Sticking to an old and discredited script

June 16, 2006

Miami Herald- Editorial Opinion

One of Cuba's chief apologists came to Fort Lauderdale this week to offer the tired litany of denials and distortions that Fidel Castro has been using for decades to prop up his government. Ricardo Alarcón, a ranking apparatchik in the Cuban dictatorship, appeared via satellite at the convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists direct from Cuba, but he might as well been in Alice's Wonderland.

Mirta Ojito, the veteran Cuban-American journalist who interviewed Mr. Alarcón, asked all the right questions. But he gave no straight answers. His act would have been laughable if the hardship suffered by Cubans weren't so severe.

Crackdown on dissent

Ms. Ojito cited one study that named Cuba the second-largest prison in the world for journalists. Why does Cuba jail so many reporters? Mr. Alarcón called such reports inaccurate. He suggested other countries were worse on journalists. And, yes, he blamed the CIA. The 27 journalists socked with 20-year-plus prison terms in 2003 were all agents of the U.S. government, he said.

In fact, those journalists were among 75 democracy activists imprisoned by Mr. Alarcón's regime in a crackdown on dissent that continues today. They were subjected to summary trials with defense lawyers who worked for the state. The evidence against them included books, typewriters and their own articles. The journalists were convicted of a crime that exists in no free country: revealing truths about life on the island and exposing government abuses in the process.

Truth is a dangerous toxin for a dictatorship that relies on systematic repression and elaborate lies to stay in power. Mr. Alarcón doesn't want anyone to know that the promises his regime has made for 47 years have been a big lie.

Catastrophic failure

Despite the sacrifices demanded of Cubans all these years, Cuba is no socialist paradise or egalitarian society. Asked to explain why there are so few blacks in high government posts, Mr. Alarcón protested that people 'blacker than my suit' hold positions of power. This conveniently skirts the relative absence of blacks in the power structure.

Though the regime owns all the media and restricts Internet access, independent Cuban journalists report on human-rights abuses and the hundreds of political prisoners. These reporters also describe the difficulties faced by Cubans just trying to obtain basic food, shelter, transportation and healthcare. The revolution's greatest achievement has been to make all but a favored few destitute.

Mr. Alarcón and his cronies, not the CIA, are the only ones to blame for their catastrophic failure. That's why criticism is banned. In Cuba, truth and those who tell it remain the enemy -- the enemy of the state.

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