Castros equal-opportunity oppressors
BY JOE CARDONA
When it comes to the Castro brothers' reign in Cuba, history sadly and
criminally repeats itself and the world sits idly by.
Last week, 42-year-old imprisoned Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo
took his last breath. Zapata had sustained an 80-plus days hunger strike
protesting the constant beatings he and other prisoners were receiving
from the soulless guards at the Kilo 7 prison in Camaguey.
The Cuban revolution was supposed to have fought for people like Zapata,
a poor, black Cuban from the countryside for whom Fidel Castro pledged
his sensibilities and his struggle.
The irony, of course, is that Cuba's black population has borne the
brunt of the Castro brothers' iron-fisted, intransigent rule.
Tragically, this has occurred mostly under the complicit silence and
with the tacit support of many African-American political leaders.
Along with Zapata, many of Cuba's most prominent opposition leaders are
black. This fact challenges the long-held Castro propaganda that
presents dissenters as disgruntled rich, white, landowning Batistianos
(supporters of previous dictator Fulgencio Batista -- interestingly
enough, of mixed race himself).
Upon quickly reflecting on this propaganda one has to immediately
question how old (if they are still living) must former land-owning
I'm appalled that 51 years into this disastrous mess someone would still
buy into the ludicrous premise that the opposition within Cuba is
nothing but a disenfranchised, geriatric band of Batista acolytes. That
silly notion is defied by Afro-Cuban opposition leaders like Dr. Oscar
Elias Biscet, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez) and the now deceased
Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
In fact, the Cuban opposition is now a rainbow coalition of sorts, as
women such as former political prisoner Martha Beatriz Roque and blogger
Yoani Sánchez have become prominent figures in the movement.
Last year, several members of the Black Congressional Congress visited
Havana and met with both Castros. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., came away
enchanted with Fidel. ``It was like listening to an old friend,'' Rush
I am going to assume that Rush didn't bother to learn about dissenters
who oppose his ``old friend'' -- including Afro-Cuban Eusebio Peñalver,
who died in 2006. He spent nearly 29 of his 70 years of life in prison
(longer than South Africa's Nelson Mandela) combating the Castros'
Of the caucus' encounter with new dictator Raúl Castro, Congresswoman
Barbara Lee claimed that she was ``convinced that Raúl wanted normal
relations with the United States.''
Antunez's response, after hearing about Lee's statement, focused on the
truth: ``When one is fighting for liberty and human rights within a
totalitarian society like the one that exists in Cuba, it is hurtful and
offensive that citizens from a free society who have access to
uncensored information visit our island and lack the courage to inquire
about the unjustly imprisoned political prisoners.''
The African-American community's misguided support of the Castros stems
from Fidel's calculated, symbolic rhetoric and appearances during the
1960s and '70s when he cast himself as the leader of the less fortunate,
aided and abetted by New York public relations firms.
Fidel's New York visit in 1960 created quite a stir as he refused to
stay at a fancy uptown hotel and went to Harlem where he met with
prominent black leaders like Malcolm X and Langston Hughes. On that same
visit Castro's speeches turned more vitriolic toward the capitalist
establishment, though he had not yet declared himself a communist.
The precept of ``my enemy's enemy is my friend'' took hold in the
African-American community, and the rest is a sad tale of support for
one of the world's most tyrannical dictators. I'm curious to see if the
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Alice Walker or Spike Lee will take note of Orlando
Zapata Tamayo's death, a common citizen who dared to speak out against
oppression and paid the highest price.
Joe Cardona is an independent filmmaker in Miami.
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