In solidarity with Cuba's voices of opposition to Castro's tyranny
BY MARIO DIAZ-BALART AND ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN
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.
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