The charmer and the torturer

Posted: Jan 25, 2002 12:00 AM
A gaggle of gullible women from Seattle flew to Havana last week to meet with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. They found him "charming" and "eloquent." They were especially flattered that Castro -- the head of one of the world's most repressive regimes, listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism -- took time out of his busy schedule to lavish personal attention on them. "He obviously had read the biographies and knew who each person was," gushed Susan Jeffords, dean of social sciences at the University of Washington. "Charming," she said. Golly gee, Ms. Jeffords, is that because Castro's just such a people person? Or is it because he has had decades of practice memorizing the dossiers of countless political prisoners? Castro also reportedly spent two hours with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and even chaperoned her to the airport in his Mercedes-Benz. You just can't beat communist hospitality. Connie Niva, another member of the Washington state delegation, sounded like a teen-age groupie who had just returned from a Backstreet Boys concert. "It was an amazing trip," she bubbled to the Everett (Wash.) Herald this week. "You don't have any sense that this is a police state." Well, gosh, Ms. Niva, you wouldn't get that sense from dining on seafood, yukking it up with Castro for five hours, and hopping around Havana all week with government-approved chaperones, would you? Reciting straight from the dictator's propaganda primer, Niva told the Herald that Cubans "are in poverty, but they are very happy people." These women should have stayed right here in the United States and talked to some of the "happy people" who escaped Castro's regime. They should have lunched with Eugenio de Sosa Chabau, who fled Cuba after two decades as a political prisoner. He could have told them about his 52-page complaint against Castro for crimes against humanity, which he filed with a group of nine Cuban exiles last fall under a Belgian war crimes law. He could have told them about his torture at the hands of Castro's Cuban Security Services in a Havana psychiatric hospital. He could have told them how he was hooked up to wet electrical prods and "treated" with 14 sessions of shock therapy delivered to his temples and testicles. But he can't tell them now. The 85-year-old de Sosa Chabau, whose torture was documented in a ground-breaking book about Cuba's psychiatric abuse of political dissidents, died earlier this month as the Washington women were giddily packing their Eddie Bauer bags for Castro's dog-and-pony show. Before his death, de Sosa Chabau had been preparing to testify as a key witness in a federal trial against his torturer - Castro henchman Eriberto Mederos, known by Cuban exiles as the sadistic "El Enfermero" or "the nurse." In 1991, de Sosa Chabau spotted Mederos working at a nursing home facility where one of his relatives resided. Despite detailed media reports of Mederos' abuse, vocal protest from Florida's Cuban-American community, and dogged whistleblowing by former State Department official Richard Krieger, our immigration authorities rewarded Mederos with U.S. citizenship in the spring of 1993. Krieger, who runs a watchdog humanitarian group called International Education Missions in Florida, spearheaded the drive to denaturalize Mederos. In September 2001, Mederos was arrested for illegally obtaining citizenship and will face trial in July 2002. Although de Sosa Chabau was the key witness against Mederos, more than a dozen other surviving victims have agreed to provide depositions and testimony. In the meantime, Mederos is out on $500,000 bail in Miami - and Castro has condemned the trial against Mederos as a trick by his enemies to discredit his "revolution." The subject didn't come up when the Seattle women lunched with Castro earlier this month. Instead, Connie Niva praised the "good quality health care" Cubans receive and learned that Castro is more of a "merlot guy" than a champagne guy. "Terribly charming," Ms. Niva said of her host. No. Just terrible.