Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Former Cuban Prisoner Rights Violations Remain

    Former Cuban Prisoner: Human-Rights Violations Remain
    Armando Valladares 9:25 AM ET

    Armando Valladares is the author of Against All Hope, about the 22 years
    he spent as a prisoner in Castro’s gulags.
    Despite renewed ties with the U.S.

    Many of the Damas de Blanco—Cuba’s infamous wives, mothers and daughters
    of jailed political dissidents—were recently detained on their way to
    Sunday Mass with their families. But you likely didn’t read about these
    arrests in the American news media. You were much more likely to have
    read about the first Carnival cruise ship to sail from the U.S. to Cuba.
    Coverage of the “historic voyage” featured photos of Carnival executives
    clinking champagne and waiving miniature American and Cuban flags and
    images of happy Cubans lining the shores of Havana alongside gleaming
    antique cars. Never mind that Cuba initially refused passage to
    Cuban-born Americans.

    Despite direct flights to Havana and even a historic presidential visit
    in April, human-rights violations in Cuba remain serious. Just weeks
    before Carnival’s maiden voyage to Cuba, hundreds of government workers
    in eastern Cuba surrounded and demolished the Strong Winds Ministry
    Church of Las Trunas and threatened to throw its pastor, Reverend Mario
    Jorge Travieso, in jail for seven years if he said a word about it. The
    church’s crime? Failure to register with the government. Strong Winds
    was the fourth church to be destroyed by the government in 2016.

    The Cuban government is especially good at violating the human rights of
    its people, and then labeling the victims as the criminals. I spent 22
    years in Catro’s gulags for the simple crime of refusing to place a sign
    on my desk that read: “I’m with Fidel.” I lost 22 years of my life, and
    countless friends and family, for that sin against the regime. I spent
    eight of those years naked, when I refused to wear the prison uniform of
    a criminal. Of his treatment at the hands of the Cuban authorities,
    after they had destroyed his church and the house of worship for many
    more, Rev. Travieso said he was made to feel “like a common delinquent.”

    Despite backslaps between Raul Castro and President Barack Obama and
    vacationers packing their bags for Cuban beaches, my jailers are still
    in their back-alley business of rounding up everyday citizens, violating
    their most basic human rights, and then slapping them with the label
    “criminal.” Last year, the number of documented political arrests was
    almost as high in just one month as it was in the entire year of 2010.
    Hostility to religion is especially enflamed, with one human rights
    group counting 2,000 churches marked as “illegal” by the government last
    year, 100 of them slated for the same fate as that of Rev. Travieso’s.
    That group found a nearly 1,000% increase in overall religious liberty
    violations from 2014 to 2015.

    Just ask Alan Gross, the American who was captured working covertly in
    Cuba to help the small Jewish community gain access to better Internet
    services. He returned to the U.S. after five years, missing teeth,
    weighing 100 pounds less, hardly able to walk due to the pain from
    chronic abuse, and barely able to see from one eye. That is Cuban price
    tag for working peacefully for religious liberty.

    The Castro regime has long loathed religion, because God is their
    biggest competition when it comes to rights. How can rights come from
    Fidel, and now Raul, when there is someone much bigger and greater than
    they? And how can they seize those rights on a totalitarian whim, when
    they were never the bestower of rights in the first place? Any dictator
    knows it’s hard work to compete with God. So the solution is to crush
    God from civil society.

    As Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Justice Samuel Alito recently
    wrote in a joint opinion uniting the two poles of the Court in a major
    religious liberty ruling: “religious institutions act as critical
    buffers between the individual and the power of the state.”

    And so it follows that an all-powerful state would be hard at work
    destroying those buffers, one church foundation at a time. And when the
    buffer can’t be destroyed, focus on the individual, one Dama at a time.

    And so if Carnival would like to take its passengers to see “the real
    Cuba,” as it advertises, they might stopover in Las Trunas and visit the
    rubble of what was once Rev. Travieso’s church. That should provide some
    authentic flavor to the trip.

    Source: Former Cuban Prisoner: Human-Rights Violations Remain | TIME –