Dissidents in Cuba
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December 2008
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Real heroes are in Castro's prisons

Posted on Monday, 12.22.08
Real heroes are in Castro's prisons
OUR OPINION: Latest ploy an attempt to manipulate Cuban dissidents' plight

Raúl Castro calls his offer to swap political dissidents held in Cuban
prisons for Cuban spies held in this country a ''gesture for a
gesture.'' Sounds fair — but it isn't. Actually, it's more like a
ransom demand, and one that should be seen by the next U.S.
administration — to whom the offer was addressed — as a brazen,
contemptible attempt by Cuban leaders to profit from their decades-long
practice of suppressing political rights on the island.

Spying on the U.S.

A fair exchange consists of swapping soldiers for soldiers, POWs for
POWs, spies for spies (a frequent occurrence in the Cold War between
U.S. and Soviet espionage agencies). In this instance, Castro is
proposing to exchange individuals whose only crime involves a demand for
basic civil liberties for espionage agents — he calls them ''heroes''
— whose job was to spy on the United States.

Castro's victims were tried in kangaroo courts and sentenced by the
system's own apparatchik judges. The five Cuban spies of the so-called
''avispa'' network arrested here in 1998, in contrast, were tried in the
federal courts and given all the rights of the U.S. judicial system,
including a lengthy appeals process.

One group has nothing to do with the other. By offering to make such an
exchange, Castro is suggesting a moral and legal equivalency which does
not and never has existed between the two.

Engaging in peaceful protest, which is the only thing most of the
dissidents languishing in Cuban jails can be accused of, is not
equivalent to acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government
for the purpose of gathering and transmitting information overseas. The
Cuban spies admitted being Cuban agents, though they claimed they were
only spying on exile groups planning ''terrorist'' actions against the
Castro government.

Prisoners in Cuban jails, as dissident leader Oswaldo Payá declared last
week, are guilty of nothing more than defending the rights of the Cuban
people. He implored leaders of the European Union to begin a worldwide
campaign to free these prisoners, saying their release would be the
indispensable first step in restoring human rights to the island.

True courage

The most reprehensible aspect of Raúl Castro's offer is the attempt to
manipulate the feelings of the families of the regime's victims. No one
could blame them for wanting to see their loved ones set free after
years of imprisonment under wretched conditions. Yet Laura Pollan, wife
of political prisoner Héctor Maseda, said the offer showed ''a lack of
respect'' and said the prisoners “are not willing to be chips to be

It's doubtful that Raúl Castro understands this kind of courage. The
dissidents are the real heroes of Cuba. They deserve to be released
immediately and without conditions.


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