four messages from mothers, daughters or wives who denounce the horrors endured by their relatives in and outside prison and ask for my help. All I can do is make public what they tell me. But I do suggest to them that they document those grievances for the day when freedom returns. That will also be the time for justice.

Mr. Montaner is an author and syndicated journalist living in Madrid.

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