Sunday, January 8, 2017

Requiescat in pace Nat Hentoff: Free speech champion and friend to free Cubans

"Means and ends are central. If your means are corroded, your ends will be corroded. And if you're fighting to preserve liberty and you use means that eviscerate our liberties, the end will be corroded, too." - Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff: June 10, 1925 - January 7, 2017 
Nat Hentoff has passed away at ninety one surrounded by his family listening to Billy Holiday. Friends of freedom feel his loss already. He was a freethinker and steadfast defender of free speech who defied being pigeonholed to a particular party line. He was also an author, music critic, and columnist. As a columnist for the Village Voice the automatic assumption was that he was a radical. This led to Mr. Hentoff being invited to interview Che Guevara when he was at the United Nations at the Cuban mission.

Over the decades Nat Hentoff would speak out for Cuban dissidents in his column and challenged those who remained silent, like the American Library Association, when they should have spoken up. He also recognized when those on the Left spoke out for Cuban dissidents as well. When Cubans in the island and in the diaspora despair and claim that no one cares about Cuba they are wrong and Mr. Hentoff is one of those friends of free Cubans that needs to be remembered and honored.

Less than a year ago on March 23, 2016 Nat Hentoff published Obama’s Feckless Defense of Human Rights in Cuba, a column reviewing President Obama's state visit to Cuba:
Castro was asked about Cuba’s political prisoners by CNN’s Jim Acosta during a joint news conference with President Obama. Castro’s response raised belligerent sarcasm to an art form: “What political prisoners? Give me a name or names, or when, after this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.” Obama stood mute. It would have sent a powerful message to Castro if the president had ticked off a list of Cuba’s remaining political prisoners by name – such as Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez – and demanded that they be released. But sending powerful messages to dictators is not one of Obama’s talents.
Five months earlier in his October 7, 2015 column titled "Normalizing U.S. Relations with Cuba Leads to Escalation in Repression of Cuban Dissidents" ended the essay as follows:
The Guardian newspaper reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while attending the official flag raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14, “insisted that Cubans should be reassured that a return to diplomatic relations with Washington would result in the country’s leaders being held to account over their human rights record.”
Meanwhile, Cuban dissidents were barred from attending the public ceremony at the insistence of Cuban authorities
  On Sept. 30, Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez — who was arrested at a Human Rights Day protest in 2013 and was one of the 53 prisoners released — shouted, “Down with Raul!” as he climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. His efforts to seek the protection of U.S. authorities were rebuffed as he was forced off the embassy grounds by U.S. security personnel and turned over to Cuba’s security police. His current whereabouts are unknown.
On January 4, 2010 Nat Hentoff wrote a column published in the Richmond Times - Dispatch titled Racism in Cuba:
Throughout the course of these columns on the Castro dictatorship, I have cited the chronic racial discrimination against black Cubans throughout Fidel's Revolution, a "revolution" that gladdens such visitors as celebrity documentarian Michael Moore, who never mentions Jim Crow on the island. The extensive marginalization of blacks in Cuba has failed to break through into general American consciousness; but as of the Nov. 30 release of "Statement of Conscience by African Americans" (, Dec. 1), the big dirty secret of the Castro brothers has been exposed. According to the resounding news release -- which had the authoritative ring of Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" -- "60 prominent black American scholars, artists, and professionals have condemned the Cuban regime's stepped-up harassment and apparent crackdown on the country's budding civil rights movement. This statement is the first public condemnation of racial conditions in Cuba made by black Americans."
On December 19, 2003 he wrote about the plight of Cuban prisoner of conscience Victor Rolando Arroyo in The Village Voice in a column titled "Criminalizing Librarians: Is Victor Arroyo a 'Traitor to Cuba'?"
But in Cuba, 51-year-old Victor Rolando Arroyo-who directed an independent, private library before being sentenced to 26 years in prison after Castro's crackdown on dissenters (as reported in last week's column)-is now also in solitary confinement after protesting the treatment of another prisoner. Arroyo also belongs to the Independent Cuban Journalists and Writers Union. At his trial for "undermining national independence and territorial integrity," Arroyo refused a government-appointed defense lawyer because, he said, the verdict had been decided in advance. Arroyo also knew that a lawyer employed by the state is continually aware that his fealty to Castro will be judged by his performance for the defendant.
There is much more to the legacy of Nat Hentoff and his defense of freedom, but free Cubans are mourning his passing because we have lost a friend who spoke for us when nobody listened.

Requiescat in pace Nat Hentoff.

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