Friday, November 24, 2006

Through Hilda's Eyes

Through Hilda's Eyes
November 24, 2006

In the eyes of grandmothers, all grandchildren are loved equally. In the
eyes of the political world, that is not so. Let me tell you the story
about Dr. Hilda Molina, who longs to see her two grandsons, Roberto
Carlos, 11, and Juan Pablo, 5, living in Buenos Aires.

A distinguished physician, Dr. Molina lives in Havana, where she founded
the International Center for Neurological Restoration, a renowned
neurosurgical unit. For many years, Cuba's government showered her with
medals. She was a prominent member of the Communist Party and a delegate
to the Cuban legislature. Today she is not allowed to leave Cuba. She is
hostage of dictator Fidel Castro's political enmity.

Why the change? Dr. Molina dared to challenge the Castro government's
policy of preferential treatment for foreign patients, who pay the
government for their care in U.S. dollars, while the list of Cuban
citizens waiting for care grows ever longer.

Dr. Molina returned her medals and resigned in protest from Cuba's
Parliament and Communist Party. She is now banned from practicing
medicine and lives with her ailing 82-year-old mother. Though her
children and grandchildren, living in Argentina, want the two women to
visit, Cuba's government refuses to issue them visas.

It is a peculiar contrast to what happened when Elian Gonzalez, the
young boy rescued off the coast of Florida in the debris of a raft,
became the center of an international custody battle between the Florida
relatives of his mother, who died in the attempt to flee Cuba, and his
father in Cuba. The legal battle over whether Elian should stay or
return to Cuba provoked a public furor and was waged for months. While
it was waged, Elian's father, grandmothers, and school friends were
allowed to visit him in America.

Eventually, Elian returned to Cuba to become another gear in Mr.
Castro's continuing anti-American propaganda machine.

Roberto Carlos and Juan Pablo benefit from no similar uproar over Mr.
Castro's refusal to let their grandmother and great-grandmother visit
them in Argentina. Most American pundits don't even know they exist. The
New York-based National Council of Churches, so instrumental in the
campaign to reunite Elian with his Cuban family, and congressmen such as
New York Democrats Jose Serrano and Charles Rangel, who took to the
airwaves to champion family reunions, have had little or nothing to say
about Dr. Molina and her grandchildren.

Argentina's president, Nestor Kirchner, a friend of the Castro regime,
tried to intercede. Dr. Molina and her mother even spent several days at
the Argentine Embassy in Havana, prompting speculation in Buenos Aires
that they would be given political asylum. An angry Mr. Castro then
prevailed on President Kirchner to tell the women to leave. They did,
and in the aftermath, the chief of staff of Argentina's foreign minister
was fired to pacify the Castro regime.

Dr. Molina and her mother now live in a modest two-room apartment in
Havana, not far from Revolutionary Square, the site of many speeches by
Cuba's leader. Her telephone is monitored and often interrupted. Her
home has been searched and her computer and various books confiscated.
She is watched constantly by Mr. Castro's State Security.

Even so, she remains willing to talk with foreign reporters. In one of
the few articles about her outside Florida, The New York Sun on August
10, 2006, published a piece from the Daily Telegraph by Jimmy Miller.
Mr. Miller, who visited her in Havana, wrote: "she remains outcast but
not downcast. 'I am free because I am a dissident' she says. 'I think

Among other things, she continues to denounce the Castro regime's
practice of encouraging Cuban women with "problem pregnancies" to get
abortions. Encouraging abortion is one way the Cuban government keeps
infant-mortality rates low. "At risk" babies who might require special
care just aren't born, and abortions aren't included in infant-death counts.

Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada, French philosopher Andre
Gluckman, and Branislaw Geremik, once a Polish dissident and now a
member of the European Parliament, recently wrote to General Raul
Castro, Cuba's acting president. They appealed to him as "a father and
grandfather" to allow Dr. Molina and her mother to travel to Buenos
Aires to visit their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"Neither of them is under a judicial order that would deny them the
right to travel. … Dr. Molina and her mother are ready to travel to join
their family as soon as your government issues the necessary passports
and exit permits," they wrote.

With Mr. Castro hospitalized and power transferred to his brother Raul,
some are calling for American concessions, saying that things have
changed and Raul Castro is a pragmatic man. It remains to be seen if the
general's pragmatism extends to permitting two elderly women to travel
to Argentina to embrace the grandchildren they long to meet and have
loved from afar.

Mr. Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in
Washington, D.C.

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