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.