It’s been a busy few days for Brazil’s peripatetic President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Last week he was in Cuba for a cozy chat with the Hermanos Castro, and this week he attended the Latin American Summit in Cancún, on which occasion President Felipe Calderón of Mexico gave him this glowing reference….
President Lula is the undisputed leader of our region. He gives balance and strength to Latin America.
Robert Ménard, Secretary-General, Reporters Without Borders clearly shares Calderón’s high expectations of Lula….
On the eve of your visit to Cuba, the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to the lack of press freedom in that country. As you know, 75 dissidents were arrested during the crackdown which the Cuban government began on 18 March. They included 26 independent journalists. Accused of carrying out actions “against the independence or territorial unity of the state,” they were given summary trials and sentenced to up to 27 years in prison. Four other journalists were already in prison prior to the crackdown. With a total of 30 detained, Cuba is the world’s biggest prison for journalists.
Meanwhile, on the very day of Lula’s arrival in Havana, the emaciated corpse of hunger striker, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a bricklayer and plumber sentenced to 36 years (later “reduced” to 25) for the crime of calling for democracy on the island, was on its way to the cemetery. On February 18th, although Zapata was close to death, the dissident Cuban economist, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, had attempted to deliver a letter to Lula via the Brazilian Embassy in Havana, asking him to intercede on his behalf with the brothers Castro. He was bluntly informed that it is not embassy policy to receive Cuban dissidents.
Lula’s response to Zapata’s death was typically mealy-mouthed….
If they are dissidents of Cuba and now want to be dissidents of Lula I see no problem. People need to stop writing letters, keep(ing) them to themselves and then saying they sent them to other(s).
Someone would only be able to say that he sent a letter to the president if the letter was filed and recorded. Actually I didn’t get any letter. If someone had asked me to talk I would have talked. We do not refuse to talk.
We have to regret, as a human being, someone who has died, who decided to go on a hunger strike, which you know I’m against because I’ve done it myself.
Welcoming a beaming Lula, Raúl Castro didn’t point the finger at the recently deceased. No, the target of his revolutionary ire was, guess who? The United States.
The Cuban leader said Zapata’s death is “the result of the relationship with the United States” and said there’s no torture in the island. Torture, he stated, is practiced in Guantanamo by the Americans.
“We are very sorry,” said Raúl. “He was sentenced to three years (three?) and had problems in prison. He was taken to our best hospitals, but died. We are very sorry” he said. “This is due to the confrontation we have with the US, we have lost thousands of Cubans.”
Later, in an interview with Brazilian news weekly, Veja, Chepe said….
I thought that Lula, having been unjustly imprisoned himself would have shown some solidarity. His reaction was a surprise to everyone.
Now wouldn’t that have been a triumph of hope over experience?
Comments on the affair from Castro cheerleaders, John Pilger and Noam Chomsky….
….have so far been in short supply.
In a move that will surely gladden the hearts of Messrs. Calderón and Ménard still further, Lula will be dropping in on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in May.