Monday, April 2, 2001

Fidel Castros tendency to employ brutal methods to silence dissent seems off putting to most, and the number of Cubans risking their lives to flee his rule reflects rather badly on him. Yet some people, after exercising mental gymnastics which are probably quite painful, have come to the conclusion that Mr. Castro is a swell fellow, a humanitarian even.

Hallgeir Langeland, a member of Norway´s parliament with the Socialist Left Party, is such a contortionist. He has nominated the Cuban dictator for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hasn´t his oppression of Cubans been systematically condemned by human rights groups? Doesn´t the suffering of tortured, killed and jailed dissidents continue to resonate inside Cuba? And wasn´t Mr. Castro responsible for the shooting down and murder of Americans who did nothing more than throw down leaflets and rescue Cuban rafters from Cessna airplanes?

Just ask Mr. Langeland. Why Mr. Castro decides what level of education you deserve. Why Cubans´ schooling would be more appropriately termed “re-education.” And then, of course, ask Mr. Langeland about the unemployment lines, a population that would virtually starve without help from family abroad and a pervasive, soulless renunciation of dreams. Furthermore, ask him why Mr. Castro´s free health care fails to provide many Cubans with basic medicine.

To Mr. Langeland, all this seems irrelevant and, somehow, relative. “Even if one can ask oneself about the democratic character of Cuba, the question of democracy is perceived differently in a Third World country,” Mr. Langeland explains. “What do people prefer? The right to vote or free access to schools, health care, housing and food, as is the case in Cuba?” Certainly, it would be appropriate to “ask oneself” about the democratic character of Cuba, since there hasn´t been a free election there since Mr. Castro took power about four decades ago. It seems Mr. Langeland´s theories of relativity have convinced him that Third Worlders are scarcely deserving of democracy. Mr. Castro surely thinks so.

It is true that the Nobel Peace Prize has come to represent a dubious distinction, since it has been awarded to individuals who scarcely deserved such an honor. Rigoberta Menchu, for example, was allowed to keep her 1992 Nobel Peace Prize title after New York Times reporter David Stoll exposed widespread falsities in her 1983 book “I, Rigoberta Menchu,” which purported to give a factual accounting of human rights violations in her native Guatemala. Still, the honor is far too lofty for Mr. Castro, no matter what mental acrobatics you perform.

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