Here we were, April 2003, and Fidel Castro reaches into corners of his country to round up 75 conspirators against the socialist health of the Castro regime, giving some of them prison sentences as heavy as 28 years. The trials were done in very fast motion, so that there was no opportunity to reflect on what it was that the defendants pleaded. But reports confirmed that no charges were leveled that suggested that any of them had blown up bridges or passed exploding cigars into Castro's dining quarters. What they did, simply, was to write and talk in favor of freedom of speech.
When Castro moves, he does so decisively. The civil libertines were arraigned, tried and sentenced, and background thunder was provided by the rifle fire executing the three hijackers.
The most decisive counteraction in the West was done by HBO. The movie and television company had been planning a splashy introduction of an extended documentary on Fidel Castro by -- Oliver Stone. It was all packed up, ready to go. In fact it had been screened in February at a movie festival in Berlin. Castro had given three whole days to Oliver Stone, and that proved to be total immersion -- Stone came away a devout apostle of Castro and Castroism. He spoke of his encounter: "We should look to (Castro) as one of the Earth's wisest people, one of the people we should consult."
Now, the conversion of Oliver Stone was probably not all that difficult. Stone is attracted to any person, statement, event, book, firework or parade that stimulates the depreciation of America and its institutions. In his movie depiction of the assassination of President Kennedy, he suggested that the FBI, the CIA, the White House and the Supreme Court engaged in a right-wing conspiracy vaster than anything ever imagined by Hillary Clinton in order to conceal the story behind the assassination of JFK.
The wording of the HBO official on the fate on Mr. Stone's documentary was finger-dippingly delicate. "In light of recent alarming events in the country, the film seems somewhat dated or incomplete." Perhaps it will be shown after Fidel Castro restores liberty to the Cuban people, who have been without it for 44 years.
At the very least, it was foolishly thought, we would have sterner stuff from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. This organization meets every winter in Geneva. It has had stalwart U.S. ambassadors in the past, including Walter Berns, Allard Lowenstein and Leonard Garment. They did what they could, back in the Cold War, to breathe a little concern for human rights into the Commission on Human Rights, but a resolution to call Castro into account failed. What was got out of the commission was a wispy recommendation that a representative of the United Nations be invited to Cuba to investigate human rights. The commission voted with full knowledge that the invitation will not be extended and, as usual, everybody will just get used to Cuba under Castro.
There is a fresh threat, however, hovering offstage, and not yet called up. It is to levy economic sanctions against Cuba trade by the European Union. There is also a movement in Congress to forbid the sending by Cuban Americans of U.S. checks to Cuban families. These come to $1 billion of hard cash to that sick economy, and no doubt such a measure would hurt Castro, but such hurt would be disproportionate. The family that fails to get the $100 monthly check from the Cuban-American emigrant is put into true pain and distress. Such deprivations reach Castro as mere trivia, one more price to pay for continuing to harness Cuba to socialism and poverty and idolatry.
It is contended by many observers that precisely what moves Castro to his excesses is any movement that threatens mellowness. To permit free speech is to encourage the very idea that Castroite resolution is softening. Calls by Cuban Americans to end U.S. sanctions threaten his hold on Cuban life. Castro has disdained the glasnost and perestroika adopted by Gorbachev -- see what such things did to the Soviet Union!
The challenge for the United States is to ignore his continued manhandling of freedom and to retaliate against it with the weapon he fears most, which is increased exposure to Western capitalism and Western practices.