Forget the missile crisis. Forget the 1960s. Forget your idealism about what has ultimately been a failed revolution in Cuba. Forget your left-of-center ideas, based mostly on Cuban government propaganda, about allegedly superior medical and educational systems in that island nation.
Yesterday, the Castro regime (because we're not going to pretend it's anything else) arrested a woman who had done nothing more than report via Twitter and on her blog, on the harsh, undemocratic conditions of life in her country, a place often romanticized by the American left.
Yoani Sanchez, with whom I have corresponded, is not the first Cuban dissident to be arrested without cause. But her knowledge of social media, and her extremely high public profile, made her voice one of the loudest. Example: she has almost 300,000 followers on Twitter.
Whether you support Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, socialism, free market economics or all/none of the above, most of us agree that nobody should be arrested for expressing their views about the country and world in which they live. Point of comparison: Bradley Manning funneled sensitive military information to the press via Wikileaks.
Sanchez didn't even come close to doing anything like that. She expressed her opinion that recent blackouts in Cuba were aimed at silencing communications between anti-Castro activists. She criticized the government for allowing functionaries and tourists to have cell phones while barring Cuban citizens from doing the same. She wrote in observational detail about unsanitary conditions in Havana.
Her arrest was immediately condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
For Cuba, it was a dumb move, the kind of idiotic, antiquated thing that dinosaur governments do that are not aware of the power of social media. #freeyoani and #yoanilibre have gone viral on Twitter in the past few hours. So far I have seen no petition drives or e-mail addresses for Cuban officials in a position to guarantee her safety and freedom. But they will appear by morning.
This is not about Castro or Batista. This is not about Buena Vista Social Club or Beny More. This is about a frightened, bankrupt, cruel government taking down a critic who was armed with little more than a cellular phone, and often, not even that.
It is a deplorable act of cowardice that exposes the Cuban government for what it is, a dumb, lumbering machine incapable of the flexibility that modern times demand of it. Freedom of expression, we are taught, is something we are born with. Those who would take it away, in the United States, China, or Cuba, are tyrants. They must not be tolerated. They must not be allowed to arrest people with impunity.