A Cuban Doctor Pays
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
March 31, 2006; Page A17
In the early morning hours of Nov. 29, uniformed Cuban police raided the Havana home of medical doctor Dariel "Darsi" Ferrer.
"In front of my sick wife and my four-year-old son, they confiscated a laptop, a printer, various bottles of medicine and all the papers they could find," Dr. Ferrer reported on the Web site Cartadecuba.com. Nearly four hours later the marauders marched off with the doctor's property, leaving him with a citation to appear at the police station the next day.
Dr. Ferrer had sinned against the Revolution: He is an Afro-Cuban medical professional who, noting the country's abysmal state of health care, established an independent health and human rights clinic. "We have dedicated ourselves to offering free medical attention to those in need and visiting extremely poor communities where scarcities strike marginalized Cubans daily, to offer health services, give medicine, clothing and toys and to share the suffering of those beings," Dr. Ferrer reported.
The 36-year-old doctor's selfless dedication to others would win praise from any government genuinely concerned about the welfare of citizens. But in Cuba, his work scandalizes the state. It has rewarded him by shutting him out of the official medical community and refusing to allow him any form of gainful employment. Along with his wife and son, he has been regularly harassed and terrorized by the government's infamous "repudiation squads," organized mob violence unleashed against non-conformers. The Nov. 29 visit was the first time the regime sent uniformed agents to his home to allege a crime.
Dr. Ferrer is a victim of what human rights observers say is the one of the most brutal crackdowns in the island's history, one that has received little notice in the U.S. "Why now?" one might ask. Perhaps it is in preparation for the day when, as Cubans like to say, a "biological solution" will end Castro's reign. Perhaps it is because Cubans have grown bolder in recent years, increasingly expressing dissent openly.
Certainly, there is more civil disobedience, ranging from silent, prayerful marches by women whose loved ones are political prisoners to public statements from medical professionals like Dr. Ferrer. Pilfering from the state has reportedly increased too.
French jurist Christine Chanet, the U.N. Human Rights Commission's "expert" on Cuba, acknowledged the wave of repression this month. Though Cuban officials have refused her access, she noted that her sources report that "in 2005 more people were arrested and given disproportionate sentences for expressing dissident political opinions." Since she is French and a UNHRC bureaucrat, however, Ms. Chanet blamed the brutality on the U.S. By supporting Cuban democrats, she explained, the U.S. "provide[s] the Cuban authorities with an opportunity to tighten repression against them."
That's the kind of international "help" that long-suffering Cubans have had to get used to, leaving them with the feeling that they are but pawns in the petty, jealous U.N. game of challenging U.S. hegemony. But while the French bureaucrat is busy scoring points in the salons of Geneva, Dr. Ferrer is struggling to stay alive. His is a particularly brave struggle.
Like hundreds of Josť Six-Packs who have joined Cuban resistance movements, Dr. Ferrer's lack of celebrity is a real disadvantage. International recognition can provide some protection to a dissident. But up to now he has been a faceless soul behind the Tropical Iron Curtain, with a family to care for and living on practically nothing. Fidel already knows he has nothing to fear from the likes of Ms. Chanet, so the cost of crushing Dr. Ferrer is very low.
Dr. Ferrer's race also works against him. Independent thinking is heresy for any Cuban but Afro-Cubans are taught to be especially grateful for -- and obedient to -- the Revolution. They are supposed to signal to the world that though they may appear poor, malnourished and oppressed, they are actually living contentedly on Master Fidel's plantation. Dr. Ferrer hasn't been playing the game.
Another reason to silence the doctor is his honest, professional assessment of Cuba's deteriorating medical system. What Dr. Ferrer and the doctors working with him at the clinic have observed and publicly denounced is the polar opposite of the health-care paradise that Fidel's illusionists have worked years to promote. The collapse of this last "justification" for totalitarian government -- something that shamefully even former Secretary of State Colin Powell once praised Castro for -- makes Fidel's 50 years of failure impossible to deny.
This makes Dr. Ferrer's work exceedingly dangerous but despite the persecution, he works tirelessly for the sick, the poor and the imprisoned. The clinic writes "respectful letters" to high-ranking government officials, raising concerns about public health issues and proposing solutions. In a July 2005 document called "Health Authorities and the Complicity of Silence," Dr. Ferrer complained of the deaths of dozens of children in recent months owing to increased cases of transmittable diseases. He expressed concern that meningitis, dengue fever, hepatitis and leprosy could become epidemics. Clinic workers pay special attention to HIV/AIDS patients, particularly shut-ins, and advocate for the medical needs of political prisoners and for victims of medical negligence.
With thousands of medical professionals on assignment overseas to advance Castro's do-gooder image with Ms. Chanet and her ilk, Cubans are hurting. But so what? As former Brigadier Gen. Rafael Del Pino, who defected in 1987, observed in his 1990 book "Proa a La Libertad," ("Toward Freedom"), Fidel has another agenda. He "was of the idea that any person whose health is returned or who receives education will at least never be his enemy, even if that does not turn them into an ally," the general wrote, referring to the rationale behind sending doctors and teachers to Nicaragua in the 1980s. This strategy continues today. Only now Dr. Ferrer has made it clear that Cubans themselves don't enjoy the same "good will." For that he is being intolerably abused by the regime.