Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
– Daniel 3:18
Daniel Orlando Gómez is facing doom.
On September 26, the 22-year-old resident of Santa Clara, Cuba stood in front of the local Communist Party headquarters and confronted Fidel Castro’s totalitarian regime. "Fidel, you have electricity and the people don’t," he declared, referring to the frequent blackouts Cubans endure. (The Spanish word for blackouts, apagones, figures prominently in contemporary Cuban vocabulary.) Gómez also said, "Fidel has been deceiving everyone for almost 50 years."
Soon after, police seized Gómez from his home and beat him and his wife with batons. Gómez, who suffers from mitral valve prolapse, required hospitalization after going into convulsions.
After release, police charged him with "disrespect" of Castro, for which he can be imprisoned up to three years. ("Disrespect" also applies to other party functionaries.) Thus, the most basic political critique is a crime in Cuba.
While Castro smoked cigars and ate spaghetti with squid during imprisonment after attacking a barracks in 1953 – Fulgencio Batista amnestied him in less than two years – today’s prisoners of conscience do not enjoy such luxurious conditions. Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, sentenced in April 2003 to 25 years, suffers in a cell six-and-a-half feet-long, six-and-a-half-feet-high, and three-feet-wide, with cockroaches and rats that enter from a drain.
This is what Daniel Gómez faces.
Castro-philes engage in a form of racism. Leftists who vociferously protest George W. Bush and cite books like The Lies of George W. Bush would never tolerate prohibitions on these activities. Yet when Cubans are persecuted for protesting Castro’s despotism, their solidarity is often for the despot. (Consider Noam Chomsky, supposedly a staunch defender of free speech, smiling with Castro in Havana in October 2003.)
Pervasive fear follows from the regime’s systematic repression. As Ben Corbett notes in his account of contemporary Cuba, This Is Cuba, Cubans are afraid to say even the name of their "leader":
It is strange to hear Cubans utter the word "Castro." They could be flying along, explaining a thought, but the moment the word gets to "Castro," the voice drops almost to a whisper, the eyes look suspiciously back and forth, "Castro" is spoken, and the voice resumes its normal volume. Fluid thinkers simply pull on their chins as if stroking an invisible beard when the sentence comes to the word "Castro," and they often replace the chieftain’s name with El Dios or El Hombre, "God" or "The Man."
"How can an honorable republican dare to deny for a people a right that he uses for himself?" asked Cuban founding father José Martí in 1873 during exile in Spain after political imprisonment. Cubans can’t criticize Castro or travel without permission, but Castro vilifies conscientious Cubans and often goes abroad.
Martí wrote in 1889 during exile in America:
A man who hides what he thinks, or does not dare to say what he thinks, is not an honorable man. A man who obeys a bad government, without working so that the government be good, is not an honorable man. A man who conforms to obeying unjust laws, and allows the men who abuse the country in which he was born to trample on it, is not an honorable man.
Cubans like Daniel Gómez and Oscar Biscet are Martí’s heirs, pursuing honor and justice for their homeland. For this heroic patriotism they deserve praise, not prison.