(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on January 24, 1996)
The call came directly from Havana, quite unexpected and just as welcomed. A well-known Cuban dissident, Jesus Zuniga, was calling to tell me he had been given a warning by Fidel Castro's state security goons while being held prisoner a few days earlier.
``They told me I have done everything possible to defy the regime," he said, leaving me a voice-mail message. ``They told me the only thing I haven't done, within our role of sending information abroad, denouncing the reality of what occurs in Cuba, is speak on Miguel Perez's [radio] program, ‘Sin Censura’ [Uncensored] in New York.”
Zuniga, part of a new breed of fearless dissidents in Cuba, took the warning as a challenge. Shortly after his release from jail, he called me to see if he could arrange to do ``the only thing he had not done.''
Five days later, on my Sunday evening radio show, Zuniga got his wish. We had been planning a program to evaluate snow-removal efforts in various New Jersey towns, but it just had to be postponed.
In a live broadcast by telephone from Havana, Zuniga wasted no time to blast the Castro regime and condemn ``the abuses that occur here on a daily basis.'' He expressed gratitude to the thousands of Cubans and other Latinos who marched on the streets of New York to protest Castro's visit to the United Nations in October. ``We felt very well-represented there,'' he said.
Much to my surprise and satisfaction, Zuniga then turned the telephone over to journalist Olance Nogueras, a name I recognized immediately. During Castro's stay in New York, I wrote a column noting that at a time when American media executives were flirting with the dictator, the U.S. State Department reported Nogueras had been arrested after asking a question the regime didn't like during a news conference at the Cuban Foreign Ministry. A State Department spokesman said that at a time when Castro was ``attempting to convey an image of greater openness, repression of dissent continues unabated in Cuba.”
When I told Nogueras that I wrote about him in New Jersey, he expressed gratitude. Cuban dissidents know that notoriety abroad is what keeps them alive. If they were unknown here, they could vanish like so many other Cubans whose defiance has been punished by long imprisonment or the firing squad. Fearing international pressure, the regime is less abusive of well-known dissidents.
Nevertheless, one can't help but admire the bravery of these young patriots who are willing to submit themselves to frequent incarceration and intensive interrogations at the Villa Marista state security headquarters in Havana. These are the children of the Cuban Revolution who have rebelled against a man they once admired and an ideology they once worshiped.
I asked Zuniga if he would suffer reprisals for expressing himself abroad in a way that is forbidden in Cuba. ``It's possible,'' he said. ``But it's the sacrifice we have to make. We do this knowing the risks. We have chosen, with a sense of civic duty and patriotism, to tell the truth that others keep silent.''
That truth includes their support for the U.S. embargo against Cuba and for the Helms-Burton bill, which would reinforce the embargo. ``If the White House lifts the embargo . . . it would only prolong the agony of the Cuban people,'' Nogueras said, noting that he fears many lending institutions would subsidize ``this despotic, cruel, and repressive government.''
I told Zuniga and his friends the American public needs to hear more of what they have to say. He said they will keep calling. ``I didn't know about you or your program until they [state security] told me,'' he said. ``But I can imagine you make the Castro dictatorship lose some sleep.''
I told him that for my program, there is no greater tribute.