Cuban democracy activists and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday blasted the White House and its proposed easing of tension with the Castro government, saying during a Capitol Hill press conference that the Obama administration had sided with the oppressors and not the oppressed.
“There can’t be a normalizing of relations until there is justice on that island, and until there’s been justice paid for all the atrocities they have committed against people there and people here,” said Marlene Alejandre-Triana, the daughter of Armando Alejandre, one of four killed during the 1996 Brothers-to-the-Rescue shoot-down by Cuba’s military.
The event, arranged by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — all Cuban-American Republicans from Miami — came in advance of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and during a week that U.S. diplomats begin historic talks in Havana about the initial steps to open the nations’ respective embassies and thaw relations that have been frozen for half a century.
Attending the event were Cuban opposition leader Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, and his wife, Yris Pérez Aguilera, who are among the more outspoken of Cuba's dissidents. Both were scheduled to be guests of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
Never miss a local story.
Asked what he’d say to the president if he could speak to him directly, Antúnez said through a translator, “I would tell President Obama that these agreements, these negotiations … are illegitimate. Engagement with the Castro regime only strengthens the Castro regime.”
Antúnez spent more than 17 years in jail as a political prisoner after being arrested for denouncing the Castro regime. He was released in April 2007. His wife is also a human rights activist in Cuba, and she has worked to help homeless women and children find places to live.
Their presence Tuesday in Washington — at the invitation of Boehner — should show how serious Congress is in opposing the White House’s Cuba policy, Diaz-Balart said.
“You have the president, who is turning his back on the future leaders of the Cuban people in order to appease and placate and give concessions to the Castro regime,” Diaz-Balart said in an interview.
“And yet Congress — through the speaker — is showing solidarity not with the oppressors but with those who have suffered from the abusers,” he said. “That’s a very telling difference between Congress showing solidarity with the oppressed and President Obama showing solidarity with the oppressors.”
Triana was a guest of Ros-Lehtinen for the State of the Union.
Another high-profile guest at the speech was Alan Gross, the American aid worker who was freed from a Cuban prison last year as the Obama administration and Castro government announced their historic moves. He was the guest of the White House, sitting in the box with First Lady Michelle Obama.
Ros-Lehtinen said Gross was a “fitting and proper” guest – but that she wanted to show more. “We wanted to show in addition to the Castro regime imprisoning Alan Gross — a totally innocent man — that regime also has been putting in prison activists like Antunez and his wife,” she said.