After making several respectful references to the Dec. 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration, Mr. Gorbachev announced: ``The most fitting way for a state to observe this anniversary of the Declaration [of Human Rights] is to improve its domestic conditions for respecting and protecting the rights of its own citizens.'' He then described steps he is taking to create a new legal framework within which these human-rights covenants will be protected. However superficial those steps may end up being in the long run, Mr. Gorbachev's public appreciation of the human-rights declaration stood in contrast to Castro's continuing dismissal of any effort to do the same in Cuba. This dichotomy in the Communist world has precedents.
A few years before Castro's triumphal arrival in Havana on Jan. 1, 1959, the slow process of de-Stalinization began in the Soviet Union. The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union cracked open the door for the first time, exposing the massive political crimes of the Stalinist era. But in March 1959, Soviet state security advisers began to arrive in Cuba, thanks to Anibal Escalante, the KGB's point man in Havana. This advance team became the first substantial step toward the introduction on the island of a blueprint of society based on the classical formulas of the Stalinist police state developed in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European orbit.
Once the first Soviet ``development technicians'' trained the repressive forces of Fidel Castro in ``the Resources of Method,'' the Cuban leader saw himself in possession of a transcendental weapon that to this day has squashed every effort at reform or political change in the country. The notion was to find and create guilt among the entire population. Since nobody's perfect (a truth which Communist ideology denies, but which Communist leaders apply religiously), everybody is guilty of something and anyone, therefore, is subject to arrest at any moment. ``The Terror'' began to intrude upon every facet of national life until it reached the very bosom of the Cuban family. It created a polar climate chilled to the bone, placing on stage a Neo-Cartesian drama -- ``I do not think, therefore I survive'' -- that the majority of the Cuban people have been forced to suffer ever since.
None of the Soviet efforts to dismantle Stalinism have meant a tinker's damn to the Cuban political hierarchy. Khruschev's de-Stalinization efforts were never reflected in Cuba's role as exporter of this KGB technology to the Third World; the neo-Stalinism of Brezhnev was useful to the goals of the Castroites; and Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika have been summarily rejected by Cuba's Maximum Leader.
Thirty years after Castro arrived to power, the nation continues to live under a system that attempts to close to all its citizens every access to thought that is unorthodox or out of tune with official liturgy. More than a quarter of a century as a maximum ideological mentor has convinced Fidel Castro that he holds a monopoly on truth. On the eve of 1989, Havana's Senor Presidente aspires to a reign of political unanimity on earth, and it does not matter if this unanimity applies only to tombstones.
Given such realities, one can imagine Castro's scorn and irritation at the current universal sensitivity about violations of human rights. For many years, Castro's revolution enjoyed absolute impunity before international public opinion. Atrocities against human rights and fundamental liberties that take place on the largest island in the Caribbean were largely ignored:
The massive executions, through secret trials without procedural safeguards of any type; the disappearances of the mortal remains of executed political opponents; the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of opponents, either through kangaroo courts that did not even provide defendants with attorneys or through the so-called ``files of the socially dangerous;'' the tortures, the cruel and degrading treatment, and the inhuman living conditions that officially became known as ``The Secret War of Extermination of Every Form of Deviation or Resistance to the Cuban Governmental Ideology;'' the implacable religious persecution; the discrimination -- apartheid-style -- enforced for reasons of political opinion or religious belief; the denial of freedom of movement and the forced exile of Cubans who live abroad; the total disappearance of freedom of speech, of assembly, of peaceful association, of union rights, and of every civil and political right that are the bases of modern society.
These are all part of the catalogue of crimes of Fidel Castro's Cuba that the international community began to notice only a few years ago. The ignorance of many, and the silent complicity of others, made possible a net balance of victims and a much greater catastrophe than would have been true had the cries for help been listened to much earlier. Although a part of the truth about the human costs of Castroism have begun to be known, there still are few places where a just analysis of this critical period in the existence of Cuban society can be heard. Recently, some specialized human-rights delegations visited Cuba, including executives of Americas Watch, the Committee for Human Rights of the Bar of the City of New York, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. But by examining the reports prepared by the aforementioned first three organizations, it is clear that they have done little more than scratch the surface of the national reality of this subtropical island.
Unlike other countries examined by these groups, in a Stalinist state there is no access to any independent information about the government; there are no religious groups that monitor human-rights abuses, there is absolutely no history of any independent press, there are no international journalists based in the country, etc. It is difficult for foreigners just arrived and without any experience in the context of Stalinist structures to obtain adequate information that would permit the formulation of responsible opinions.
Thus, on the eve of 1989, when we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, and when the leader of the Soviet Union dazzles the world with his message of hope before the U.N., Cuba's Fidel Castro remains securely beholden to an order of things already condemned by history. And yet the ideal of human rights -- the most progressive, revolutionary and popular ideal of our times -- will make its home on Cuban soil eventually.