Behind la mascara ("the mask")

One of the terrible tragedies of communist Cuba is the dead silence of Cubans who must voicelessly live on that island. Unless we have Cuban relatives, we don't know a thing about those people, who might as well be living in the blacked—out Iraq of Saddam Hussein, or on the far side of the moon, for that matter. The only sound out of Cuba is the megalomanical voice of dictator Fidel Castro, or the parroting of his obedient minions. In the Cuban press and public square, every single issue and article, one way or another, is ultimately all about Castro.

In the free world, it's nearly impossible to know and feel and understand what Cubans think. We know they are oppressed, but we don't know them. The reasons are obvious — every fourth Cuban is spying on his neighbor and the remainder are concealing their thoughts. The silence of Cubans actually has a name in Havana —— la mascara or, "the mask."

The most approximate way to understand the thoughts and experiences of Cubans is to learn from those who have fled, like the exiles of Miami. Sometimes, we can find a recent exile who can tell the story creatively, like young novellist Teresa de la Caridad Doval, who wrote the realistic A Girl Like Che Guevara.  But more often, as time goes by, the exiles also become cut off from the daily realities of Communist Cuba, and ultimately know about as much as the rest of us. In short, sometimes we get a flicker of light, but in the end are in the dark. We certainly aren't going to get the reality of Cuba from Reuters correspondents, one of whom was once a Communist Party member and worked as the bureau chief for the People's Daily World in Havana.

That's why an essay written by a real Cuban who lives in Cuba in Friday's Wall Street Journal is so compelling and should be read by everyone. Called "A Cuban Cry for Justice," the author is Oswaldo Paya, who heads Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement. His group sponsored the Varela Project petitioning for free elections inside Cuba. Paya, who lives uneasily in Cuba, gives us a living, breathing picture of what Cubans deeply think. Paya tells us what it is like to be a second—class citizen in Havana with worthless money, as radical chic Frenchmen and German package tourists walk around like arrogant colonial sahibs. We learn why small Cuban children grow up dreaming to be 'foreigners.' Paya tells us what Cuba once was, without Fidel, a beautiful, vibrant place, and the slum of what it now is. It's very moving.

It bears remembering that Paya is writing this material on Cuban soil, and calling Castro a "senile, drooling dictator." That puts him in the Olympic league of human courage. Paya is as truthful as Sakharov, Sharansky and Solzhenitsyn. And as fearless and Havel and Walesa. He is likely to get arrested for writing this essay to connect with us by telling us who Cubans are — other Cubans certainly have. In light of this, it seems almost a moral act to read it.