The Caribbean's Saddam Hussein Still Rules Cuba
by Jeff Jacoby (April 13, 2003)
Summary: The only one way to reform a totalitarian despot like Cuba's Fidel Castro is to topple his regime.
One of the first people I met during a week's stay in Havana last year was the economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a once-ardent communist who had turned
against Fidel Castro's dictatorial system. For daring to criticize Cuba's disastrous policies, Chepe and his wife Miriam had been severely
punished. He lost his prestigious position in the foreign service and was prohibited from leaving Cuba; she was told to choose between her job in the
Foreign Ministry and her marriage. "You want me to divorce my husband?" she had asked in disbelief. "Well, it's up to you," came the reply.
As we sat in their tiny apartment in Havana's Playa district last March, the two dissidents told me how they had been forced to sell many of their
possessions -- the car, the stamp collection, even some of their clothes -- in order to keep body and soul together. Barred from normal employment,
Chepe managed to cobble together an income from odd jobs teaching and writing about Cuba's dysfunctional economy. He also broadcast a weekly
commentary (not for pay) on Radio Marti, the US broadcast service to Cuba.
Now he will be unable to do even that. Chepe was one of nearly 80 Cuban dissidents seized in mass arrests across the island last week. After a
summary trial on Monday he was convicted on trumped-up charges of "working with a foreign power to undermine the government." His punishment was 20
years in prison.
Also arrested, tried, and convicted this week was Marta Beatriz Roque, another intellectual who went from believing in Castro's communist revolution
to acknowledging its utter failure. Her calls for reform got her fired from the University of Havana faculty and, like Chepe, she decided to work as
an independent economist, disseminating through unofficial channels the grim facts about life in Cuba.
On the afternoon that I visited her meager flat, Roque welcomed me cheerfully, glad of the chance to practice her English. She showed me the gouges
on the door frame where the police had recently broken into her house. "They took everything I could use to write," she laughed. "Even my pencil
-- and every piece of paper."