The double life forced on Cubans

Regarding Guillaume Debr's Feb. 2 opinion piece, "Seeing is believing: How Cuba let me down": It is not often that a young idealist goes to the communist nation and comes back telling the truth.

Instead, what we often see, especially from older, more seasoned travelers, are apologies for Castro that include praises for the much-exaggerated advances in medicine and education and nary a word of the fact that Cuba is a police state.

As a Cuban and a member of Friends of Cuban Libraries, I can attest to the fact that repression in Cuba is as bad as Mr. Debr says. There is a small independent library movement in Cuba that is under attack. Cuba is the only country in the world where librarians are systematically persecuted and thrown in prison.

What better gauge of the severity of lack of freedom? Paris-based Cuban-exiled author, Zoe Valdes, says that everyone in Cuba lives a double life - while supporting the dictatorship out of fear, they secretly oppose it.

Mr. Debr says Cubans left him with the impression that they feared that the regime was eavesdropping on their thoughts. The late Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas would agree. He often lamented how Cubans didn't even allow themselves the freedom of thoughts for fear that these thoughts could somehow become evident to Castro's secret police.

Radames Suarez Astoria, N. Y.

Perhaps being three times the age of your opinion writer, plus being an idealist turned pragmatist, my expectations of Cuba differed from those of Guillaume Debr.

With a group of other open-minded, open-hearted people, I went to Cuba in November 1999. My interest was to see the successes and the shortcomings of a fairly stable authoritarian government.

I wanted to see if Cuban efforts toward sustainability could serve as a good prototype for other developing countries. I learned, to my satisfaction, that the systems of education, medical care, selective support of small businesses show promise for other countries.

While looking at vegetable farms, factories, schools, clinics, for 10 days we found so much music and laughter, playful people, hugs and dances; so much dancing that I have to wonder why Mr. Debr did not look elsewhere than the middle of the street in the middle of the night.

Barbara Reinert Topeka, Kan.

Candidates' stand on the environment?

Thank you for the Feb. 1 article "Where the candidates stand on the issues."

For those United States citizens whose primary concerns regarding presidential leadership can be summed up within the seven categories charted in the article, your matrix offered a genuine service. (These categories included: taxes, healthcare, education, campaign finance, social issues, foreign policy and the Supreme Court).

It would also be informative if you did a companion piece on major issues not being talked about. Most notable for its omission was the category of the environment.

Arguably, the issues of unrestrained population growth and global climate change are more fundamental and of greater moment than any of the issues touched upon in your article. The next president of the United States will of necessity be compelled to address the problems related to these two issues.

The decisions arrived at by the White House will have an enormous impact on the lives of all of us.

Donn Kesselheim Lander, Wyo.

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