By Frances Kerry | Reuters
Cuban President Fidel Castro’s crackdown on dissent has brought him not just fierce criticism from traditional foes such as the United States but a tide of protest from disillusioned foreign writers and artists.
Latin America’s revered leftist intellectuals, one of Castro’s few sources of moral support since the collapse of the Soviet Union, are abandoning him in horror.
In the last six weeks, Cuban authorities have executed three men who hijacked a ferry in an attempt to reach the United States and rounded up 75 dissidents, sentencing them to prison terms of up to 28 years.
Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes has called Cuba a ‘‘suffocating dictatorship.’’ Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, considered a friend of the Cuban revolution, condemned long prison terms and the death penalty in an article titled “Cuba Hurts.’‘
But Colombian Nobel Prize winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, an old friend of Castro’s, refused to join in criticism of the crackdown despite being challenged to do so by U.S. writer Susan Sontag.
Garcia Marquez, perhaps Latin America’s most prominent writer, defended himself in Tuesday’s edition of daily newspaper El Tiempo after Sontag told reporters that it was ‘‘unpardonable’’ for him not to have spoken out.
“I don’t answer unnecessary and provocative questions,’’ said the author of modern classics such as “One Hundred Years of Solitude’’ and “Nobody Writes to the Colonel’‘.
But he noted his long-standing opposition to the death penalty and added that over the years he had quietly helped numerous prisoners and dissidents leave prison or the communist island.
Cuba’s toughest crackdown on dissent in decades has been a snapping point for other longtime backers of Castro, notably Portuguese Nobel Prize winning novelist Jose Saramago.
“From now on, Cuba can follow its own course, and leave me out,’’ Saramago wrote this month. Cuba has “lost my trust, it has damaged my hopes, it has defrauded my illusions.’‘
SPANISH ARTISTS JOIN THE CHORUS
In Spain, some 50 prominent artists joined the chorus this week, issuing a statement calling the jailings and executions an ‘‘attack on freedom and life.’‘
The signatories included Oscar winning film director Pedro Almodovar, singers Joan Manuel Serrat, Ana Belen, Joaquin Sabina and Victor Manuel, philosopher Fernando Savater, actor Javier Bardem and Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso.
“We maintain our solidarity with the Cuban people, who scrape by on the island and off it, but not with those who have now for too long deprived them of representation and silenced their voice,’’ they said in a statement.
Castro, 76, and in power since he led rebels to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, long attracted support from leftist intellectual circles in Latin America and Europe.
To such people, Castro was at best a romantic revolutionary and at worst preferable to the often brutal right-wing Latin American dictators who were in power in the 1970s and 1980s. Even when democracy took hold in the region, enduring poverty and inequity in Latin America have made Cuba’s social achievements such as health care look attractive to some.
Added to that was opposition among many leftists to Washington’s long-standing policy of squeezing the island economically.
But many supporters were dismayed by the recent crackdown.
“There is a tipping factor going on,’’ said Damien Fernandez a professor of international relations at Florida International University. “Public opinion has tipped internationally because of this great sense of injustice against human rights activists and the men who hijacked the ferry,’’ he said.
In response to the foreign criticism, a group of Cuban artists and intellectuals on the island called 10 days ago for support for the government.
Ballerina Alicia Alonso, Grammy-winning pianist Chucho Valdes, singers Omara Portuondo and Silvio Rodriguez and others said the international criticism was aimed at “preparing the ground for a military aggression by the United States against Cuba.’’ They deplored the fact that old friends of Cuba were joining in the criticism, suggesting they were confused.