Nat Hentoff is an honest liberal willing to denounce media sacred cows, such as the U.N. and Fidel Castro. His recent article in the Village Voice was a reminder of how Castro in 2003 jailed 75 dissenters, including librarians, independent journalists, and human-rights workers. But what are mainstream media doing about the plight of their brothers and sisters in Cuba?
Hentoff noted the inspiring case of a small town library in Vermillion, South Dakota. The Vermillion Library had voted to sponsor a “sister library” in Havana that was one of the targets of Castro’s book-burning raids, but whose director was not arrested. Now Vermillion is shipping books to its “sister library.”
Hentoff reports that the first shipment includes Spanish-language editions of George Orwell’s 1984 and a collection of the works of Mark Twain.
Hentoff believes the Vermillion story deserves attention not just because they defied Castro, but because it was the only library in the U.S. to extend a hand to help Cuba libraries. Vermillion’s solo effort just shows up the hypocrisy of the American Library Association, Hentoff says. To its shame, the ALA defeated an amendment last year that would’ve demanded Castro immediately release the 10 independent librarians and other 65 “prisoners of conscience.”
Mark Wetmore, vice president of the library’s board of trustees, told the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: “Our material support [sending books] will probably never be very overwhelming. But just letting them [the independent Cuban librarians] know that someone outside Cuba is concerned about them, we think that’s very important.”
Jack Powell, a trustee adds, “Cuba is sensitive to what other countries say about them. If other libraries would follow what’s been done, it would make it more likely that that these people who’ve been imprisoned would be released.”
Indeed, continued and consistent media pressure could generate powerful results, but sadly, Hentoff is almost unique in the left-wing press in his continued battle to pit the power of the pen against the power of the communist propagandist. Most media outlets published the perfunctory editorial calling Castro’s actions wrong long ago. But the story has since died.
And so has the coverage. Hentoff’s article also ran in the Washington Times, the Jewish World Review, and was picked up in digest form by the Utne Reader. But the rest of the media remain silent. They’d rather talk about Jeff Gannon.
Other than Hentoff and a few others, Cuba’s dissidents don’t have a voice in the U.S. media. But their story, based on what we have been able to put together, is shocking. Prisoners are reportedly kept in solitary confinement, in lightless cells so cramped they resemble coffins.
The Cuban Foundation for Human Rights reported on conditions of psychological and physical terror and torture suffered by women detained in the lightless cells known as gavetas. The gavetas reportedly include a hole in the ground for “bodily needs,” and are infested with rodents, roaches and other insects. Juan Carlos Gonz?lez Leiva of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights reported hearing “screams of tormented women in panic and desperation who cry for God’s mercy.” Leiva said the women were sometimes injected with sedatives to silence them.
Cuba has not allowed the International Red Cross to visit or inspect its prisons since 1989.
This travesty begs for a sustained media campaign to free the imprisoned journalist and librarians in Cuba. Give us less Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton, and more on these long-suffering political prisoners.