July 23, 2005


In Cuba, as part of what today's Le Monde is calling "the most important operation against dissidents since 2003," 18 oppositionists to the regime of Fidel Castro Fidel_1 (left) were arrested last Friday as they were making their way toward a demonstration in front of the French embassy in Havana to demand the liberation of political prisoners (they were also protesting the French move toward normalization of relations between Paris and Havana, symbolized by the invitation of Cuban government representatives to the official French observance of Bastille Day-- which one should note was a remarkable lapse of taste, since La Bastille was where political prisoners were detained before the French Revolution.) According to PEN's Writers in Prison Bulletin, 68 political prisoners arrested onCuba_si_castro_no  Castro's orders in March-April of 2003 and sentenced to prison are still in jail -- and 31 of them are journalists or librarians.

One of those prisoners, the economist Marta Beatriz Roque (left)-- founder andMaria_roque  president of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (APSC)-- was released from prison yesterday on health grounds after a hunger strike, Le Monde reported. The 60-year-old dissident "was forced to sleep on the floor on two pages of newspaper," an APSC spolesman said -- Roque suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac insufficiency. Roque had been sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison under Article 91 (which deals with "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state"), principally for her work in setting up a website that reported unfavourably on the Cuban economy, said PEN. Roque had already served a previous prison sentence from 1997 to 2000.

Cuba_apsc_2 The APSC is an umbrella group of 365 independent, non-governmental, civil societyCuba_apsc  groups within Cuba. This coalition sponsored an unprecedented May 20 assembly of some 200 dissidents (left) to discuss how to bring real democracy to Cuba -- European lawmakers and journalists who had gone to Cuba to observe this meeting were expelled from the country before they could attend it. (Right, the dissidents at the entrance to the APSC May 20 meeting shout "Libertad! ")

I was proud to sign the statement issued by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, "Anti-War, Social Justice and Human Rights Activists Oppose Repression In Cuba," which said in part: "...As the Bush administration, further emboldened by its military victory in Iraq, threatens to wage 'preemptive' wars around the globe we reaffirm our support for the right of self-determination in Cuba and our strong opposition to the U.S. policy of economic sanctions that has brought such suffering to the Cuban people. At the same time, we support democracy in Cuba. The imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable. We call on the Castro government to release all political prisoners and let the Cuban people speak, write and organize freely...."

In a statement smuggled out of prison before her release on the effects of four decades of Castro's dictatorship on the Cuban people, Roque said: "Those who don't live in Cuba find it difficult to understand that the system maintains its political control principally through self-repression. Every Cuban has a built-in policeman. This complex mechanism whereby one assumes the conscience of a hunted person  has been developed and perfected for almost 40 years. To those who see it from afar, it is almost imperceptible...." How this sort of self-censorship functions was well-described a decade and a half ago by my friend Miklos Haraszti (right)-- then a Hungarian Miklos_haraszti dissident, later a member of the Hungarian parliament -- in his book The Velvet Prison: Artists Under State Socialism (Basic Books). This sort of soul-destroying "built-in policeman" is one of the most tragic features of a police state. One can only salute the courage of those Cubans who, instead of trying to emigrate, stay and fight for democracy. And, in view of the new crackdown being reported by Le Monde, it is more important than ever for the democratic left to speak out against repression in Cuba.


Richard_seymour_1 My cybercomrade on the other side of the pond, Richard Seymour (left) -- proprietor of the highly literate and always interesting blog Lenin's Tomb -- signals me in an e-mail from London just received that "The police now admit they shot an innocent man dead yesterday: (See the BBC's report that the man killed was not an Arab terrorist, but a Brazilian (lower right) , by clicking here).So anyone with the wrong skin-colour who doesn't feel like hanging around for a bunch of plain-clothed white guys who look like gangsters and are wielding guns could get it, courtesy of Her Majesty's finest....I knew it.  I bloody well knew it.  Friend of mine was stopped and Brazil_britain_bombings searched yesterday as well, because train staff thought he looked like a terrorist - because he's Spanish and has slightly darker skin than some Londoners.  Let's say after this, the Harry Stanley killing and all the others before it, anyone who isn't impeccably white and middle class has every reason to be nervous right now.",,,,,,,UPDATE: The AP has details on the Brazilian man's identity.

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