by Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

A desperate mother escaping Castro’s tyranny takes her only child to the U.S. so he can live in freedom. She dies in the attempt, but her 5-year-old son survives. He is rescued and legally placed under the care of his relatives in the U.S. Castro then calls the relatives kidnappers. The U.S. media, echoing his voice, advances his claims, maligning the Cuban American community and misleading the public opinion. That child was Elian and he was sent back to Castro on June 28, 2000.

And on June 27, 2001, we have Andrea Mitchell - rewarded with a visa to report from Cuba for cooperating with Castro’s goals - on the NBC Nightly News giving a glowing portrait of Elian’s life in Cardenas, the city where I was born. What does she know about what life in Cuba is? Mitchell (in a totalitarian country where people live in constant fear) was pretending that Elian’s father and the others featured were able to speak their minds without state reprisals. For that favorable report she was awarded a three-hour interview with Castro, part of which was shown on June 28 NBC’s Today Show and later on the NBC Nightly News.

Secretly guarded by the U.S. media is the fact that the real kidnapper of the Cuban people is Castro. They never talk about the children kept hostage and separated from their parents in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. The media, by being silent and refusing to expose what has been happening for decades, is contributing to the destruction of the family. With their silence they are giving the green light to a despot: it is all right to kidnap children from their parents, it is all right to divide and destroy Cuban families.

In Cuba you cannot buy a ticket, get into an airplane and go whatever you wish, as Americans do. Among the many rights Cubans lost to Castro was the right to come and go. Since then, Cubans need an exit permit to leave, which is extremely difficult to obtain.

Recently, the case of 11-year-old Sandra Becerra Jova, kept hostage for more than 4 years in Cuba, separated from her parents, Vicente Becerra and Zaida Jova, living in Brazil, was resolved thanks to the media in that country and elsewhere – but not in the U.S. The family reunion took place on June 23, 2001, at the international airport of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Brazilian news agency CubDest says, "The national and international press covered the arrival of Sandra and the emotional reunification with her parents and with Daniel, her 3-year-old brother who was born in Brazil."

The information about this case was sent to all the U.S. media outlets, but NBC, ABC, CBS and even The Washington Times – to which I personally sent the information on June 15 - did not publish anything about this case.

An ongoing case is the one of Dr. Leonel Cordova, 31. On April 23, 2000, he defected along with Dr. Noris Peña, 25, while serving on what Castro called a "medical mission" in Harare, Zimbabwe. According to Dr. Cordova the real goal was to help Castro’s friend, Robert Mugabe, get elected. After the U.S. and Canadian embassies rejected their requests for asylum, Zimbabwean soldiers apprehended them at machine-gun point and forced them into an Air France flight to Havana.

But the doctors managed to slip a three-page account of their plight to the pilot saying that they had been "kidnapped." That caused a commotion inside the plane and the Air France staff refused to keep them on board. Due to international pressure, after more than a month in jail in Harare, Sweden gave them temporary visas and on July 2000, the U.S. finally gave them asylum.

In the U.S., Dr. Cordova obtained visas for his wife, Rosalba Gonzalez and their two children, Giselle, 4 and Yusniel, his stepson, 11, all still in Cuba. Dr. Cordova had raised Yusniel since he was 2 years old and his natural father had agreed to let his son live with his sister in the U.S. Almost a year later, Castro’s regime still refuses to issue exit permits for his wife and children as retribution that the vindictive Castro has been practicing for 42 years with people who defect. It is done to make an example of those who choose freedom and to discourage others.

On Sunday morning, June 17, Rosalba died in a motorcycle "accident" three blocks from her home in Havana, leaving the children with no parent in Cuba. Dr. Cordova cannot go to the funeral of his wife and be with his children since he is considered a traitor in Cuba and would be apprehended.

On June 26, Dr. Cordova released a public statement appealing for the release of his children, held in Cuba.

My children are but two among many Cuban children who are unjustly and arbitrarily detained in Cuba against the will of their parents, used as political pawns to punish those of us who one day, for political reasons, and for inherently instinctive reasons in search of freedom, had the audacity to defy Fidel Castro and his repressive machinery.

The irony of this is that the man that forbids my children from reuniting with me, is the same man that a year ago was fighting for the rights of another Cuban father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, to be with his child: Fidel Castro. My children, like Elian, have also lost their mother.

Now my children are alone in Cuba without the care of a mother, and I, their father, am helplessly standing by, unable to run to my children to comfort them and bring them home with me. Unlike Juan Miguel, I cannot return to Cuba. Unlike Juan Miguel, I will not be offered all the safeties and guarantees in Cuba that he was offered when he was here. Unlike, Juan Miguel, there is no Janet Reno in Cuba who will send armed men to the house where my children reside to secure their freedom and reunite them with their father. There's only one person keeping my children from me, and that person is Fidel Castro.

I, like Juan Miguel Gonzalez, have as much right to be with Giselle and Yusniel as he does to be with Elian. I too, am a grieving father, who is not only grieving the death of his loving wife, but the long separation from my family to which I have been subjected.

