ON APRIL 19 at the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mexico voted for a resolution that "invited the Government of Cuba to make efforts to achieve progress in respect of human, civil and political rights." Voting against this mild measure were human rights paragons like Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Togo, and, of course, Cuba.
Fidel Castro described Mexico’s support of the resolution as a "despicable betrayal," an interesting choice of words given his relationship to Cubans.
Under Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, Cubans dreamed of free elections and civil liberties. Castro’s 26th of July Movement promised that it would foster both. (The 26th of July Movement, or M-26-7, derived its name from Castro’s disastrous attack on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953.)
On July 12, 1957, Castro and his fellow anti-Batista rebels released the Sierra Maestra Manifesto, which demanded "Immediate freedom for all political, civil, and military prisoners" and "Absolute guarantee of freedom of information, of the spoken and written press, and of all the individual and political rights guaranteed by the Constitution [of 1940, which Batista suspended]." Another section affirmed:
"Do the Sierra Maestra rebels not want free elections, a democratic regime, a constitutional government? It is because they deprived us of those rights that we have fought since March 10. We are here because we want them more than anyone else. To demonstrate it, there are our fighters dead in the mountains and our comrades murdered in the streets or secluded in prison dungeons. We are fighting for the beautiful ideal of a free, democratic, and just Cuba. What we do not do is to agree with the lies, farces, and compromises of the dictatorship."
"We want elections, but with one condition: truly free, democratic, and impartial elections."
When Castro’s movement triumphed, his countrymen rationally expected him to fulfill these promises. Instead he amalgamated ducismo with Sovietization; has overseen the execution of tens of thousands of Cubans on ideological grounds; the imprisonment of 30,000 Cubans on ideological grounds during the 1960s alone; and has caused the exile of over a million Cubans.
Approximately 40,000 Cubans have died at sea fleeing totalitarianism. Those who remain cannot speak their minds without fear of being charged with "crimes" such as "disrespect" and "enemy propaganda."
Cubans still wait for free elections and recognition of their rights, and their betrayal cries out for remembrance.
Betrayal in relatively minor settings deserves remembrance as well.
In the fall of 1999, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College opened at my alma mater, Florida Atlantic University. Recent high school graduates throughout Florida and out of state moved to Jupiter, Florida to participate in this new program.
While FAU is an overwhelmingly commuter school, the Honors College is residential and located approximately an hour from the university’s main campus. In accordance with its distinctive identity, FAU promised the Honors College a student government that would be part of the university-wide student government system, comprised by student governments on FAU’s different campuses.
FAU’s promotional material for the Honors College included this promise, with sections reserved in student government’s constitution and statutes for the Honors College student government. As FAU’s website for the Honors College affirmed: "Once on campus Honors College students will form a student government organization. Elected representatives will develop and present programs that respond to the needs and desires of the residents of the Honors College."
FAU’s executive council—composed of representatives from the different campus student governments—broke this promise during the Honors College’s first semester. The means of betrayal was a constitutional amendment written by Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Joseph Isadore to eliminate "All references to an Honors College Student Government or individual references to Honors College Student Government positions."
Honors College students mounted a successful campaign to preserve what was promised, convincing the number of student governments required to defeat the constitutional amendment.
In response, the student government president called an "emergency meeting" a month after the amendment’s defeat at the end of the semester. Violating required parliamentary procedure, this meeting nullified the defeat and subsequently ratified the amendment. Four administrators witnessed this lawlessness.
The student government president left office soon after due to academic ineligibility.
One barrier to the Honors College’s betrayal remained: FAU President Anthony Catanese.
To take effect, the constitutional amendment required the university president’s approval. Catanese needed only to withhold his signature to fulfill FAU’s promise to the Honors College.
Instead, Anthony Catanese signed the amendment and committed treason against hope-filled students in their first year of higher learning.
I know the above because I participated in the Honors College campaign as a member of student government.
After breaking its promise, FAU eliminated the language on the Honors College website affirming its student government. I printed the original promise in anticipation of this—an unpleasant and essential memento.
Catanese recently announced his resignation and will become president of the Florida Institute of Technology in July. Ironically, he lists the Honors College among his chief accomplishments.
His resignation has met with fond remembrance. Few remember the Honors College’s betrayal.
Milan Kundera famously observes in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting that "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." "Memory," declares a despotic character in Reinaldo Arenas’s The Assault, "is diversionist, and must be dealt with harshly."
As writers in Czechoslovakia and Cuba under totalitarianism, a terrible knowledge informed their observations.
I haven’t struggled against the kind of power that subjugated Kundera and Arenas, which subjugates over 11 million Cubans today and hundreds of millions elsewhere. I haven’t struggled against power remotely like it.
Yet I have seen, albeit in bloodless microcosm, how people with power trample over the weak and how quickly it is forgotten.
Some look with confusion and mockery upon Cuban exiles’ outrage after 43 years. (Exiles’ mass media often ghettoize their outrage by excluding English, but that’s another matter.) Some will look similarly upon my outrage.
I am proud to be a graduate of Florida Atlantic University, just as exiles from that captive island so close to America are proud of their heritage.
Why don’t we "get over it," that is, forget the betrayals perpetrated? Because to forget is to abandon the demand for justice. To forget is to betray again.