SAY THE SAUDI ROYAL FAMILY releases a homosexual or a Muslim who converted to Christianity (homosexuality and apostasy being crimes in Saudi Arabia).
Saudi Arabia’s "laws" against apostasy and homosexuality remain; no alteration to the totalitarian framework occurs.
The release of the homosexual and Christian would therefore be superficial, and the systematic reform required in Saudi Arabia would not be addressed.
But one needn’t hypothesize about Saudi Arabia since such superficiality has occurred in our own hemisphere.
On May 5, Cuba released prisoner of conscience Vladimiro Roca. Convicted in March 1999 for human rights advocacy, Roca had 70 days left to his sentence.
Roca endured over two years in solitary confinement. His cell was five and a half by six feet.
The former fighter pilot commented after being released, "There are two necessities: tolerance and the will to listen and understand the views of your opponent."
These are indeed necessities in Cuba, but Roca’s humane vision cannot be realized in Fidel Castro’s totalitarian regime. His vision cannot be realized in a regime that forbids criticism of itself ("disrespect"), forbids criticism of communism ("enemy propaganda"), and forbids any political party other than the Communist Party.
Roca speaks of tolerance and listening; Castro and his functionaries scoff at these "bourgeois" concepts. A heterogeneous, progressive Cuba where people exchange views and contest authority is antithetical to the Maximum Leader’s fascist temperament. (The adolescent Castro who read Mein Kampf and imitated Mussolini in front of his mirror pays homage to his precursors in deed if not in word.)
Roca knows all too well that it is not the practice of Castroism that needs reform but Castroism itself. "I have reaffirmed the conviction that the system has to be changed because it does not work," he courageously said.
For now, Roca has more freedom than he did two weeks ago—although he is hardly free—but many advocates of Cuba’s emancipation from totalitarianism remain in Castro’s dungeons.
On March 4, police arrested and beat Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, the blind president of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights. Gonzalez’s injuries required four stitches to his forehead.
Gonzalez is currently imprisoned by State Security, which has inflicted psychological torture and deprivation of medical care. He turned 37 in prison on March 5.
Gonzalez describes his condition in recent testimony to his wife: "Two months ago I was a healthy man in spite of my blindness. Presently, I am a sick person. Cuban State Security has destroyed my emotional stability as I display symptoms of high blood pressure—a condition I have never suffered."
State Security has pressured Gonzalez to repudiate the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, but he will not break. "Never will I forsake the defense of human rights," he told his wife. "If I am to die in this endeavor, so be it."
Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet remains in Cuba Si prison, located in the same province (Holguin) as the State Security center where Gonzalez languishes. Biscet has been torn from his family since November 1999. He will be 41 in July.
Biscet affirms in a message given to his wife in March, "From this abode of pain I also defend human rights. I have always been, am, and will be on the side of justice and for the freedom of all Cubans."
Gonzalez, Biscet, and hundreds of other conscientious Cubans shouldn’t be in prison. Cubans shouldn’t be terrified of speaking their minds or gathering to discuss ideas. They shouldn’t have to ask permission and risk stigma to travel outside Cuba.
This isn’t what Antonio Maceo, Jose Marti, and other Cuban patriots fought for.
Cubans aren’t ignorant of their rights. They know they deserve freedom, and tens of thousands have died at sea in pursuit of it.
No growth is possible under Castro’s yoke, and there can be no justice while heroes like Oscar Elias Biscet and Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva suffer.