Cuba's repression takes on more racial tint under Raul Castro
BY JON B. PERDUE
Unlike the pervasive myth of universal literacy and quality healthcare
that has gone unchecked and unchallenged for decades, Cuba's fabled
championing of the Afro-Cuban community is one Cuban myth that has been
shattered since Fidel Castro handed power to his younger brother Raúl.
Unlike Fidel, Raúl Castro has shown a tin ear about the politics of
image making, sending violent mobs to attack peaceful female marchers in
an age where every cell phone can be a live broadcasting tool to the
rest of the world. Lately, these citizen-held cameras have been
broadcasting disturbing scenes of screeching mobs of Castro supporters
waiting outside a church for the peace marchers of the "Ladies in White"
to exit, where they proceeded to beat, pelt with stones and even smash
the ladies against the church walls to prevent their march, leaving
several severely injured.
What is most remarkable is that these are not mayimbes, or light-skinned
Communist Party elites of Cuban society, but many of these marchers are
poor and black. Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, who runs the Rosa Parks
Women's Movement for Civil Rights, is a good example.
Perez Aguilera was leaving her home on Sept. 26 to go to a peaceful
march for the freedom of another female prisoner, Sarah Marta Fonseca
Quevedo, when she was beaten and forcibly taken away by Castro's
security apparatus. She was kept incommunicado from her husband and
children for six days before being released — beaten and bloodied.
Sonia Garro recently became one of many peaceful Afro-Cuban community
organizers that have gotten the business end of the Castro regime's
"outreach" efforts to Cuba's black community.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Garro had protested the Castro
regime's discrimination against the Afro-Cuban community, and had paid
dearly. In October of 2010, Garro was taken by Castro security for seven
hours, after which she was released — with her nose broken. One of her
fellow female marchers, also taken by Castro enforcers, was sent home
with a broken arm.
Garro, a woman with little means to support her own family, had
committed the offense of building a recreation center in her home for
other poor children in the community who have nothing to do but roam the
neighborhood unsupervised. One of her goals had been to try to free
young girls from having to resort to prostitution, an all-too-common
survival occupation in a country that boasts that its governing model
provides for all.
Since taking over in 2008, Raúl Castro has continued Fidel's policy of
using female agents to handle the takedown and capture of the female
marchers, so as to avoid photos of thuggish male enforcers attacking
helpless females who do nothing other than carry flowers and march
silently. But that has not lessened the brutality the women receive once
they are behind the walls of Castro's jails.
Aside from many of the Ladies in White and their supporters, two of the
most recognizable Afro-Cuban dissidents have been Orlando Zapata and Dr.
Oscar Elias Biscet, who were arrested together in 2002 during a peaceful
protest. Biscet, a medical doctor and disciple of the nonviolence
preached by Dr. Martin Luther King, was finally let out of prison in
March of 2011 so the regime could let some steam out of the
international pressure that was building against it. Zapata was not as
Zapata died a martyr on Feb. 10, 2010, 83 days after beginning a hunger
strike after he had asked in vain to serve his sentence under the same
prison conditions that Fidel Castro had enjoyed when he was imprisoned
by the Batista government. When Zapata died, Cuba's state-controlled
newspapers called him a "common criminal falsely elevated to martyr status."
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recently traveled to Havana under
the auspices of trying to bring home American prisoner Alan Gross, who
was imprisoned for handing out computers to the island's small Jewish
community. When Richardson arrived, he was not allowed to meet with
Gross, nor with Raúl Castro.
His biggest failure was not asking to meet with any of Cuba's political
prisoners. Richardson compounded that mistake upon his return by telling
CNN that the "human-rights situation has improved" under Raúl — a
qualitatively and quantitatively false assertion that will now be
regurgitated ad nauseam by the regime in order to dismiss international
But Richardson's futile and counterproductive diplomatic freelancing is
not the worst of the foolhardy foreign policy actions toward Cuba in
History may view the repeated junkets taken by members of the
Congressional Black Caucus as the most shameful. They treat the Castro
brothers as teenage girls would treat the Jonas Brothers, and come back
singing the praises of how the "revolution" has been great for
Afro-Cubans, without ever asking to check the dissidents' living
conditions in the island's gulags.
They will, however, shout from the mountaintop about the supposed
atrocities taking place on the opposite end of the island at Guantánamo Bay.
Racial solidarity, it seems, stops at the water's edge.
Jon Perdue is director for Latin America programs at The Fund for