As the Obama administration does little to free Alan Gross from imprisonment in Cuba, and at the same time acts to make it easier for U.S. citizens to travel there, we tend to forget the truth about the Castro brothers’ prison island. Our media does little to report about conditions there, about the state of their civil society, and about the continuing repression of its citizens by the Communist authorities.
Filling the gap is a bold and truthful report from an unexpected source: al-Jazeera.
Yes, that al-Jazeera — their reporters took dangerous steps to alert their audience to the truth about the Communist regime. In our country, had it chosen to do so, 60 Minutes might have been the outlet for this kind of brave investigative reporting. The last time it reported on Cuba, however, it was the usual kind of soft story carried out with the cooperation of Cuban government authorities. No one, it seems, loves Fidel and Raul Castro more than our American TV correspondents, who from Barbara Walters on down would do anything to gain the adoration and respect of our own hemisphere’s left-wing tyrants.
You must watch the amazing video linked above before reading further. “What is it like,” their reporter asks, “to live in such a pervasive culture of surveillance and fear?” To answer that question, the network sent a journalist from their program People and Power to the island. In order to protect his ability to gain access later, they did not give his name or show him on camera, something I suspect any U.S. journalist who wants recognition would agree to as a condition of an assignment.
He worked with independent Cuban journalist Ivan Hernandez — who is now in hiding, and the two prepared a video that would document how the state security forces carry out repression of the civilian populace. In 2003, Hernandez was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime of publishing what the regime called “false information.” Hernandez was put in a high-security prison, isolated from other prisoners, and deprived of contact with anyone except his guards. The “state secrets” he wrote about? Simply the truth about the tough conditions in which average Cubans live.
In 2011, he was set free as a gesture of good will towards Pope Benedict, who was coming to visit Cuba in 2012. (The pope refused, in return, to pay heed to the dissidents’ plea that he meet with them during his visit.)
His spirit undaunted, Hernandez willingly worked with al-Jazeera despite the assumed risk of future imprisonment. The report continued:
To Fidel Castro, Ivan is a “counter-revolutionary” working for the American right-wing Cuban lobby. In reality, Ivan is just an independent freelance journalist, albeit one with a very critical view of the Cuban Revolution. … The released prisoners were given the option of leaving the island. Most of them did. But not Ivan. “This is my country,” he told me when I asked him about his decision. “Why would I leave? This is my calling, my mission — to tell the truth. Life is terrible here. There’s a U.S. blockade against Cuba, and inside Cuba there’s a blockade of the government against the people.”
One out of every five Cubans, Ivan told the network, is most likely a police informer — something undoubtedly developed from the days in which East Germany’s STASI was brought to Cuba to train the island’s security forces. To avoid their suspicion, they decided to film with tiny mini-cameras that would escape detection. They gave human rights activists their own cameras in order to film a daily diary of their lives. In addition, they set up safe houses in which to conduct interviews.
They succeeded in doing five interviews without detection, until they filmed Antonio Rodiles, a 40-year-old man with a degree in physics who returned to Cuba voluntarily after living abroad in order to do his part to open up the regime. Rodiles set up a group called SATS, an organization of artists, intellectuals, and professionals who want what he calls “a better reality.”