Last week, just outside Cuba’s holiest Catholic shrine, government thugs attacked in plain daylight a group of opposition women -- beating them, stoning them and stripping them naked to the waist. The women, mostly black and middle-aged, suffered this public humiliation because they were trying to find a dignified way to bring attention to the plight of their husbands, who are in prison for freely speaking their minds.
The archbishop of Santiago de Cuba has condemned the attack. You can find an eyewitness account in Spanish here:
It should make for poignant watching today, the anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing unusual in this grotesque attack on the Damas de Blanco (or Ladies in White, the harassed association of wives of political prisoners) on the street outside the shrine of Our Lady of La Caridad del Cobre. It’s routine for Cubans to be publicly degraded, brutalized and imprisoned when they dare speak their minds. Their daily existence has been one of fear and wretched suffering for 50 years now.
Yet the chances are that you probably haven’t heard about this story. A quick Google search of the attacks on the Damas de Blanco turned up only about five hits, none from a major publication. Why?
Not because it’s a dog-bites-man story (literally, in this case), as some journalists might have you believe. No, it’s simply because the media don’t report the daily attacks on the Cuban dissidents.
All the major international news wires, and at least two TV networks, have bureaus in Cuba. But they’re either so afraid of being expelled, or have so bought into the regime’s propaganda, that all they report is how Raul Castro is bringing economic reforms to Cuba.
So little is the story of Cuba’s oppression known outside that island prison that, were the constant repression reported occasionally, it might actually cause a stir.
Clearly, Raul—Fidel’s brother, who was handed the day-to-day reins of the island when his elder brother fell ill a couple of years back—has no intention of doing anything that will threaten communism’s firm grip on Cuba. Otherwise, his goons would feel no need to terrorize and drag a bunch of older women naked through the streets.
What this dearth of news on the Gulag Next Door has produced is a strange double standard, where similar repression in far-away Burma, Zimbabwe or Libya -- also by leftist regimes -- gets far better coverage. Such is the ignorance of events in Cuba that MSNBC host Chris Matthews two years ago asked this question in an interview:
“Congressman Burton, why do you think Cubans on the island still support the Castro brothers? What is it that allows that lock on those people to continue?”
Well, Chris, here’s your answer to what happens to Cubans when they try to pick that lock. Leaving Cuba is illegal, so you either stay silent, brave shark-infested waters on inner tubes (it is illegal to own boats in Cuba, for reasons that should be apparent), or risk suffering the fate of the Damas de Blanco.
Culturally as well, Castro gets a pass not just from committed Marxists like Michael Moore, from whom it is expected and therefore ignored, but from otherwise well meaning personalities like TV chef Anthony Bourdain.
On the day the Anthony Bourdain Goes to Cuba episode aired to much fanfare on the Travel Channel, July 11, news also emerged from the center of the island that dissident Guillermo Fariñas had been beaten up and arrested by police.
This poor timing was hardly Bourdain’s fault; again, Cubans get physically attacked and incarcerated for speaking their minds quite frequently. What is Bourdain’s fault, and the Travel Channel’s, is that they decided to give Fariñas’ tormentors such unfiltered propaganda.
Our leaders are no better. Lawmakers such as Barbara Lee, Javier Serrano, Emanuel Cleaver, Bobby Rush, Rosa DeLauro, Kathy Castor, James McGovern, Charlie Rangel, Laura Richardson and Jim Moran are constantly carrying water for the Castros.
It is well past time for people of conscience to continue supporting this abomination, here or elsewhere.
The shrine of del Cobre commemorates the occasion in 1604 when the Virgin appeared to three fishermen, the mestizo Juan Moreno and two Indian brothers surnamed Joyo, and carried their boat to safety from a storm. Those of the Christian faith would take comfort from the fact that this attack on helpless women happened to close to a church dedicated to this Virgin and would pray that Cubans too will one day soon be delivered from their suffering.
Mike Gonzalez is Vice President, Communications, at The Heritage Foundation. He is a former Bush administration official, Wall Street Journal editorial writer and foreign correspondent. He is writing a book on Hispanics due out in September.