The ‘‘Stockholm syndrome’’ describes the phenomenon of hostages who identify, cooperate with and, finally, defend their kidnappers. The longer they are held, the more victims are likely to be affected by the syndrome, because they are totally dependent on their abusers. The control over every aspect of life convinces the victim that he or she is alone, there will be no help from others; resistance is useless and only makes things worse.
That’s the kind of control Fidel Castro, and now his brother Raúl, exercise in Cuba.
There, everything comes from Castro and his government. The regime wants the Cuban people to believe they have no other friends. And, alas, even foreign diplomats and their dependents stationed in Havana begin after time to feel this intimidating dependency and to become reluctant to protest outrages directed at them because ``it only results in more abuse.’‘
Castro’s abuse—his ability to order windows smashed or call out street demonstrations—becomes ‘‘revenge’’ for inviting unapproved Cuban guests to the embassy, for reaching out to engage ordinary Cubans in ways not preapproved by Castro’s government.
Foreign observers in Cuba seem to have great difficulty imagining what the regime will do next. One reason why is that they keep looking for logical reasons to explain the regime’s actions. Yet the reality is that much of what has happened in Cuba over the last 50 years cannot be explained, except as the whim of a man whose only goal is to be in control of everything Cuban. Castro has a lot in common with Stalin.
The Castro regime simply deems any independent action—however small—to be a challenge to its totalitarian control. Thus, inviting Cuba’s political dissidents to an embassy event is ‘‘a hostile act.’’ To give a short-wave radio to a Cuban national is, curiously enough, ‘‘a violation of human rights.’’ Any Cuban daring to voice support for change in Cuba is ‘‘a paid agent’’ of the United States.
What to do in a situation such as this? The principle that should guide foreign governments is that they should show Cubans that they have friends on the outside.
Foreign governments can start by, at the very least, always insisting on reciprocity in the freedom allowed Castro’s diplomats and embassies to operate in their capitals. This is not what happened. Foreign missions—America’s among them—accede to Castro’s restrictions on how their diplomats and embassies function in Cuba.
Cuba’s diplomats take full advantage of their freedoms in the U.S. capital. They attend congressional hearings, have access to the American media, develop relationships with businessmen and ‘‘progressive’’ activists, host student groups, speak at universities and enjoy tax-exempt status. Yet U.S. diplomats in Cuba have no similar privileges in Havana. They are subject to petty harassments. The Cuban government goes so far as to detain shipping containers of supplies sent to the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba and has broken into the U.S. diplomatic pouch.
Attempting to appease Cuba’s kidnappers will backfire, as it always has. It is instructive that the refugee crises in 1980 and 1994, which involved 125,000 and 30,000 Cubans respectively, and the 1996 murder of Brothers to the Rescue crews over the Florida Straits occurred at times when Washington actually was trying to improve relations.
Eventually, Cuba’s long nightmare will end. If governments around the world would also shake free of ‘‘the Havana Syndrome,’’ they might hasten Cuba’s democratic awakening.
Fidel and Raúl Castro will attempt to turn their day of reckoning into a negotiation with Washington—a negotiation excluding dissidents and exiles. Yet it is Cubans who must decide the fate of Cuba. All evidence indicates that President Bush will remain firm. If the Department of State does not flinch, Cuba’s interim president and new leaders will have to talk with and listen to their political opponents. That is what democracy means and that is what the world community should boldly support today.
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C.