The anti-censorship website from Reporters Without Borders, We Fight Censorship, recently highlighted the case of Cuban journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who was jailed in September, 2012, by authorities after he published a series of articles about a health crisis on the island.
The website published the articles that led to his arrest and two telephone conversations offering a rare look into the prison's harsh conditions from the inside.
Martínez Arias, a journalist for the independent news group Hablemos Press, was arrested on Sept. 16, 2012, after publishing several articles about a dengue and cholera epidemic that began in June in the eastern part of the island that the official press did not cover. Police violently arrested Martínez Arias while he was working on another story and accused him of disrespecting Fidel and Raúl Castro.Martínez Arias was in fact covering a story about the disappearance of medical supplies provided by WHO, a gift that presumably enriched someone in the Cuban government. (WHO itself has been much too discreet to go public about it. No doubt it's used to being ripped off by governments around the world.)
I have been following the story of Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias with mixed feelings. He was getting a story no one else could or would cover: outbreaks of cholera and dengue in a country with a reputation for public health unmatched anywhere else in Latin America. What's more, it was the country whose doctors in Haiti first spotted the cholera outbreak there in October 2010, and who have done superb work in fighting it.
On the other hand, I've been a (sometimes exasperated) supporter of Fidel Castro since I was teenager and Fidel was still fighting in the Sierra Maestra. I still recall the amazed exuberance we felt in my family on New Year's Eve 1959, when the news came that Batista had fled and the barbudos (the bearded ones) were coming unopposed into Havana.
That's because I grew up in Mexico City as part of the American exile community in the early 1950s: the Hollywood writers and actors who were blacklisted in the big red scare of the late 1940s. Latin Americans hostile to the United States government had good reason to be: I well recall listening to the radio reports of the CIA-led coup against the democratically elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz, a coup that led not only to a military dictatorship but to the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Maya.
That was only the first of many such coups, culminating in 9/11/73: the overthrow of Salvador Allende by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who thought the Chileans had been "irresponsible" in voting for such a man.
So I've been a sentimental fidelista for over 50 years, and in many ways I remain such. But in the present situation, the Cuban government is not just harming Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias; it is harming itself and its reputation in the world.
Here's the basic principle of crisis management in three simple, easy to understand terms: Tell the truth, tell it well, and tell it often.
Countless corporate malefactors fail to understand these simple monosyllables, and pay a heavy price for their stupidity. The National Rifle Association went silent from last Friday until today, and by then it had shot itself not in the foot but in the balls, brains, and heart.
The Cuban government has a lot invested in its public-health reputation, and it's done something equally stupid. When cholera broke out in Camagüey last summer, Havana should have screamed about the fact: "¡Dios mío, we've got cholera and dengue in Camagüey! This is the biggest threat to Cuba since Playa Girón [known to Americans as the Bay of Pigs]. We are going on a war footing to stamp out these diseases. And we appeal for international assistance to help us do so."
When the Tangshan earthquake killed hundreds of thousands in 1976, Beijing was still too arrogant and insecure to accept the international aid that many nations offered, and thousands more died as a result. The geriatric regime of Raúl Castro seems not to have learned from that, even if the Chinese did.
Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias has ended his hunger strike, and a good thing, too. As my bolshy mother taught me, the trick is to outlive the bastards.
The bastards aren't only in Havana: Despite the dissidents' insanely brave coverage of these outbreaks, the outside media and health agencies have largely ignored them. That gives PAHO and WHO another problem to face in their medical ethics, and the world media something to reflect upon as well.
In the Mexican Spanish I learned 60 years ago, estúpido is a much more insulting term than its English equivalent. The present Cuban government, if only in its handling of cholera and dengue, richly deserves the term.