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Message From a Cuban Jail – Mary Anastasia O’Grady/WSJ

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in 2021. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa/Zuma Press
A dissident leader pleads with the world not to forget his people. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in 2021.(Ernesto Mastrascusa/Zuma Press)

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Christians celebrate the Incarnation this week while many nonbelievers celebrate new stuff from Bloomingdale’s and Walmart. They can seem miles apart. But a common thread in the West connects the religious and secular in this season. It’s the call to remember the forgotten, oppressed and less-fortunate.

At the top of my list this year are Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 36, and the more than 1,000 other courageous political prisoners in Cuban dungeons. They’re the poor and marginalized of Cuban society and they’ve stuck their necks out in the name of liberty. Their reward has been abandonment by the great powers.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Mr. Otero but have forgotten about him and the others rounded up by the regime because they dared to dissent. That’s been Havana’s way since the earliest days of the Cuban Revolution: In prison, in the grave or in exile, dissidents are taken out of sight so they go out of mind.

Mr. Otero has been arrested more than 50 times and is now serving a five-year sentence at the maximum security facility of Guanjay, 30 miles west of Havana. No International Red Cross visits are permitted in Cuban prisons, but he has gone on several hunger strikes to protest notoriously inhumane conditions. The regime has responded by placing him in solitary confinement more than once.

On July 11, 2021, hundreds of thousands of Cubans spontaneously went to the streets chanting “libertad,” “down with dictatorship” and “homeland and life.” The regime unleashed brutality. The website Justicia11J.org says that 793 of those arrested that day or shortly thereafter are doing time. They’re incarcerated alongside dangerous common criminals in cockroach-infested barracks. Mr. Otero is one of them. But most are nameless and faceless to the outside world. Six are minors. Luis Barrios Díaz, 37, died in November.

Not all are activists. Luis Frómeta Compte, 61, is a dual German-Cuban national who lives in Dresden. He was visiting family in Havana in summer 2021 when the peaceful uprising broke out. As he watched the crackdown by uniformed and nonuniformed state security, he instinctively took out his cellphone to record video. For this he was seized by the throat and marched to detention. He was released, but on July 17 he was rearrested. In December 2021 he was put on trial for sedition with about 20 others, his daughter told me by telephone from Dresden last week. All were convicted in a summary trial. He’s serving a 15-year sentence.

On Nov. 30 he was attacked by a gang of common prisoners, pinned down and brutally beaten. The German ambassador in Havana has been unable to help because the regime recognizes only Mr. Frómeta’s Cuban citizenship.

Mr. Frómeta has never been political, his daughter said. But that makes his arbitrary detention all the more useful for the secret police. The message to Cubans is that anything less than complete submission to the state will land you in big trouble. Mr. Otero has been targeted for a different reason. He’s a co-founder of the dissident San Isidro Movement and his innate leadership skills are undeniable. For the dictatorship, he’s dangerous.

In November Mr. Otero issued a moving public statement which was transcribed by friends outside the prison. He described how he began to work for change in 2011, in “a society paralyzed by fear, apathy, a lack of hope, in which people do not have the power to decide their future.” Along the journey, he said, he has “been joined by beings of light, friends with limited economic resources, terminal illnesses, people being cared for by siblings, people with young children, people with differing poetics, people from different social strata and faiths, but all rich in artistic resources. All are full of love for others, and united by their love of freedom.”

But the movement is being crushed. Those in prison “are beings living in limbo without legal rights, with harsher sentences in many cases than those given to murderers,” he said. Mr. Otero wonders if official visitors who shake hands with the dictator “ask about us.” Some don’t seem “to care about our plight. The president of Mexico and the vice president of Colombia do not recognize the racist, sexist, classist, and ideological repression that exists in Cuba, preferring instead to openly support the regime.”

There was a time when the U.S. was on the side of the good guys in the struggle for Cuban freedom. In those days the State Department would work to keep the names of the Davids—like Mr. Otero—who fight Goliath on the tips of our tongues. But Team Biden has lost the plot.

The administration occasionally tweets objections to the regime’s gross human-rights violations. But its Cuba policy is appeasement. The U.S. Embassy in Havana promotes tourism to the island and co-sponsors public concerts with the Cuban Culture Ministry. In November it celebrated Omara Portuondo’s Grammy Award, though she supports the use of terror against the Cuban people. In 2003, when Havana came under heavy international criticism for the sweeping arrests of dissidents known as the Black Spring and the firing-squad execution of three young black men who had tried to escape the island in a stolen ferry, Ms. Portuondo joined a group of Havana elites who rushed to its defense. Their letter accused critics of trying to undermine the revolution.

Whether in omission or commission, the crimes of the 65-year-old police state don’t seem to matter. “With so many problems in the world, Cuba fades away, it does not even exist for most people,” Mr. Otero said from prison. May this Christmas be different.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.


Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes «The Americas,» a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis­-based Liberty Fund.  EnergiesNet.com does not necessarily share these views.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on December 24, 2023. All comments posted and published on Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of Petroleumworld.

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EnergiesNet.com 12 26 2023

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