Dissidents in Cuba
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March 2006
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A hunger for freedom of expression

A hunger for freedom of expression
George Diaz
Sentinel Columnist

March 12, 2006

The troubleshooting tech guy from Bright House Networks had just left
the house when I clicked onto a story from The Miami Herald, thankful
that the wireless was up and running again.

It only took a few moments before the irrelevance of the computer woes
kicked in, jolted by the reality of a world not so far away.

Guillermo Farinas, a psychologist turned dissident in Cuba, has been on
a hunger strike since Jan. 31, a week after the Cuban government began
blocking his list of e-mail addresses.

Farinas is one of Cuba’s independent journalists who usually post
information about human-rights abuses that — surprise, surprise —
never seem fit to print in government-run papers.

Unable to send his dispatches by e-mail from a local Internet cafe,
Farinas has refused all liquids and solids. He has since been
transferred to a hospital, where he is fed with an IV drip in an
intensive-care unit.

Consider the absurdity of the situation: A man is on the brink of dying
because he can’t get Internet access.

And to think our most significant communications quandary here is
settling for a dial-up hookup.

Sadly, this is the kind of story that doesn’t pop up readily on our
standard food groups of information access. It should, if nothing more
than to offer us a sobering perspective on how easy we have it less than
100 miles from Cuba’s isolated island borders.

As Sunshine Week kicks in today and Florida newspapers embrace the
wonderful opportunity to agree or disagree with a government that keeps
doors open, Farinas has lost more than 60 pounds making a stand for the
simple freedom of expression.

“His head hurts, and his legs are bothering him,” his mother, Alicia
Hernandez, told the Herald. “Sometimes, his blood pressure drops, but
other times he’s stable. Everyone, not just me, but the people who call
him from outside Cuba, plus the doctors and nurses, have tried to get
him to stop, but he will not give in. He is determined.”

Putting the squeeze on information is nothing new in Cuba’s
constitutional doctrine. It reflects the ultimate abuse of power in a
climate that caters only to the company line.

In its yearly roundup, Reporters Without Borders rates Cuba the world’s
second-biggest prison for journalists. Of the 27 journalists arrested in
a crackdown in the spring of 2003, 20 are serving sentences of between
14 and 27 years. Four others were jailed in summer 2005, and two of them
have yet to be tried.

Not surprisingly, Cuba is among a list of 15 “enemies of the Internet,”
which also includes China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

So please squeeze in a dose of perspective with your cafe con leche this
morning, reminding us why we need constant vigilance to make sure
Florida truly remains a sunshine state.

The recent powwow between Gov. Jeb Bush and top legislative leaders and
representatives discussing a “significant business” that is considering
moving to the state — on the night before the Florida Legislature
opened its 2006 session — skirts the line of open government that is
critical in dissuading political shenanigans.

“It may not be a technical violation, but there’s something called the
spirit and intent of Florida’s open-records laws,” Barbara Petersen,
president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit,
media-supported organization based in Tallahassee, told the Sentinel. “I
don’t think voters who approved the state’s ‘Sunshine laws’ thought it
was OK for the governor and legislators to meet behind closed doors,
possibly to give away the store.”

It’s a long stretch to connect the dots between Florida and Cuba, but
the comparing and contrasting allow us to see what happens when
governmental abuses run to an extreme.

For at least one brave soul in Cuba, the possibilities include starving
to death.

George Diaz can be reached at 407-420-5668 and gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com.

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