The Cuban Spring

James Glassman in Forbes:

The Cuban Political Prisoners Deserve a Cuban Spring

In March 2003, the Cuban regime rounded up 75 journalists, librarians and human peaceful dissidents and quickly hustled them off to prison for lengthy terms on bizarre, trumped-up charges.

For example, Normando Hernandez, who had been writing articles on CubaNet since 1999, was found guilty of reporting on the health, education and judicial systems and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, a surgeon who was hounded from his profession for his political beliefs, was sentenced to 24 years, with 17 months of it in isolation. Ill with pneumonia and a cyst on his kidney, his weight dropped to 90 pounds. Regis Iglesias, a poet, received an 18-year sentence.

All of the 75 Cubans were released by 2010, a few months after an international outcry over the death of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo. But the releases did not come until many of those jailed in the spring of 2003 — including Hernandez, Paneque and Iglesias — had spent more than seven years in prison, in terrible conditions for alleged crimes that amounted to nothing more than the exercise of “the most elementary of human rights, especially as regards freedom of expression and political association,” as the European Union put it, in a statement denouncing the prosecutions.

For these three and many of the others, however, the privations did not end with release from prison. They were exiled to Spain, where they were denied basic liberties customarily accorded political refugees. In a column in the Wall Street Journal on June 13 of this year, Mary Anastasia O’Grady criticized the Spanish government for “assisting the Cuban dictatorship to disguise the deportation as ‘liberation.’”

Among the readers of the column was former President George W. Bush. The three ex-prisoners learned of his interest, and, on Tuesday, they fly to Dallas to tell their stories to a packed assembly at an event sponsored by the Bush Institute.
The Bush Institute hosts Cuban dissidents in Dallas, Texas, on November 1, 2011. Pictured left to right, Secretary General of the European People's Party, Antonio López-Istúriz White; Former President of the Government of Spain, His Excellency José María Aznar López; Normando Hernández González; President George W. Bush; Regis Iglesias Ramírez; and Dr. José Luís García Paneque. González, Ramírez, and Paneque are former Cuban political prisoners. Photo courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The Cubans were accompanied by Jose Maria Aznar, former president of Spain, and Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White, secretary general of the European People’s Party, the pan-European center-right organization that has been looking out for the welfare of the exiles as the Spanish government has shirked its responsibility.

The sad fact is that much of the world is either consciously ignoring or is blissfully unaware of the brutality and repression being exercised by the Cuba regime against citizens simply asking basic freedoms. While global attention has focused on the Arab Spring and the liberation of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, a Caribbean island has remained for more than 60 years in the grip of a family that has destroyed its economy and stripped its people of the most fundamental rights.

What’s the answer for Cuba? Start with an intensification of international pressure on the regime. Certainly, the attitude of the Spanish government will change later this month if, as expected, the Socialist government so friendly to the Castros is defeated.

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