Most of us know the truth about the Spanish government’s complicity with the Castro dictatorship. Unfortunately, there are not many journalists in this world with the courage and integrity to speak the truth about this vile partnership. However, Mary Anastasia O’Grady is not one of those journalists.
I cannot say enough good things about Mary O’Grady. She is one of the very few influential journalists in this world who indeed has the courage and integrity to the tell the truth about Castro’s Cuba.
Spain Betrays Cuba’s Dissidents
President José Zapatero helped Castro get rid of the best leaders of the island’s nascent democracy movement.
Despite 21% unemployment and a looming debt crisis, Spain is still considered one of the world’s great travel destinations. That is unless you are a Cuban prisoner of conscience who was deported and dumped here by the military dictatorship in Havana. In that case, life as an alien on the sunny Iberian Peninsula is economically and psychologically grim.
Over the past 11 months, the Cuban regime has abruptly removed 115 political prisoners from their jail cells and banished them to Spain, calling their exile “liberation.” Many of them are part of a group known as “the 75,” who were arrested in March 2003 for activities like collecting signatures on a democracy petition, leading peaceful marches, or writing for independent newspapers. They were permitted to leave with their immediate families and bring one change of clothes from Cuba, but they were not given the chance to say goodbye to friends and extended family and were issued no papers. A number of them have tried to claim political-refugee status, but the Spanish government has not been eager to grant it. As a result, many of them still have no permanent documents.
Last week I met with 10 of them here. Their stories of years in Cuba’s dungeons and of the wider repression across the island are hair-raising. One of them showed me smuggled photos from inside the notorious Combinado del Este prison, a filthy, infested facility not fit for animals. Some prisoners of conscience have spent years there.
After three days of these interviews, I began to slump under the weight of the Cuban reality. But the cloud that darkened my spirit was not brought on by anything these patriots had revealed about the hell-hole known as Cuba. I am well-versed in Castro’s human rights record. The truly distressing part of the prisoners’ stories is the morally bankrupt role played by the Socialist government of Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in assisting the Cuban dictatorship to disguise the deportation as “liberation.” It’s what one might expect from the bosses in Burma, North Korea or Iran.
The harsh prison conditions in Cuba are legendary, though the regime has not allowed any human rights observer to have a look in more than two decades. One of the exiles told me about a punishment technique called “the crab,” which he said is used on common criminals but one human rights activist in the U.S. told me is also used on political prisoners. One handcuff is put on one wrist and the other handcuff is put on the opposite ankle. Another set of handcuffs is put on the other wrist and ankle. Then the prisoner, wearing only underwear, is tossed onto the floor of a dank cell where he may remain for a day or more. Beatings, solitary confinement and harassment of family members at home are also common practices.
This kind of stuff is supposed to curb dissent but after seven years of grisly prison life, many of “the 75,” a number of whom were serving sentences of more than two decades, showed no signs of cracking. Orlando Zapata Tamayo went on a hunger strike and died at the hands of the regime in February 2010. The beatings by Castro thugs of the Ladies in White—the wives, sisters and mothers of the political prisoners—were captured on cellphones and went viral on the Web. Another hunger-striking dissident, Guillermo Farinas, was gravely ill.
“The 75” had become a huge public-relations problem for the regime. As governments and intellectuals around the world condemned the systematic brutality, it was clear that more than a half-century of Cuban propaganda promoting the socialist paradise image was in danger of going down the drain. To minimize the damage, the regime needed not only to get the prisoners out of the country under the headline of “liberation,” but also to ensure that they would land in oblivion. Spain agreed to help, and why not? Then-Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos has a warm relationship with the Castro government and was a frequent VIP guest on the island.
Most of the former prisoners told me that they did not want to leave Cuba, but Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who acted as a go-between for the dictatorship, pressured them and their families. Family members, worried that their loved ones might die in prison, asked them to take the Spanish exit.
Once in Spain, they realized they’d been had. They were clearly political refugees, and under Spanish law they were entitled to claim that designation. But for Spain to admit that they were victims of political persecution would negate the whole point of the exercise, which was to paint Castro as a great humanitarian who had set them free. This is why many of those I spoke with remain in legal limbo.
The transition to democracy in Cuba depends on two things: New leaders at home and international solidarity with their struggle for liberty from abroad. Mr. Zapatero has betrayed the Cuban people on both fronts.