December 13, 2005
Castro, the Mafia, the Polls

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

U.S. diplomat Robert Blau was met by a nauseating stench as he walked into his residence in Havana. He soon learned that security agents of the Cuban government had entered his home surreptitiously and filled it with excrement.

The authorization for that repugnant attack had come from Felipe Pérez Roque, the bellicose foreign minister, who was determined to punish the American delegation on the island for the oddest type of crime: allowing a handful of opposition democrats to gain access to the Internet for half an hour, once a week.

It wasn't the first time something like that had occurred. One of Blau's colleagues found his mouthwash had been replaced with urine. Others had their car tires slashed. Offenses and assorted types of harassment are committed almost daily. Diplomats are deprived of electricity, telephone or water at the authorities' whim.

To gain control

And those actions are directed not only against the Americans. The Czechs, Spaniards and Poles have been victims of similar acts. The objective is simple: to mortify the diplomats until they are neutralized and recommend to their governments a total complicity with Castro's policies.

It's a technique that the Mafia uses to gain control and that sometimes works. Several European embassies in Cuba have begged their foreign ministries to go along uncomplainingly with Havana's whims, just so the diplomats accredited to the island can live in peace. It's a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome.

The harassment has increased lately, and there's a reason that may explain it: Fidel Castro suspects that some embassies collaborated with a survey that was carried out clandestinely and that demonstrates the unpopularity of his regime and the desire for change harbored by the citizenry.

The poll was conducted between Oct. 8 and Nov. 3. During that period, about 15 public-opinion researchers, who arrived from Spain in the guise of tourists, interviewed 541 persons chosen at random, in almost all provinces, posing questions from a questionnaire drafted with the rigor demanded by the profession.

Along general lines, the poll's results coincide with common sense. While half of the Cubans surveyed believe that ''things are going very badly or badly,'' barely 20 percent maintain that they ''are going very well or well.'' While 50 percent adopt a very critical attitude toward the economic model and point out that the country's principal problems are the shortages, the cost of life, unemployment and the meager supply of food, 25 percent blame the American ''blockade'' for the nation's ills.

Predictably, the intensity of the discrepancy is markedly related to the age of the respondents. More than half of Cubans 18 to 29 desire a profound change that includes tolerance toward the opposition. Among Cubans 60 and older, that rejection of the system is reduced: about 35 percent of the elderly people don't want any kind of change. It's a minority, but a significant one. Elderly people fear change. Because they have no future and no illusions, they're content with what little they get. In the former Eastern bloc, exactly the same happened.

In reality, the failure of the Cuban government in material aspects is scandalous. In almost 50 years of government, Castro has not managed to provide Cubans with even half of their needs for electricity, telephone, potable water, clothing, transportation, food or housing.

Earning $10 a month

In modern history, no other government has failed so grossly for so long. Everything is rationed. Everything is scarce and of poor quality. Society lives amid the worst discomforts and penuries. To buy a simple light bulb, a thermometer or a pair of scissors is an almost unbelievable feat. Every month, the supply of sanitary napkins for women is enough for only 30 percent of the fertile population. Families have to make do with wages equivalent to $10 a month.

It is true that 7 percent of the population have some college education, but there is nothing sadder and more unfair than to see a professional live under miserable conditions, without the slightest hope of prospering, because half a century of practical experience has taught him or her that tomorrow will always be the same as today, or worse -- unless a raft comes to the rescue.

That's the picture Castro is intent on hiding under a thick cloak of strident propaganda. But sometimes the spectacle cannot be concealed. When that happens, the government reacts with incredible vileness: It soils with excrement the houses of foreign witnesses. It's the Mafia's way.

2005 Firmas Press

Carlos Alberto Montaner

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