For more than 50 years, the Cuban people have yearned for real change, many preferring to risk their lives in makeshift rafts than live under an oppressive and malevolent regime. They have sought freedom from the ruthless, tyrannical dictatorship that violates their God-given rights and fears democratic values.
When President Obama announced in December 2014 that his administration would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, he promised his administration would raise issues related to democracy and human rights directly with the Castros when necessary. He said he wanted to “do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement” because “these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.” He claimed his policies would promote the Cuban people’s “independence from Cuban authorities.”
Unfortunately, progress under the new policy has not materialized. In fact, many Cubans say human rights conditions on the island have worsened since President Obama’s visit to the island in March 2016. Human rights groups documented nearly 500 political arrests during President Obama’s trip alone, and nearly 10,000 political arrests in all of 2016. And as these negotiations were ongoing, the Castro regime continued its anti-American activities, such as smuggling weapons to North Korea, illegally holding a U.S. Hellfire missile, continuing to harbor fugitives from U.S. justice like FBI “Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist” Joanne Chesimard, and openly allowing Russian ships to dock in its ports to conduct espionage against the U.S.
Just this year, Cuban dissident Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet was arrested and detained for his affiliation with an organization that supports democratic policies in Cuba and the Americas. Separately, last month during the May Day parade in Havana, a man with an American flag was tackled and hauled away by Castro’s security forces. And for 104 consecutive Sundays, members of the courageous Ladies in White have been harassed and arrested on their way to Mass.
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Unfortunately, the previous administration’s policy is currently funding this brutality and repression. Cuba’s military monopoly, Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (“GAESA”), which is run by Raul Castro’s son-in-law, is the biggest business enterprise on the island, and also serves as the brutal instrument for suppressing the Cuban people’s liberty and right to self-determination. GAESA controls every aspect of the Cuban economy – including tourism – through its shell companies. It even controls foreign remittances flowing to Cubans from relatives abroad, taking a significant percentage of every transaction.
GAESA has taken full advantage of the new U.S. engagement. It has absorbed all of the benefits of American business, and has left virtually nothing for the average citizen on the island. This flow of funds has only given the Castro regime additional resources to oppress those who dare to freely express themselves.
Nothing will change in Cuba as long as GAESA maintains its tight control over the economy, and freedoms are not protected. President Trump understands this, and his new Cuba policy will ensure that the United States truly empowers the Cuban people instead of the dictatorship. The changes he announced will assist Cubans struggling for liberty by ensuring that U.S. policy toward Cuba actually benefits the Cuban people.
The new policy will also enforce human rights protections for Cubans and help connect them to the free world by guaranteeing free and unimpeded access to information, including from sources currently unavailable to the majority of Cubans such as telecommunications and the internet. The right to independent, outside information from any source is a fundamental right protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. U.S. policy must support that right.
Cuba today is one of the few countries in the Western Hemisphere that criminalizes political participation and fails to hold free, fair and multiparty elections. By forbidding investment with the regime’s military monopoly and empowering the Cuban people directly, the U.S. sends the message that America stands firmly on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressor. The days of the Castro regime are numbered, and soon the Cuban people will be free.
Until that day, the United States will stand in solidarity with the longsuffering Cuban people until they finally enjoy the liberties and respect for basic human rights to which every individual is entitled.