Cuba Kills Another Dissident

The Wall Street Journal
Published March 5, 2017
By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Score another kill for the Cuban military dictatorship: last month it eliminated Afro-Cuban dissident Hamell Santiago Mas Hernandez, an inmate of one of its most notoriously brutal prisons.

The remarkable thing was not the death of a critic. That’s routine in a police state that holds all the guns, bayonets, money and food. What’s noteworthy is that the world hardly blinked, which is to say that two years after US president Barack Obama’s detente with Raul Castro, the regime still dispatches adversaries with impunity. It also routinely blocks visitors to the island, even of the leftist stripe (more on this in a moment) to keep the population isolated. “Normalisation” to the contrary, Cuba is the same totalitarian hellhole that it has been for the past 58 years.

Mas Hernandez, 45, was a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, a group working for a peaceful transition to democracy. He was healthy when he was arrested in June and sentenced to four years in prison for “disrespect for authority” — AKA failure to bow to the masters of the slave plantation. His real crime was advocating for a free Cuba while black. There are few more lethal combinations.

The black Cuban is supposed to show gratitude to the revolution to sustain the myth that he has been elevated by communism. The grim reality is the opposite, but heaven help those who dare to say so.

In November Mas Hernandez was transferred to Combinado del Este prison, a dungeon not fit for animals. There he developed a kidney infection. His wife told the independent media in Cuba that he lost almost 16kg. According to his overlords he died on February 24 of a “heart attack”. Funny, that epidemic of heart disease among those who cross Castro.

His death ought to prick the conscience of the free world. But while the island is crawling with foreign news bureaus, the story has not appeared in the English-language press. Obama may have opened Cuba to more tourists, but the regime takes pains to keep its 11 million captive souls and their misery invisible.

The Castro family is a crime syndicate and many US businesses want a piece of the action. Sheraton Four Points now runs a hotel owned by the military regime. The luggage company Tumi spent the winter promoting Cuba travel on its website. (Note to self: buy that new suitcase from someone who isn’t blind to tyranny.)

The upshot is that more US dollars flow to Cuba’s military coffers than ever before.

Obama argued that more contact with outsiders would empower Cubans. The regime agrees. It has been open to foreign tourism and investment since the end of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s, and millions of Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians have flooded the country. But its secret police keep a tight leash on visitors.

British real estate developer Stephen Purvis, Canadian businessmen Cy Tokmakjian and Sarkis Yacoubian and US Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross all did time in Cuban jails for being too independent of the mob boss.

Last month Castro took the audacious step of refusing visas to three prominent Latin American politicians who could hardly be regarded as enemies of Cuba.

Organisation of American States secretary-general Luis Almagro was invited to Cuba by Rosa Maria Paya. She is the daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who was killed in a suspicious car accident in 2012.

Almagro was slated to receive an award named for Paya’s father from the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy. But Almagro, who is a Uruguayan leftist, was denied entry to the island.

The regime also blocked Mariana Aylwin, the daughter of Patricio Aylwin, the first elected Chilean president post-Pinochet. Aylwin is a Christian Democrat and a former education minister and was to accept a posthumous award for her late father. She remains an important voice in the Chilean Christian Democrat Party, which is a member, with the Communist Party among others, of the governing coalition.

Paya also invited former Mexican president Felipe Calderon to the event. Calderon is a member of Mexico’s centre-right PAN, but as head of state he was friendly towards Cuba. One memorable moment was when he welcomed Raul at the Rio Group summit on the Mayan Riviera in 2010 at a time when Orlando Zapata, another black Cuban dissident, lay dying in a military prison. Calderon was also denied a visa.

Cuba is not reforming.

As always, dissidents are sent to prison death traps, and now Castro insults highly placed one-time friends by refusing them access to the island.

Tourists are welcome, but only to drink state propaganda and leave behind hard currency. Any suggestion that Cubans have a right to self-determination remains a crime against the state.