The Post editorial board: Tropical tyranny
Canada is Cuba’s biggest source of tourists. Nearly 600,000 of us fly there every year. Since tourism helped save the Cuban economy after the fall of the Soviet Union — which had supplied annual aid grants of nearly $8-billion –it’s fair to say Canadian tourists played a large part in keeping the Cuban government afloat. So with winter travel season beginning, we would like to ask one question: Do you what know happens to political dissidents beyond the resorts and tourist beaches?
Canadians account for more than one-quarter of Cuba’s total annual tourist intake. We spend more than $1-billion dollars there, or about 3% of that country’s annual GDP.
The Cuban government admits “the two pillars of the Cuban economy are tourism and sugar.” That’s why all payments from tourists go to the communist government which then decides how much it can spare for hotel and restaurant workers.
So while you’re basking in the warm tropical sun, give some thought to the many political prisoners in Cuban jails for such crimes as demanding democracy, speaking with foreigners without permission or criticizing dictator Fidel Castro. Amnesty International places the number at fewer than 100, but adds that crackdowns against dissidents are becoming more frequent and the number is ever expanding.
Consider Julio Cesar Lopez Rodriguez, arrested on July 22, 2005. The 41-year-old vice-president of the Frente Linea Dura (Hardline Front) campaigned peacefully for years for democracy and human rights until he was arrested for keeping anti-c communist books in his library.
Or how about Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, 54, who is serving a 26-year sentence for “undermining national independence and territorial integrity” because he contributed to the pro-freedom Cubanet Web site. He was also convicted for running an independent library containing over 5,000 books, including works by Locke, Madison and von Hayek.
Librado Linares Garcia is serving 20 years for organizing lectures and seminars on human rights. Dr. Marcelo Cano Rodriguez is serving 18 for being a member of the international organization Doctors Without Borders. And Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez is serving 25 for being “a mercenary for a foreign state” because he flew the Cuban flag upside down and demanded Cuba be reformed into “a state based on the rule of law.”
Amnesty claims in the past two years there has been an “upsurge in acts of repudiation,” in which regime supporters encircle a neighbour or co-worker suspected of counter-revolutionary sentiments and ridicule or denounce him in public. Tragically, many of these shaming incidents turn into violent attacks with rocks thrown or fists and bats wielded. What’s more, the Cuban Institute in Miami claims “prisoners of conscience are often kept in the most deplorable conditions,” deliberately malnourished and deprived of essential medical care. Many die of neglect.
Just something to keep in mind before you buy that ticket for a Cuban holiday.