August 5 1999

In Tribute. Cuba's valiant Group of Four

Published Thursday, August 5, 1999, in the Miami Herald

For the awful crime of voicing legitimate criticisms of Cuba's one-party state, they have been convicted of sedition. That's why Felix Bonne, Rene Gomez Manzano, Vladimiro Roca and Marta Beatriz Roque could not be more deserving of the Inter American Press Association's highest honor for promoting freedom of expression.

Sadly, there's little chance of their picking up the award at IAPA's ceremony in Houston in October. Known worldwide simply as the Group of Four, they've been jailed for more than two years. Ms. Roque, in particular, has suffered brutal treatment. Bad enough that her health is failing. Worse, she repeatedly is punished rather than cared for when taken to hospitals. On July 17 -- when the four fasted in support of other dissidents on the last day of their 40-day hunger strike in Havana -- Ms. Roque was taken to a military hospital, and she has not been allowed to bathe or even change her undergarments since.

Yet torture hasn't swayed the four. Their manifesto The Homeland Belongs to All of Us, which the IAPA lauds, truly represents free expression -- despite grave risk in a repressive state. Here are excerpts of what got them arrested:

``The [Communist] Party says it `demands each member to think with his own head and express freely within party organizations.' In that case there are 770,000 people who have license to think and speak. [T]he rest of the people, those without a party that constitute the majority, have no possibility of free expression; they, too, need their space. . . .

``It is impossible to continue leading the nation to its ruin without expecting an uncontrolled awakening of the populace in search of a rightful space within a civil society with democratic institutions. That which no one desires could well occur. It is better to discuss solutions now, than to plunge our homeland into mourning tomorrow.''

Copyright 1999 Miami Herald