In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: On Cuba, League of Women Voters ignores repression

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

Here’s another entry from the absurd U.S.-Cuba files:

The honorable League of Women Voters of Florida, a 93-year-old organization with a distinguished history of supporting just causes, is “Sisters Across the Straits” — not with the suffering Ladies in White of Cuba or any other independent group of women — but with the Federación de Mújeres Cubanas.

The federation is the Cuban government’s official women’s organization, one of the many entities through which the Castro regime controls the population. It was founded in 1960 by Raúl Castro’s late wife, Vilma Espín, who was president until her death in 2007 because, as we should all know by now, for the Castro clan the presidency is an unquestionable birthright.

If there’s any doubt about what the organization represents, the federation’s logo — one of many propaganda images a clueless League member displays on a video of a trip to Cuba — offers a clue: a rifle-toting woman in military fatigues.

And then, there’s their historical record.

In one infamous chapter, the federation women lined up at the airports in Cuba to hurl insults at the would-be exiles leaving the country. And under the guise of a literacy campaign, they imposed Communist dogma on every school curriculum on the island and ousted from Cuba’s classrooms the teachers who refused to teach it.

Their mission hasn’t changed. They’re charged with rallying women around the country to carry out the Castro regime’s repressive agenda.

But the League of Women Voters of Florida boasts of having taken some 250 delegates since 2011 to meet their federation “sisters” in Cienfuegos, Cárdenas and Trinidad — and its director, Annie Betancourt, wrote me this week to plug their next two trips this fall.

That an American organization with the word “voters” in its name is “sisters” with an organization crucial to maintaining a dictatorship and helping quash any chance of a democratic vote in Cuba is outrageous enough in itself.

But when I bring up the subject of the Ladies in White — who are getting beaten up almost every Sunday now in cities across the island since they returned from trips to the United States and Europe to denounce abuses — Betancourt tells me that these abused women aren’t in the Florida organization’s agenda.

“Never had that conversation,” Betancourt, a Cuban American and former state representative from Miami, writes me. “We do engage in other type of exchanges related to daily hardships, domestic violence, child rearing practices, elderly services, self-employment (all non-political).”

So in the hierarchy of morality of the League of Women Voters, violence is not a problem when government goons beat, detain and jail women.

It’s only an issue when their husbands do.

“The travel license issued by OFAC [the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] is for ‘people-to-people’ engagement; those are the rules,” Betancourt says. “This has nothing to do with morality.”

But the politically engaged League’s alliance with a women’s group that, seen in the best light, remains silent when the basic rights of Cuban women are violated has everything to do with a faulty moral compass.

Would the League engage with the female-supporting group of any other dictator around the world?

I doubt it.

At a time when Cuba has the strongest opposition movement in the regime’s history — not in exile but on the island — democracy-loving Americans should know better than to brown-nose and prop up official Cuban government organizations.

Sure, the highly structured trips to Cuba are legal under the failed Clinton policy of the 1990s resurrected by the Obama administration. But the licensed-travel policy encourages not independent travel and real people-to-people contact, but travel through government channels and entities.

The end result rewards the Cuban government and its supporters with cash ($2,700 per person for a six-day trip; last time I paid that to a tour operator I visited four European countries in two weeks) and foreign contacts at the expense of the Cuban people fighting through peaceful means to rid themselves of an almost 55-year-old dictatorship.

To the League of Women Voters of Florida, their quaint escapades to touristy Cuban cities may be a “project.”

But the brave Cuban women who risk their lives on their Sunday march to church deserve better than the League’s implicit endorsement of a tyrannical regime’s female army.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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