Overcoming Castro's "Culture of Fear"
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady
For more than two years now, Fidel Castro
has faced a frightening scene in Havana every Sunday. Some 30 women
dressed all in white meet at St. Rita's church; when Mass is over they
form a silent procession and walk ten blocks to a nearby park. This is
the kind of stuff that keeps dictators up at night.
They are the Ladies in White, wives of prisoners of conscience doing
time in Castro's gulags. The ladies are appealing for the release of all
political prisoners, in the name of justice and humanity. Their pleas go
unheeded. But that doesn't mean that their act of defiance hasn't been
effective. Indeed, sources say that similar groups of women decked out
in white have begun forming processions in other cities around the
The fearless Ladies in White are a threat to a regime that relies on
fear to maintain control. They also represent a noticeable phenomenon in
the Cuban dissident movement that is bound to unnerve the dictatorship:
small group activism.
Just two years after the infamous crackdown that landed 75 peaceful
dissidents in jail, the nation's democracy movement is rebounding
vibrantly and creatively. On May 20, 365 independent civil society
groups representing the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba will
hold a general meeting in Havana. "Notwithstanding the risks faced under
the repressive system that rules Cuba," the organizers say, "the
Assembly believes it is necessary to carry out this event."
If the one-day meeting goes as planned it will certainly make waves. But
what is undoubtedly more disconcerting to the regime is the day-to-day
activity of so many groups now sprouting all over the island.
So threatening is the tiny band of pacific ladies in white that on Palm
Sunday, the government sent a mob of some 150 females to intimidate
them. That scene, featuring the dignified dissidents walking unafraid
through a gauntlet of state-sponsored hysteria, may have turned out to
be a public-relations disaster. Whatever the reason, on Easter Sunday,
when the ladies once again processed from Mass, this time each carrying
a single gladiola, Fidel's goon-ettes slept in.
Oswaldo Paya, the leader of the Varela Project, which collected over
10,000 signatures on a petition calling for democracy, saw a great swath
of his movement summarily tried and imprisoned in the 2003 crackdown.
Yet he has continued his work. His latest effort, the "National
Dialogue," seeks to organize small groups of Cubans to discuss reform.
Central to the proposition is overcoming what he calls "the culture of
In March, Mr. Paya told the Associated Press that "When Cubans are
capable of saying that, beyond our fear, we want change, that hits the
nucleus of power. If the people don't have fear, the regime no longer
exists." And when John Paul II passed away in April, Mr. Paya praised
his influence in Cuba. "He told us not to have fear, that the future was
in our hands. That has been our inspiration in the struggle for true
The struggle against fear has a long way to go. Fidel has cleverly
planted spies within the resistance movement, thereby heightening
distrust and division among his opposition.
But he has not been able to snuff out courage, despite brutal tactics
such as those described in a March 30 report by Marcus Gee of Canada's
Globe and Mail: "Amnesty [International] says prison guards beat one
handcuffed dissident by stomping on his throat till he lost
A prominent symbol of dissident stamina is Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. The
43-year-old renowned pacifist, whose motto is "life and freedom," is a
devout Christian and follower of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and the
He first got in trouble with the regime in 1998 when he was working at a
Havana hospital and he presented to authorities the results of a
clandestine study he had done on the government's use of the chemical
substance Rivanol to abort advanced pregnancies. The practice is
widespread in Cuba, including its common use among girls as young as 12,
who during their government-mandated school time in the countryside
without their parents, often become pregnant.
Dr. Biscet has written that the study proved "the murder of infants born
alive, denied of medical assistance." According to his report "the
umbilical cord was cut and they were allowed to bleed to death or they
were wrapped alive in paper and asphyxiated." His opposition to these
practices made him a counterrevolutionary and qualified him for the
corresponding government program: He was fired, lost his home and was
set upon by mobs that beat him and harassed his family.
In December 2002, Dr. Biscet's plan to create small groups meeting in
private homes to promote human rights landed him in jail again and he
received a 25-year sentence. The Web site www.free-biscet.org says that
since his incarceration "he has staged protests against Cuba's violation
of human rights at the prison with acts of civil disobedience, such as
fasting and holding prayer services.
"Consequently, he was punished by being locked up in solitary
confinement for 42 days in an unlit cell." Cuba's notorious "punishment"
cells have no windows, a hole in the floor for a toilet and measure only
about three-feet wide. Yet despite such grim circumstances, Dr. Biscet
sends messages like this one: "My conscience and my spirit are well."
Of course, Dr. Biscet's real crime is that he is an Afro-Cuban who is
neither grateful nor obedient to the regime and who answers to a higher
power. Perhaps his worst transgression is his courage, which makes him a
dangerous inspiration to the many Cubans that are now organizing in
Source: The Wall Street Journal. May,
Courtesy: Dra. Layda Carro.