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Suffering endures

Hal Crowther got it right in "Cuba Endures" (Feb. 15), from the initial shock of Havana's streets to the inevitable embarrassment of riches one feels on returning to the United States. Several years ago I was in Havana reporting a story for a national magazine. My every step was thwarted by "secret" police who tailed the 1970s Lada my unsuspecting driver had fitted with a dashboard fan (and still we were soaked in sweat). I did manage to interview dissident journalists who had spent years in what Cuba terms jails but what we'd call dungeons. One mother who refused to allow her daughters to attend the summer work camps had been imprisoned for years in an underground cell with 15 other women; a hole in the cement floor served as the latrine and crowding required that the women take turns lying down to sleep. I befriended the widow of "Red Beard," Castro's head of secret police during the 1960s, and wondered what happened to Che's utopian image.

On leaving the country, I was placed in an interrogation room at the airport. For an hour, I was questioned about who I spoke with ("No one") and the purpose of my visit ("To record Cuban music"). I was wearing my notes in my lingerie and miraculously was undetected in the officer's pat down.

Like Hal, I felt rage and shame that our punitive policies have left the people of Cuba so bereft. However, on landing in Miami, I felt something rather surprising: gratitude, for living in this country, for being able to speak freely on the telephone, for a free press, and for the right to ask questions without the risk of being jailed.

That was 2001. Had I been more prescient, my sense of gratitude would have been mitigated by events of later years.

=Judith Reitman


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