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In Cuba, Castro Marks an Anniversary By Unleashing the Hounds

As Muammar al-Qaddafi clings to power by ordering his troops to shoot on their Libyan compatriots, across the globe in the Caribbean one of his last remaining global buddies is doing his best to keep the lid on his own victims. Fidel Castro, presiding over the wreckage of what was once the thriving island of Cuba, stepped up repression today, the first anniversary of the hunger-strike death of a dissident leader, lest others take to the streets.

Castro’s political police are imprisoning Cuban dissidents to prevent them from marking the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a simple bricklayer who was sent to prison on March 20, 2003, for “disobedience” (yes, an adult person can be so charged in Castro’s Socialist paradise for speaking his mind) and died on Feb. 23, 2010 -- after two months on hunger strike.

Blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of a handful of dissidents in Cuba to have access to Twitter, has been sending Tweets all day detailing who has been held under house arrest.

According to Sanchez, such opposition figures as Jose Urbino, Zaldivar Maria Antonia Hidalgo, Caridad Caballer and Luis Felipe Rojas have been surrounded by government goons in the city of Holguin.

Even the “Ladies in White,” a group of spouses of political prisoners who meet and march through the streets, their dignity held high in the face of heckles and punching by government goons, are being blocked from meeting today, according to Sanchez. She quotes Lady in White Berta Soler as saying that 13 of her fellow Ladies are being held by police inside a house and that other dissidents have had their ID papers taken away by police.

In an afternoon tweet, Sanchez described how she had called blogger Katia Sonia and could overhear a government-organized crowd sent to Miss Sonia’s home in order to intimidate her. But don’t let anyone think that Cubans have even the few rights their Middle Eastern counterparts have.

Indeed, the differences are telling. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones played a key role in organizing the protests, but in Cuba the vast majority of people are denied access to these modern-day means of communication. Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi were in power for three decades, an obscene length of time by democratic standards. But they’re pikers when it comes to Cuba’s self-described Maximum Leader, who has clocked five decades and counting. And, of course, while Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans have lived in political oppression, they at least have private property and the right to sell and buy it. Cubans, however, live in totalitarian communism, with no right to own anything.

“Leftist tyrannies are the worst of all tyrannies,” the dissident journalist Jose Antonio Fornaris Ramos told The Heritage Foundation on the telephone. “They own your house, all your goods, your place of employment and all you’re given to eat. They’re absolute. Everyone is afraid, and they’re right to be afraid.”

Wednesday’s house arrests, he said, “are a violation of our constitution, which says very clearly that only courts can hold you under house arrest.”

Commenting on the protest in the Middle East, he said: “What it shows is that democracy is man’s best invention. The real statesmen left power voluntarily, like George Washington and Nelson Mandela. Those who hang on to power are dictators.”

Michael Gonzalez is vice president of communications for The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).