March 20, 2006 issue - Political leaders in Latin America, intoxicated by a bad case of populism, are preparing a safe landing for Fidel Castro and his grim dictatorship. In a region that Castro bloodied with his mad policy of fomenting guerrilla wars, where a number of countries lost worthy citizens in misguided attempts to replicate his armed rebellion in the late 1950s, presidential palaces have been seized by the left through the same democratic means that those insurgents of yesteryear tried to destroy with bombs and bullets.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez provided the first and most important pillar of support to Castro. Now come gestures of solidarity from Evo Morales. The onetime leader of Bolivia's coca farmers views the Cuban president-for-life as a good man and a democrat, and never tires of telling interviewers so. In the backdrop of this dismal tableau, waving flags and full of smiles, are Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Uruguay's Tabaré Vázquez and Argentina's erratic Nestor Kirchner. Bringing up the rear are the Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala and the front runner in Mexico's presidential campaign, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
This claque of politicians is guilty of the serious crime of flagrant opportunism. To appease their impatient left-wing constituents and maintain a semblance of calm at home, they shake the hands of Cuban officials who have installed a system they themselves reject as a matter of principle. They travel to the Cuban beach resort of Varadero, they express their support for Havana and receive in return Cuban doctors and cigars.
The problem lies not just with politicians. Associations of friends of Cuba have been created in certain sectors of Latin American civil society, and a select and erudite group of intellectuals sees in Cuba a rented version of their dream. Once a year they visit their illusion, and senior officials in Havana welcome them like chiefs of state, publishing their books with government funds and herding them into venues where they are applauded. But their dream is the living nightmare of the ordinary Cuban, the man in the street who is overlooked, forgotten and marginalized.
Indeed, all these figures are helping to perpetuate in a neighboring country what they would never accept in their own: the food-ration card that dates back to 1962, a totally controlled press, a legal gag order on free thought, and paramilitary brigades with clenched fists on the lookout for counterrevolutionary tendencies. For me, who like so many other Cubans wound up in jail for daring to speak out and report on the harsh realities in my country, the public, uncritical embrace that certain political leaders bestow on Fidel Castro only serves to prolong the suffering of my people. He milks those encounters for all the propaganda he can to feed to his apparatchiks.
There are many different Cubas within Cuba, and the poorest and most populous of these Cubas has been forsaken by all of Latin America. With the exception of Costa Rica, all the countries of the region, thanks to the attitudes of their elected leaders, are in effect treating their Cuban brethren with hatred and suspicion. But one way or another the Cuban people will emerge from their hell, and hopefully in the not too distant future a free Cuba will extend a hand of friendship to those same countries that have turned their backs on its citizens.