Friday 24 June 2005


Bob Strauss Jr has submitted Mark Steyn's letter of the week this week. Steyn doesn't keep the letters archived online, and this deserves to be read widely, so I'm going to perform a public service and publish it here.

With all the talk about Guantanamo being a so-called "gulag," why isn't anyone talking about the real gulag right down the road? In eastern Cuba, a stone's throw from Guantanamo, is a remnant of Castro's massive concentration-camp system, Boniato Prison. Boniato even today houses political prisoners in horrendous conditions. In pointing out how ridiculous it is for Amnesty International to label Gitmo a "gulag," commentators use Stalin by comparison. The more immediate comparison, Castro, is still operating his extensive jail and labor-camp nightmare. On the same island . That favorite revolutionary of Michael Moore and Oliver Stone held, at the minimum, 30,000 political prisoners at any given time in the '60s and '70s. It's hard to pin down the exact figure because estimates are all over the place: the number of Fidel's political prisoners in those years could have been much higher. Suffice it to say, he ran a gulag in the fullest sense, with unimaginable physical and psychological brutality. Robert Redford's favorite motorcyclist, Che Guevara, was Fidel's chief executioner at the inception of Castro's gulag. T-shirt icon Che directed the execution of hundreds of political prisoners by firing squad at La Cabana fortress prison in Havana. I'm sure everyone caught that in the movie version, right? If not, go on down to Hot Topic - they'll tell you all about it. As for the details of Castro's gulag brutality, the best source is Armando Valladares' book, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life In Castro's Gulag. What was that word, CNN and Harry Reid? Valladares spent 22 years as a poilitical prisoner in Castro's dungeons and his account should be read by everyone who wants to get a clear view of what a true gulag is all about. And it ain't about female interrogators standing too close to an interrogatee. Valladares describes the "drawer cells," for instance: at, of all places, Boniato next door to Gitmo. "Drawer cells" were holes scooped out of a slope that prisoners were sometimes crammed into. Raw dirt. There wasn't enough room in a drawer cell for the prisoner to stand up. After a few days in a drawer cell, it was not uncommon for a person to emerge stark crazy. That kind of sadism ran rampant in Fidel's gulag. Somehow, I missed the mention of that kind of torture in discussions of unacceptable vegetable choices at Guantanamo. Let's keep in mind Fidel's actual gulag next door when gross exaggerations of Guantanamo get the NY Times editorial board into a frenzy.

And here's Natan Sharansky, who, lest we forget, spent time in the real Gulag and therefore knows what he's talking about, nailing exactly what's wrong with Amnesty's claims:

"I have very serious criticisms of Amnesty. There is no moral clarity. It doesn't differentiate between what I call fear societies and free societies," Mr. Sharansky said.

"In the democratic world, there are violations of human rights, but they are revealed and dealt with. In a fear society, there are no violations of human rights because human rights just don't exist," said Mr. Sharansky, who now lives in Israel and has served in its parliament and Cabinet. "Amnesty International says it doesn't support or oppose any political system, so it ends up with reports that show a moral equivalence" among regimes.


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