The impotence of US foreign policy to have any effect in Cuba was underscored last Thursday when thirty-one year old Wilman Vilar Mendoza died in a prison in Santiago de Cuba after a fifty day hunger strike. Mendoza had been a member of the illegal Cuban Patriotic Union and was arrested during a police raid on dissidents on November 14, 2011.
Ten days later he was sentenced to four years in prison after a trial that was closed to the public. It was announced that that conviction was for “assault, disobedience and resistance.” The following day he began his hunger strike and refused to wear the prison uniform, claiming he was not a common criminal. He was put in solitary confinement and contracted pneumonia.
His death has sparked calls from around the world for the release of political prisoners who are rotting in Cuban jails. In a blog posting last week, Cuban dissident and blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote the following posting:
“A couple of years ago, my friend Eugenio Leal decided ask for the report of his criminal record, necessary paperwork when applying for certain jobs. With confidence, he applied for the form where it would say he had never been convicted of any crime but found, in its place, a disagreeable surprise: it appeared that he was the perpetrator of a “robbery with force” in the town where he’d been born, although in fact he had never even run a red light. Eugenio protested, because he knew this wasn’t a bureaucratic error nor a mere accident. His activities as a dissident had already made him the victim of repudiation rallies, arrests and threats, and now a blot on his criminal record had been added. He had gone from being a member of the opposition to someone with a past as a “common criminal,”something very useful to the political police to discredit him.
If we allow ourselves to be guided by government propaganda, there is not a single decent person on this island, concerned about the nation’s destiny and who hasn’t committed crimes, who is also against the system. Everyone who offers a critique is immediately branded as a terrorist or traitor, criminal or amoral. Accusations difficult to “disprove” in a country where, every day, the majority of citizens have to commit several illegalities to survive. We are 11 million common criminals, whose misdeeds range from buying milk on the black market to having a satellite dish. Fugitives from a criminal code that strangles us, fugitives from“everything is forbidden,” escapees from a prison that starts with the Constitution of the Republic itself. We are a population almost imprisoned, in the expectation that the magnifying glass of power hovers over us, raking through our lives and discovering the latest offense.
Now, with the death of Wilman Villar Mendoza, once again the old system of State insult repeats itself. A note in the newspaper Granma described him as a common criminal, and perhaps soon there will be a TV program — Stalinist style —introducing the alleged victims of his abuses. The objective is to minimize the political impact of the death of this 31-year-old citizen, convicted in November of contempt, assault and resistance. The official propaganda will attempt to downplay the importance of his hunger strike and shower his name with all sorts of derogatory adjectives. We will also see the testimony —violating the Hippocratic oath — of the doctors who attended him and probably even his mother will come out against her deceased son. All this, because the Cuban government can’t permit even a glimmer of doubt in the minds of ordinary TV viewers. It would be very dangerous if people started to believe that a regime opponent would sacrifice his life for a cause, to be a good patriot and even a decent man.”
The Florida anti-Castro faction reacted to this predictably with calls for stronger sanctions against Cuba and to tighten the economic embargo that the United States has been attempting for more than forty years. The problem remains that with the United States being the only country to embargo Cuba, it’s a lot like paddling a boat with a strainer. It’s hard to get any traction when every other country is ignoring the embargo and conducting business with Cuba.
I do not understand why the gentlemen and women who formulate United States foreign policy cannot keep Einstein’s admonition in their consciousness: “Insanity: Repeating the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” It is past time for formulating a new foreign policy.