I recently corresponded with Professor James Colaiaco about his new book, Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July. I've often cited Douglass in my writings about Cuba in light of his moral relevance to Fidel Castro's subjugation of a black-majority country.
Frederick Douglass is chiefly remembered as an anti-slavery activist and orator, but he was also a journalist and founded newspapers such as The North Star. Accordingly, Douglass was a passionate advocate of free speech. As he said in "A Plea for Free Speech in Boston":
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one's thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason of righteousness, temperance, and of a judgment to come in their presence.
To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money...A man's right to speak does not depend upon where he was born or upon his color. The simple quality of manhood is the solid basis of the rightâ€”and there let it rest forever.
For acting in the tradition of Douglass, black Cuban journalist Jorge Olivera and his family have suffered severely. He wrote recently in an open letter to leaders of the United States, European Union, and Canada:
I was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in April of 2003 for practicing journalism without the supervision of official censors. Sick, they placed me in a barely lit cell infested with insects. I had to drink contaminated water and the food was regularly served in a state of putrefaction. On December 6, 2004, after 20 months and 18 days of the cruelest treatment, the penal authorities conditionally freed me for reasons of health. Now they plan to return me to jail. They will not allow me or my family to go into exile. Immigration officials deny us an exit visa, a process that reflects on the country in which we live...Since February 21, I have been prohibited to go outside the limits of Havana without court authorization, nor to participate in any celebrations or public events.
Other persecuted black journalists include Angel Moya Acosta and Ivan Hernandez Carrillo.
In 1886, Spain's parliament abolished slavery in Cuba. In 2006, Castro and his mostly white nomenklatura have degraded Cuba back to the imperial era. This regime might not be able to maintain electricity or sanitary health care, but it can turn back time.
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