Liberty without Banishment for Cuba’s Dissidents

by Mario Loyola

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady brings to light the plight of 115 Cuban dissidents, former political prisoners exiled to Spain over the past year along with their families. The Spanish government is refusing to grant political asylum and travel and work documents to many of these dissidents, despite the notorious repression they faced for years in Cuba. The U.S. should demand an explanation from the Spanish government.

The Castro regime is apparently trying to get rid of its population of political prisoners by banishing them to a country that will leave them in limbo rather than admit that they face political persecution in Cuba. Such banishment is a standard tactic for dealing with political opposition in Havana: leave the country, or stay in jail. Anti-regime protesters often bear signs saying “Libertad sin Destierro,” which means roughly “Liberty without Banishment.” The word destierro literally means “uprooting,” which is how the Cuban government deals with political opposition when it is not reducing them to inhuman conditions of suffering in its horrific prisons.

Many of the 115 exiles are members of the “group of 75” who were persecuted starting in the late 1990s for organizing the Varela Project, a campaign to collect at least 10,000 signatures for a constitutional amendment that would restore basic political freedoms in Cuba. They and many of the tens of thousands who ultimately signed the petition have lost jobs, been expelled from school, lost housing, been beat up by state-sponsored mobs, and been tortured by Stasi-style State Security police. In 2003, on personal orders of Fidel Castro, 75 organizers of the project were thrown in prison, on long prison terms ranging to decades.

Their wives, mothers, and sisters took to staging silent weekly protests wearing white clothing, and became internationally known as the “Ladies in White.” As Mary O’Grady explains, their beatings at the hands of state-sponsored thugs were captured on cellphones and have gone viral. “‘The 75’ had become a huge public-relations problem for the regime,” she writes. “As governments and intellectuals around the world condemned the systematic brutality, it was clear that more than a half-century of Cuban propaganda promoting the socialist paradise image was in danger of going down the drain.”

The Obama administration should deliver a demarche to the Spanish foreign ministry asking for a detailed accounting of the status of each of the former political prisoners officially transferred by Cuba to Spain. In every case where asylum has been sought and not yet granted, the Spanish government should explain why not.

By accepting former political prisoners and refusing to grant them political asylum, the Socialist government of Spain is aiding and abetting the propaganda strategy of the Castro regime. That is nothing new, but this time it shouldn’t go without protest from the United States.

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