Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Calling Harry Belafonte...

Everyone’s favorite communist dictator – excuse me, president for life – Fidel Castro is at it again. In a move that will doubtless be completely ignored by the US media, not to mention all of Castro’s adoring fans in Hollywood, the Cuban government (which is Castro), has slyly denied a group of Cuban women permission to visit Europe to collect a human rights prize.

The group, known as the Ladies in White, are joint winners of this year's Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.

For the last two years the women, who are relatives of jailed dissidents, have staged a weekly protest march.

They have been invited to Strasbourg by the European Parliament to receive the award, to be presented on Wednesday.

The other winners are Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim and Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

The Cuban government has denied their request to leave Cuba with the usual bureaucratic sleight-of-hand that repressive governments everywhere like to use when brute force would make too much of a PR mess.

Like all Cubans who wish to travel, the Ladies in White had to first get specific permission from the Cuban authorities. The women say they applied weeks ago.

They say their requests were not officially turned down; instead, it was indicated to them that no decision on their applications would be made until well after the Strasbourg ceremony had taken place.

Miriam Leiva, one of the group who was intending to travel, said she is disappointed but not surprised.

"The government does with our lives whatever it wishes," she said.

"They control whether we can travel abroad, they won't allow any opinion other than theirs and we are very peaceful people and we have been just striving for our rights."

Three years ago another Cuban dissident, Oswaldo Paya, won the same award.

He was allowed to leave the country to collect it.

But a few months after his return, Cuba arrested, tried and jailed 75 dissidents accusing them of being mercenaries in the pay of the US government.

The Ladies in White are relatives of those and other imprisoned dissidents.

Perhaps some enterprising US journalist could ask one of Castro’s American devotees, perhaps Harry Belafonte or Ward Churchill or Noam Chomsky, their opinion of this incident. Surely such great advocates of freedom of speech and the rights of women would be happy to denounce the Cuban government’s actions, or personally appeal to Castro on their behalf. Or perhaps why every communist state has to forcibly keep its people from leaving… But don’t hold your breath waiting for any such question to be tossed their way.


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