Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, will be accompanying President Obama to Cuba. Years ago, Flake made a big stink about an American tourist who went cycling in Cuba and was fined after arriving in the United States.
I would have hoped that the senator would also have brought to the attention of his colleagues the plight of Cuban women who are beaten up and dragged down the street on a weekly basis. They are called the Ladies in White and have been recognized for their courage by the European Parliament. Their crime is to go to mass holding flowers calling for freedom, justice and national reconciliation. Some had their arms broken. Their pictures are all over the Internet.
Laura Pollan, the founder of the organization, had her arm broken. She died under mysterious circumstances in a Cuban hospital where she had gone with a minor complaint. No autopsy report has been made available.
Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement who turned over more than 30,000 petitions asking for a plebiscite to Cuba’s National Assembly, is regarded as Cuba’s Nelson Mandela. He was killed by the regime. His family continues to ask for an international inquiry on his death, and they have yet to be given an autopsy report.
President Obama says that many Cuba-related issues took place before he was born and that they should not matter. But what about killings and abuse perpetrated by Raúl Castro’s police while Obama has been in the White House talking to Havana?
The president advises Cubans to be patient, that matters will not be resolved overnight. That is the message he has sent across the board, including to the Ladies in White. Shouldn’t the American people ask Obama to explain why he is telling women that are getting beaten that they just have to be patient?
There is no question in my mind that those who agree with the president on his rapprochement with Cuba would, once they have seen the photographs of the women being abused, expect him to obtain a definite commitment from Castro to end the beatings before he goes to Havana. Such a demand would be consequential with the president’s repeated statement of concern about the Cubans on the island.
Obama told CNN this week that, “This is not a matter of providing concessions.” But, isn’t it a concession to the abusers in Cuba to suggest to the victims that they need to be patient?
Isn’t it a concession to the Castro family that the president has met not only with Raúl Castro in Panama and in New York, but also with Lt. Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, Raúl’s son who runs his father’s repressive machinery in Cuba?
Isn’t it a concession to repeat the regime’s disinformation indicating that Raul Castro will retire in a couple of years while failing to point out that Lt. Col. Alejandro Castro and other members of the family are waiting in the wings?
Wasn’t it a concession for the president to return to Havana Gerardo Hernández, a Cuban spy who was sentenced to life imprisonment for helping murder American citizens in international airspace, among them Mario de la Peña, Jr., who was born in New Jersey, grew up in Miami, and was a dedicated human rights activist?
When the president took Cuba off the list of countries that support international terrorism, wasn’t it a concession to ignore the FBI’s offer of a $1 million reward for information leading to the capture of Joanne Chesimard, an American terrorist living in Cuba who killed a New Jersey state trooper and escaped from prison years ago?
Obama is returning our country’s policy to the discredited days of embracing Latin American strongmen, when U.S. business interests defined Washington policy. Today’s Cuba has a certain business appeal: an average salary of $20 a month, no independent labor unions, no right to strike. Isn’t the president’s silence on these matters and additional concession to the Cuba military gerontocracy?
And what about the American taxpayer? Hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from Medicaid and Medicare are deposited in Cuba’s National Bank. Those not interested in human rights might want to remind the president that it is his duty to reclaim those stolen funds.
Frank Calzon is the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C.