Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    In solidarity with Cuba’s voices of opposition to Castro’s tyranny

    Posted on Saturday, 03.30.13


    In solidarity with Cuba's voices of opposition to Castro's tyranny


    As we celebrate Passover and Easter, we cherish the freedom to practice

    our beliefs and express our views, but are also reminded of those 90

    miles away who suffer under an evil communist dictatorship. As the

    beacon of democracy, we stand with pro-freedom activists in Cuba who are

    struggling to achieve those same essential liberties.

    On Monday, South Florida will have the opportunity to hear, once again,

    the tragic story of an oppressed people under the thumb of a despotic

    regime. Yoani Sánchez uses social media to shine a light on the dark

    rule of the Castro brothers. Through her blog and writings, Yoani

    reveals the plight of the Cuban people to the international community,

    raises awareness on the extent of the regime's brutality, and gives

    voice to those silenced by oppression.

    During her recent visit to Washington, we, along with our congressional

    colleagues, discussed with Yoani the ongoing dire situation in Cuba.

    This event illustrated the bipartisan and bicameral support for the

    cause of democracy in Cuba. We discussed the gross human-rights

    violations on the island as Yoani conveyed the atrocities committed

    against the Cuban people and the denial of their rights of free speech,

    press, and assembly. We expressed to Yoani that, even if we do not agree

    on every point, we stand in solidarity with the opposition voices in

    Cuba and reaffirmed that they are not alone in their struggle.

    This month, we remember the 2003 Black Spring crackdown in Cuba where 75

    dissidents were unjustly imprisoned. Unfortunately, little has changed

    since that time. The Ladies in White continue to be harassed, kicked and

    beaten by Castro's state security agents just for marching in peace to

    church. The Castro regime has the blood of pro-democracy advocates on

    its hands, and we remain deeply concerned for the health and lives of

    those brave activists who continue to speak out.

    During the years of the Obama administration alone, pro-democracy

    leaders Orlando Zapata Tamayo (d. Feb. 23, 2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto

    García (d. May 8, 2011), Laura Pollán (d. Oct. 14, 2011), Wilman Villar

    Mendoza (d. Jan. 19, 2012), Harold Cepero (d. July 22, 2012) and Oswaldo

    Payá Sardiñas (d. July 22, 2012) have lost their lives at the hands of

    the Castro dictatorship. These deaths underscore the grave risks assumed

    by pro-democracy activists such as Antonio Rodiles, Sara Marta Fonseca,

    Yoani Sánchez, Jorge Luis García Pérez ("Antunez"), José Daniel Ferrer

    García, Marta Beatriz Roque, Berta Soler, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and

    many others when they simply express their views.

    We also cannot forget the appalling case of Alan Gross, a U.S.

    humanitarian aid worker who was arrested in December 2009 and remains in

    prison for the "crime" of helping Cuba's small Jewish community access

    the Internet. He is reportedly in poor health after having lost 100

    pounds in prison while his daughter and mother are both battling cancer

    in the U.S.

    According to the Human Rights Watch 2013 World Report, "Cuba remains the

    only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of

    political dissent. In 2012, the regime?.?.?.?continued to enforce

    political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts

    of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile." Numerous NGOs

    have documented the sharp rise in detentions, arrests and other acts of

    repudiation in Cuba, but the numbers could actually be higher due to

    many who are imprisoned on trumped-up charges that are difficult to

    document. For example, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and

    National Reconciliation reported that there were 6,602 documented

    political arrests in 2012, which was markedly up from 4,123 in 2011 and

    2,074 in 2010.

    Unfortunately, many in the international community fail to acknowledge

    the Castro regime's egregious human rights record and brutal suppression

    of fundamental liberties. However, with the help of Yoani and other

    pro-democracy advocates, the Castro brothers have failed to silence the

    Cuban people who are increasingly demanding real change.

    Cuba's growing opposition movement is more united than ever. Due to its

    heroic efforts, democracy will prevail on the island. May it be soon.

    Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart are Republican members of

    Congress representing South Florida.