By arranging long prison sentences for 75 dissidents — librarians, journalists, people just hoping for a taste of freedom someday — Fidel Castro has disproved some of the most cherished hopes and ideas about him and the island state he has now tyrannized for more than four decades.
Gone is the notion that his eventual death will necessarily spell the death of Cuban dictatorship. Not a few analysts have told the press the crackdown was to squelch all opposition in a country Fidel wants to leave to his brother Raul, commander of the army and hardly a liberty-loving sort.
Any lingering notion that Castro is not really so bad after all, just a man dedicated to Marxism out of love for his people or a sense of social justice, is gone — or ought to be. This was a fiction from the start of his murderous, life-cramping, thieving regime, but all sorts of Americans have thought it fine to cuddle up to him, as if he were misunderstood and the deprivations of his people were the consequence of American foul play. What say you now, friends of Fidel?
Gone also is the idea that moves toward ending the U.S. embargo would bring out Castro's cheerier side. The United States was edging toward this conclusion. Even President Bush — fully aware of how angry Cuban Americans could cost him Florida in 2004 — had said good deeds could lead to reconsidered policies. Now even European leaders, always more conciliatory, are scouting about for possible sanctions.
And who now can possibly imagine that the United Nations has any relevance in the fight for governmental decency in this world? Its Human Rights Commission winked at Castro's latest depravity, saying only that a U.N. representative should visit the island to see what's up — a proposal Cuba promptly rebuffed.
So what's to be done? Simply extending the U.S. embargo from here to eternity is unlikely to achieve much, but neither is it consonant with the lessons of history that rewarding criminals stops crime. At the least, voices must rise in fierce condemnation, and from all over the civilized world. The dissidents must be encouraged, their tormentors excoriated. The free world must not let go of its outrage but insistently seek the release of all Castro's political prisoners and the demise of his rule by brutality.