I trust that our representatives in Congress, as well as other American institutions that were so instrumental in securing the reunion of Juan Miguel and Elian, will also come to my aid, and soon, I too, will be together with my children.

Is the U.S. media going to listen to the appeal of this man, one among many suffering family separation imposed by Castro as punishment for leaving his island? Or should he move to Brazil in order to get media support – support that has proven to work against Castro’s efforts to damage the family institution?

The New Australia News in their Saturday June 23-24 commentary on Dr. Cordova’s case said "The extreme left-wing National Council of Churches [NCC] has so far refused to offer any assistance to Dr. Cordova despite the fact that it was heavily involved in having Elian Gonzalez returned to Castro. However, a spokeswoman said it might discuss the matter with the Cuban Council of Churches, a Castro controlled organization."

Bob Edgar, NCC’s General Secretary, answering to petitions for help in this case by the Cuban American community stated in writing, "Attempts to negotiate cases such as this in the public media will only endanger a quick and satisfactory solution for the persons involved. For that reason, the National Council of Churches is unable to comment on the case of Dr. Cordova and his family at this time. The NCC understands that the handling of refugee cases is primarily the responsibility of the Department of State and recommends that those who are concerned about the case speak with the Public Information Officer for the Department of State, Sandy Dean."

This response reveals the hypocritical nature of the NCC when you look at the public record of everything Bob Edgar, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell and other staff of this "religious" organization did openly in the press, radio and television advocating for the return of Elian Gonzalez to Castro.

Replying to Bob Edgar, Alba Herrera Rohdes, a human rights advocate in New Jersey said, "Thank you Mr. Edgar, for clarifying all my doubts about your organization. Now, I am firmly convinced that you are neither Christian, nor unbiased, and that family values mean nothing to you or your organization. You were never fighting for the rights of Elian's father. You were fighting for Fidel's right to oppress the Cuban people."

Fortunately for Dr. Cordova, because of the overwhelming support received by the Cuban American community in the U.S., and Castro’s fear that his case could transcend to the international media, as with the case in Brazil, this case is in the process of being resolved. All of a sudden, Cuba is processing his children’s exit permits. Very soon, Dr. Cordova will be able to hug his children in a free land. Now we can clearly see the power of the press. But if the U.S. press continues its silence about these abuses, the agony of thousands of human beings will be their responsibility, because they are behaving as partners in a crime.

Meanwhile, Dr. Noris Peña who defected with Dr Cordova and who now lives in Atlanta is suffering punishment from Castro. Her parents, who received visas from the U.S. to reunite with her are being denied their exit permits by Castro.

Among those families whose children, wives, husbands and parents are still hostages of Castro’s regime, are the case of defector Jose Cohen, a former intelligence officer in Cuba. Cohen, exiled in the U.S. for seven years, explains that his wife Lazara, parents Isaac and Daisy, brother David, and his three children, Yanelis, 16, Yamila, 12 and Isaac, 9 are being forced to live in Cuba against their will and are subjected to psychological pressures in an attempt to emotionally destabilize them.

The Cohen family’s situation is desperate because they are not being allowed to work, surviving on the dollars he can send. Cohen’s mother was fired from her job; his wife was detained and "taken to the headquarters of the State Security in view of our children, where she was questioned like a common criminal. My home was brutally searched by seven goons from the tyranny in full view of my children. My family is hostage to Castro's tyranny. They have visas to travel to the United States, but the Cuban government, in open violation of the most basic of human rights, keeps them against their will, abusing the innocence of three children and the impotence of two elderly persons and a woman."

Cohen repeats what all Cubans know but apparently goes over the heads of most Americans, "My children are forced to study a false history, backward and unjust doctrines. At school, they teach them to hate and resent. They live without freedom. My children want to live with both their parents, have a happy childhood but are branded by the suffering which is imposed on them by Castro's criminal dictatorship." Now Cohen’s children have been expelled from school for wanting to leave Cuba.

Another example is Luis Grave de Peralta Morell in Texas. His 7 and 13-year-old sons received their exit permits six years ago but Castro refuses the exit permit for their mother. Six other children in his family have received exit permits, but not their parents. Manuel Amigó Trejo lives in Sweden. His wife Isabel and his 5 and 6 year-old sons have been denied their exit permits preventing their reunion. And in Miami, Milagros Cruz, who is blind, was a pro-democracy activist in Cuba who was deported in October 1999 to the U.S. by Castro. However, Castro refuses to issue the exit permit to her only child, Nohemi, 9. And there are more cases in the U.S. and abroad in similar situations.

If the U.S. media was to report on these ongoing cases as well as many others, Castro, faced with world condemnation, will have to cease and desist in these cruel practices and the suffering of uncounted numbers of children and their parents will stop. Out of public embarrassment, will the U.S. media finally report these facts? Will The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN recognize that Castro is not the myth that they helped to create and maintain in order to stop the suffering of these children? Or is the three-hour interview by Andrea Mitchell too important to sacrifice?

Agustin Blazquez, Producer/Director of the documentaries: COVERING CUBA, COVERING CUBA 2: The New Generation and the upcoming COVERING CUBA 3

2001 ABIP

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