BARBARIC and inhumane.
There's no other way to describe Fidel Castro's brutal treatment of political prisoners held by his regime for as long as 27 years. According to Amnesty International, no other country of Cuba's size has held so many political prisoners for so long under such inhumane circumstances of atrocity and terror. Such inhumanity is a monstrous legacy from which the Cuban dictator can never escape. The release last Monday of 65 political prisoners from Cuban jails is the latest reminder of the miserable existence Castro has forced on thousands of political enemies since taking power in 1959. Castro has arrested opponents on trumped-up charges, railroaded them through phony trials, and sentenced them to outrageously long prison terms that sometimes are extended without recourse. Cuban prisoners have been shot, stabbed, tortured, threatened, abused, starved, denied medical attention, and held in isolation for years at a time. Beatings by guards and political police were routine. Some of Castro's once-close allies and collaborators have been executed by firing squads, in one case only 24 hours after the victim's mother had been assured by Fidel himself that her son would be pardoned.
A few prisoners have been incarcerated so long they are called "los olvidados," the forgotten ones: Alberto Fibla, a doctor arrested in 1962; Ramon Guin, an engineer in jail since 1966; Jose Pujal Mederos and Mario Chaniz, both imprisoned since 1961. Such men have endured for over two decades without publicity, without recognition of their plight, without a push for their freedom.
Some prisoners were arrested as teen-agers but now are men old before their time. A few are going blind, others have heart trouble and diabetes, and one was so sick that he died while being processed for release.
This cruel record of brutality by Fidel Castro is indeed "a crime against all humanity," as Cuban poet and author Armando Valladares charges in the opening of his compelling book, Against All Hope. Mr. Valladares spent 22 years as a victim of Castro's atrocities simply because he questioned Communist doctrine while holding down a minor position at a government postal bank. His personal account documents a generation of ruthless treatment by Castro and his henchmen. Recently published in English (and serialized elsewhere in this section starting today), the book is a stinging indictment of the Communist regime in Cuba.
Today, hundreds -- if not thousands -- still remain in Cuban prisons as horrid reminders of Castro's brutality. This is not some distant history of a generation ago. It's happening today -- in jails closer to Miami than we are to Disney World. I can hardly remember where I was 25 years ago, and yet that's how long Fidel Castro has allowed these helpless men to rot in prison.
No civilized society -- free or closed -- can be allowed to ignore their plight. That's the powerful message of Against All Hope. Mr. Valladares never gave up in his fight for freedom, and we should not give up our commitment to work for the release of those who remain in Castro's jails. That clearly is the goal of Armando Valladares, who says: "I have lived with these men longer than with my family. I will never be truly free as long as these people are in prison."
What's the answer? How can we help? Let me offer some suggestions:
* We must work with Bishop Agustin Roman, auxiliary bishop of Miami, to develop a complete list of political prisoners held in Cuba. Only through such efforts can Castro be held accountable for the well-being of these men.
* The U.S. Government must apply constant pressure for the release of Cuba's political prisoners. It also must accelerate the granting of visas for those released.
* Amnesty International, America's Watch, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights must be encouraged to press the Castro government for action. Public support of such moves would help. (See box for addresses). We must never let up on this campaign until the last prisoner of conscience is freed.
* Castro cannot continue to hide behind repeated denials of torture or crime when it comes to human rights in Cuba. Armando Valladares has stripped away the facade of such lies. Fidel's only escape from these embarrassing revelations is the prompt release of his imprisoned adversaries. Unlike past moves by Castro, all should be freed at once instead of being doled out a few at a time to visiting dignitaries as Cuban trinkets of good will.
* Until these men are freed, proper standards of imprisonment should be maintained. For some long-time prisoners, time is running out. They need proper medical care and adequate diets. There should be a complete accounting for all men held. Impartial international organizations should be allowed to inspect Cuban jails to assure that humane treatment of prisoners is provided.
Freedom for political prisoners in Cuba must be everyone's cause, not just a goal for those brave men who have been released or for their Cuban-American families and friends who have suffered and prayed for their loved ones for as long as 27 years. If we remain silent about what goes on in Cuban jails, we only play into the hands of Fidel Castro and his regime. These helpless human beings must never be forgotten.
One Easton Street
705 G Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003
United Nations Commission
on Human Rights
Palais des Nation 1211
Geneva 10, Switzerland
Bishop Agustin Roman,
Auxiliary Bishop of Miami
Archdiocese of Miami
9401 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, Fla. 33138
© 1996 The Miami Herald.