Free flow of informaton? Not in Cuba

Anyone who might be tempted to think Cuba's hold on its people has eased since the demise of the Cold War should consider a rather simple event that occurred last week.

The island nation's foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque, took the opportunity of a rally attended by tens of thousands of Cubans -- perhaps not all willingly -- to criticize the United States. Nothing unusual there, but the reason for the criticism speaks volumes about the differences in a free society and a society held under the thumb of a totalitarian regime.

The foreign minister's vitriol was prompted by the Cuban government's claim that the United States had given 500 short-wave radios to Cubans so they could listen to Radio Marti, a U.S. government-sponsored station run by Cuban exiles in Florida who seek to overthrow Fidel Castro's government.

Recently, issues of access by the news media to facets of the U.S. government have been in the news. There have been complaints that officials in the Bush administration have cut off access to information about operations that involve terrorism and about terrorists who are captured. Other news-media complaints have been leveled at U.S. military brass over access -- or the lack of it -- to hot zones in the war on terrorism.

Whether Americans agree or disagree with the government's reasons for secrecy when it comes to its wartime actions, most Americans would readily recognize that they have access to information on both sides of the issue. And, having this information, they can make up their own minds.

In Cuba, however, the government has attempted for years to control its citizens' access to information.

Make no mistake about it: Radio Marti is not what you would call a balanced, rational presentation of Cuban affairs. It is clearly anti-Castro and pro-democracy. Its broadcasts don't include viewpoints that oppose the general premise that the existing government in Cuba needs to be overthrown.

But in a free society, the arguments of such a radio station would be balanced by equally free expression of opposing points of view.

Castro and his top officials take the view that the people are only entitled to know what the government thinks is good for them to know. Radio Marti is not on the list of "good things to know." This same hard line is evident in Cuban newspapers and radio and TV broadcasts.

In some ways, the Cuban clamp on information is similar to German attempts in the 1930s to cut off Jews confined to ghettos where reading a newspaper or listening to a radio were offenses punishable by death.

The fear of a free flow of information can be as destructive as terrorism itself.