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Fidel Castro has yet to face justice
by BONNIE ANDERSON
It is deeply wrenching to witness a week of lavish celebrations honoring Fidel Castro's birth when most likely every day, somewhere in the world, anguished families quietly mourn the death of a loved one at the hands of this heartless, evil man. That Fidel, himself, may be dying is not much comfort to me. I believe in justice and while he will be judged by God when he dies, he has yet to be judged on Earth for his crimes against humanity.
My father, Howard F. Anderson, was only one of 20,000 people tortured and executed by Fidel Castro. Before my Dad's execution by firing squad, he had most of his blood drained from his body to be used for transfusions for the revolutionary troops. Other political prisoners who watched the execution from their cells told me years later that my father refused a blindfold. And he whistled as the bullets tore into his body. One of the few memories I have, since I was only 5 years old at the time, was that my Dad whistled when he was angry. With the ''ready, aim, fire'' order, I, too, was wounded forever more. This ruthless dictator robbed me of a lifetime with my father, a lifetime of fatherly advice, a lifetime of memories.
So no, I don't want to see him die this way, of natural causes, or at this time. I have always hoped the world would recognize him for what he is and that Fidel Castro would be judged, convicted and sentenced for his crimes against humanity in an international court of law. A death from old age is far, far too lenient a punishment for a man who has killed so many people, destroyed the lives of literally millions.
As a journalist, I refrain from generalities. But I do believe there are few Cubans on the island and even fewer Cuban exiles who have not had a family member either executed or imprisoned by this megalomaniac. What I fail to understand is why there seems to be little national compassion for the pain that Cuban exiles have experienced. Americans show compassion for cancer survivors, for DUI and rape victims, for people suffering from depression, physical and mental abuse. We show compassion for famine victims in Africa; as an NBC news correspondent, I broke stories about genocide in Ethiopia, and the world -- but especially the United States -- responded with millions of dollars of money, but most important, with compassion. Organizations have sprung up to defend and champion the victims of all these issues, and rightly so. There is public acceptance that these people have suffered and have been wronged. It is morally right. So why, I ask, are Cuban exiles not afforded the same support and compassion?
I was a CNN network executive when the Elián González issue was a major story. I was horrified by the coverage by my network and all others. It pained me deeply to see sound-bites by people who said about the Cuban-Americans in this country, ''Why don't they just get over it? It happened so long ago.'' I spoke up to my superiors at CNN. And I'm no longer there. What I told them was this: Would anyone dare tell a Holocaust survivor, or the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the Holocaust to ''just forget about it'' because it happened so long ago? Of course not. Castro did not kill as many as Hitler did, and I would never diminish the horror and huge dimensions of the Holocaust, but Castro was -- and is -- our Hitler in Latin America.
Despite my Anglo name, I was born in Cuba. My mother was born there. Her parents are buried there. My father was buried there until Castro was so ticked off by an article I wrote in 1978 as a Miami Herald reporter that he had my father's remains dug up and thrown out. I am most proud of being Cuban American. And I want the rest of the world to understand our pain. It is part of our daily lives, no matter where we live. It is the ache of losing a country, but it is more than that, too. It is a loss we feel in our blood and in our bones. It is also clearly an emotional demise in many ways -- a void in our pasts which continues to the present and will continue through the future. You can't make up for years of lost family experiences -- normal, human experiences that most other people enjoy. These are memories that have been stolen for all time. For myself, I have only two memories of my father and what saddens me is that I can't be absolutely certain that they truly are recollections or whether I've simply grasped onto scenes from the few home movies we managed to smuggle out of Cuba and morphed them into memories. When I think of this, it provokes a deep, dark cutting sadness in me.
Cuban exiles can't expect others who have not experienced what we have to actually know our pain and understand our passion for wanting to address the wrongs done us. Rape victims can't expect that. Neither can the parents of children who have been killed by drunk drivers, or family members who have lost loved ones in the current Iraq conflict. Or family members of the victims of Columbine, or 9/11. The people who survived the genocide in Ethiopia and in so many other places can't expect anyone to truly know their pain. Our pain is part of our spirit. The most we can hope for is compassion. The day that Castro's illness was first reported, I woke up very early and was watching CBS. On their early morning shows, they repeatedly said that ''Castro is considered a ruthless dictator by some in Miami.''
I fired off an e-mail to CBS President Sean McManus. What I wrote, in short, was this: If a man who murdered 20,000 people, imprisoned for decades hundreds of thousands of others, caused countless hundreds of thousands to flee the country (many losing their lives in desperate attempts to reach freedom on flimsy rafts) and has repressed a nation for nearly five decades -- denying them the most basic of human rights -- is not considered a ruthless dictator by all, who the hell is? I haven't heard back from him. I don't expect I will. In fact, I suspect he, and other network executives, will continue to cozy up to the Cuban government (whoever leads it) in order to make sure that when Castro dies, their networks have access to the coverage. That's the way it is in the corporate news world. But I have faith in my fellow American citizens. And I know, in my heart and spirit, that when the truth is known, those of us who have suffered at the hands of Fidel Castro will finally receive the compassion we are due.
While Fidel is celebrating a birthday, my brothers, sister and I are mourning the death not only of our father but also of our mother, Dorothy Stauber Anderson McCarthy, who died less than two months ago. She was 39 years old when Fidel made her a widow. She struggled to raise us and give us a new life, and she was most successful. But her greatest triumph was to instill a sense of right and honor in us, to teach us strength and morality. A month after her death, a New York judge ruled that we should receive millions of dollars of the frozen Cuban assets held in this country because of Fidel Castro's murder of my father. It is a very welcome decision but very bittersweet. Fidel Castro is alive and he knows he has been tried, convicted and sentenced to pay for his heinous act. But the fact that my mother isn't alive to see this final measure of justice is a soul-deep wound that I will live with for the rest of my life. I weep for her. I weep for us, and I weep for all who have been the victims of Fidel Castro. Happy Birthday? Please.
Bonnie M. Anderson is a 27-year veteran of print, radio, Internet and television journalism in English and in Spanish. She has worked on camera for local, national and international news organizations, including two decades with NBC News and CNN. Anderson won seven Emmy Awards, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and has been nominated for the María Coors Cabot Lifetime Achievement Award, which is sponsored by Columbia University. Capt. Anderson is now following a family tradition and is running a charter fishing operation out of Culebra, Puerto Rico.
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