It was not the first time that a U.S. president had shaken hands with a dictator named Castro. Bill Clinton did it first in 2000 at a U.N. Summit in New York City shaking hands with Fidel Castro. However falling on International Human Rights Day in the midst of a human rights crackdown in Cuba, the symbolism this time around is even more unfortunate.
The attempt by the press to portray this encounter as "in the spirit of reconciliation" while ignoring the ongoing crackdown; Alan Gross, the American citizen held hostage in Cuba; and the demands for justice from the families of murdered human rights defenders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero is a depressing commentary on the quality of press coverage in the 21st century.
Reconciliation not only implies some measure of justice but also of repentance on behalf of the wrong doers and recognition that they have done something wrong. To speak of reconciliation on the same day that human rights defenders are being rounded up and beaten up in Cuba is a travesty.
It is nearly on the same level as those in media trying to portray Nelson Mandela as some sort of pacifist which he was not.
Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic and dissident, spoke of the importance of holding fast to moral principle and avoiding even minor compromises on October 12, 2009 at the Forum 2000 conference:
I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises.Unlike many in the world today, Havel defended human rights even when it challenged the powerful whether it be the economic giant of China or the United States and he was a constant ally of dissidents the world over until the final day of his life. Havel considered Nelson Mandela a friend but he would never re-write who the man was to make him more palatable for mass consumption.
The Orwellian character of much of the mainstream media highlighted in today's coverage combined with its silence as activists are rounded up and beaten up in Cuba to avoid their participation in International Human Rights Day is disturbing. Having to learn about what is happening in Cuba via twitter because accredited press agencies in the island refuse to cover dissidents and government repression is an outrage. Some of the reports today from Cuba over twitter:
@yoanisanchez #Cuba Repressive action in 23 & L against activists & @DamasdBlanco various detained & violent operation by agent #Volodia
@oswaldopaya #Cuba State Security assaults #MCL Roger Curbelo's home in Puerto Padre, various hurt & detained http://www.goear.com/listen/9e83af1/policia-cubana-irrumpe-casa-miembro-mcl-golpearle-destruri-vivienda-mcl
@yoanisanchez #Cuba Informs Gloria Llopis from project #VioleniaCero her home is surrounded by a big police operation Info at +5353224504
@ivanlibre #Cuba in Havana a large paramilitary operation at different sites around homes of @DamasdBlanco who are preparing to go out.
@felixncuba #HumanRightsCuba Jose Diaz Silva & other emergent civil society members in Havana are DISAPPEARED & homes under seige S.O.S!
@oswaldopaya #Cuba Dozens of guards with interior ministry uniforms reach the town of Velasco, in Holguin, reports Eduardo Cardet
@ivanlibre #Cuba Castro regime police arrest Marielis Diaz Torres, Eduardo Diaz Fleitas y Raul Risco Perez in Pinar del Rio
@LibradoLinares #Cuba I was arrested at 5AM handcuffed & taken in patrol car to Camajuani Police Station. Just released under heavy surveillance
The picture of the international community that is emerging is of one that is at risk of moral bankruptcy. Silence before the brutal beating of activists and the dictator Raul Castro operating in complete impunity. President Obama addressed this hypocrisy, in part, at the services for Nelson Mandela earlier today:
There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.The death of Martha Frayde Barraqué, a founder of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights on December 4, 2013 , a day prior to Mandela, in relative obscurity despite her powerful moral example is tragic. Rafa Rubio, a Spanish activist summed it up best over twitter: "Sometimes I think if Mandela were born in Cuba he would have died forgotten in jail or in exile."