Two Cuban exile organizations in Miami have published an open letter to President Barack Obama, complaining about the “negative consequences” that his decision to warm U.S. relations with Cuba one year ago has had on human rights on the island.
The new Obama policy toward Cuba “has amounted to little more than a string of unilateral concessions to a totalitarian dictatorship that has tirelessly repressed the Cuban people for the past 56 years,” said the letter by the Cuban Resistance Assembly and the Democratic Directorate.
The three-page letter was made public during a news conference on Thursday at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS). Also participating were Bertha Antúnez, sister of Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez,” and Míriam and Mario de la Peña, parents of Mario Manuel de la Peña, one of four Brothers to the Rescue members killed by Cuban MiGs in 1996.
“This has been a year of repression and jailings in Cuba,” Bertha Antúnez said. “The repression has increased in Cuba because the government believes that it can repress anytime and nothing happens. On the contrary, they [the U.S. government] have recognized us as a legitimate government.”
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported 1,447 politically-motivated arrests in November, another 1,093 in October and 882 in September, when authorities rounded up hundreds of opposition activists to keep them away from Pope Francis during his visit to the island. The November total was the highest monthly figure since May 2014, when 1,120 arrests were reported.
Also at the news conference were Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, secretary of the Democratic Directorate; Horacio Garcia from the Resistance Assembly; and ICCAS Senior Research Associate Jose Azel, who criticized the economic aspects of the new Obama policies on Cuba.
“We have to remember that when people talk about investments, we have to call things by their real names,” Azel said. “We are not talking about investing IN Cuba. We are talking about investing WITH Cuba.”
Since Cuba’s totalitarian government controls the overwhelming majority of the economy, he added, “the U.S. companies that invest [in Cuba] must become minority partners of the dictatorship and the Cuban militias.”
Nearly 100 former Cuban political prisoners — whose sentences add up to about 1,945 years — sent another letter to Obama last week urging him to reconsider his Cuba policies.
The new approach to Cuba “has been a lamentable mistake,” the letter said, because “it will keep the dictatorship in power, worsen the human rights situation on the island, marginalize the democratic opposition and put the national security of the United States at risk.”
At the same time, Ric Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, an independent organization that advocates lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, praised what he described as a year of progress in bilateral relations.
“Only the Cuban people can build a better future for themselves, and for the first time in decades the United States is playing a constructive role and having a big impact in that process,” Herrera said in a statement. Negotiators on both sides “have achieved notable results in cooperation between law enforcement and environmental agencies, civil aviation, mail service and property claims.”
“We hope that human rights, labor rights and migration policies will be added to the list soon,” Herrera added.
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gamez Torres contributed to this report