No one in the know thinks that the arts-oriented charity, English PEN, is a bastion of conservatism. And when this report was recently compiled (Freedom of Expression in Cuba), it contained some of the standard liberal complaints; i.e., a strong criticism of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
However, the report also dared to tell the raw truth about intellectual life in the island paradise. And, in doing so, it sounded raucous alarms not normally heard in liberal circles. Note the opening lines from the report's Executive Summary:
...Cuba operates by far the most hostile approach to freedom of expression anywhere in Latin America. There are currently 26 writers imprisoned in Cuba for expressing their political beliefs. Only China, Iran and Burma imprison more writers for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
56 people including writers, librarians, book collectors, trades unionists, political activists and human rights campaigners have been in prison since the notorious ‘Black Spring’ wave of arrests which took place in March 2003.
Prison conditions for these detainees are appalling. Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons.
Cuba has rejected many of the measures suggested by the United Nations in February 2009 to improve human rights in the country.
Political conformity is imposed through the use of criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, harassment, police warnings, surveillance, house arrests, travel restrictions, exile and politically motivated dismissals from employment.
All print and broadcast media are state-controlled...
These are hard facts for the left to hear -- because they cannot be refuted. Ignored, yes. Drowned out by carping and blaming others, yes. But refuted, no. Therefore, just for bringing up Cuba's crimes, many in the British arts community are appalled at English PEN, furious that they are thus giving aid and assistance to those right-wing critics of the Cuban government who live in Miami and Washington...and the dark holes of Cuba's prisons.
John Keenan commenting in the Guardian on this liberal insistence to "tread lightly" when it comes to thugs like the Castro brothers writes,
How light must that tread be? As PEN points out, there are more writers in prison in Cuba than in any other country in the world, except for China and Iran. You can't pick and choose which authoritarian regime should be condemned or which marginalised and imprisoned writers ought to be supported.
No doubt foreign travel writers will continue to visit Cuba, and will produce reams of blithe copy about Buena Vista Social Club, the Tropicana, and unspoilt beaches. But they should do so in the knowledge that beyond the sun, sea and salsa is a world in eclipse, where people are imprisoned and assaulted for the simple act of opposing their own government.
Last week I mentioned the bold decision of arts leaders in Spain to stand against the cruelty and injustice of Cuba. Perhaps these fresh breezes of moral sanity from Europe will manage to waft their way across the pond to places like Washington and Hollywood, creating a long-overdue reaction to the harsh Communist dictatorship that rules Cuba.
We can hope...and pray.