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Robert M.
Democrat NJ

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  • Keystone XL Pipeline Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Robert Menendez

    Posted on 2015-01-13

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    Read More about Keystone XL Pipeline Act--Motion to Proceed

    MENENDEZ. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Cuba Policy Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I rise to say that nothing has changed in Cuba since Cuban arms were captured on this North Korean ship going through the Panama Canal a year and a half ago, just after the Obama administration started its secret negotiations with the Cuban Government--not the regime, not its mindset, nor its oppression of its people.

    This is the essence of the regime. They put this missile system and MiGs in a container ship going through the Panama Canal, hid them under tons of sugar in violation of U.S. Security Council resolutions. It was the most significant violation of security council resolutions as its relates to North Korea in quite some time, and certainly the biggest violator in all of the Western Hemisphere.

    We could not trust the Castro regime then, and we cannot trust it now. What we can trust are the voices of those who promote human rights and democracy who have been arrested and rearrested time and time again, year after year, for demanding nothing more than their ability to speak their minds freely, openly, and without fear.

    Voices such as Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White--the Ladies in White are a group of women who each Sunday travel to mass dressed in white, normally holding a gladiola--peacefully. These are women whose husbands or sons languish in Castro's jail simply because of their political views. And as they march to church, they are savagely beaten by state security.

    Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, said: Sadly, President Obama made the wrong decision. The freedom and democracy of the Cuban people will not be achieved through these benefits that he's giving--not to the Cuban people--but to the Cuban government.

    The Cuban government will only take advantage to strengthen its repressive machinery, to repress civil society, its people and remain in power.

    Or the voice of Yoani Sanchez, a prominent Cuban blogger and independent journalist, who said, ``Alan Gross was not arrested for what he did but for what could be gained for his arrest. He was simply bait and they were aware of it from the beginning. Castroism has won, though the positive result is that Alan Gross has left alive the prison that threatened to become his tomb.'' Or the voice of Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, the island's most prominent and respected human rights advocate, who was killed in what the regime calls an automobile accident, what many of us call an assassination. His whole effort was under the existing Cuban Constitution to petition his government under that constitution for changes in the government, of which he amassed thousands of signatures of average Cubans across the island, and the regime saw that as such a threat that he was run off the road and, sadly, killed.

    His daughter Rosa Maria Paya said: The Cuban people are being ignored in this secret conversation, in this secret agreement that we learned today. The reality of my country is there is just one party with all the control and with the state security controlling the whole society.

    If this doesn't change, there's no real change in Cuba. Not even with access to Internet. Not even when Cuban people can travel more than two years ago. Not even that is a sign of the end of the totalitarianism in my country.

    Or another voice, the voice of Sakharov prize winner Guillermo Farinas, who spoke for many Cuban dissidents when he said this: Alan Gross was used as a tool by the Castro regime to coerce the United States. Obama was not considerate of Cuban citizens and of the civil society that is facing this tyrannical regime.

    In Miami, Obama promised he would consult Cuba measures with civil society and the non-violent opposition. Obviously, this didn't happen. That is a fact, a reality. He didn't consider Cuba's democrats. The betrayal of Cuba's democrats has been consummated.

    As you can see, Farinas is in the midst of being arrested by state security simply for a peaceful protest.

    Or the powerful voice of the husband of Berta Soler, Angel Moya, a former political prisoner of the Black Spring in 2003 when Fidel Castro imprisoned 75, including 29 journalists along with librarians and democracy activists. He said this: The Obama Administration has ceded before Castro's dictatorship. Nothing has changed. The jails remain filled, the government represents only one family, repression continues, civil society is not recognized and we have no right to assemble or protest.

    The measures that the government of the United States has implemented today, to ease the embargo and establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way benefit the Cuban people. The steps taken will strengthen the Castro regime's repression against human rights activists and increase its resources, so the security forces can keep harassing and repressing civil society.

    These are the voices of those who languished inside the belly of the beast. These are the voices not of this romantic image that some have of Castro's Cuba but of the reality, the harsh reality--people who, simply to be able to promote the basic freedoms that we enjoy here in the United States and most people in the Western world, are constantly thrown into jail for long periods of time, beaten and oppressed.

    Those are the voices of freedom inside of Cuba. These are the men and women who have been arrested and suffered under the oppressive hand of the Cuban regime for the belief in the right of all Cubans to be free. These are the people who know that nothing--nothing--has changed. The regime, after reaping the benefits of what in my view is a bad deal, is still arresting peaceful protesters, including more than 50 at the end of December.

    As a matter of fact, on New Year's Eve when most of us were celebrating the advent of the new year, there was an effort inside of Cuba. Tania Bruguera and a series of other human rights activists and political democracy activists were going to hold in Revolution Square a 1-minute opportunity for any Cuban who wanted to come forth and talk about what they aspired to for their freedom, what they aspired to for the Cuba of tomorrow to be. It was going to be a peaceful demonstration and an exposition of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of Cuba's political dissidents and human rights activists inside their country. In that peaceful effort, dozens of human rights activists and political dissidents, including the organizers, were arrested before they ever got to the event. The event was totally suppressed.

    Weeks after the administration's deal with the Castro regime--even then--the simple act of speaking for 1 minute about what your views would be of the future were repressed. So let me say that while I welcome the news that Cuba has released 53 political prisoners and that the administration has finally shared the list of names it negotiated with the Castro regime, this entire process has been shrouded in secrecy.

    Reuters reports that the administration officials said the list was created in June or July. But some of the 53 were released well before June, before the list was supposedly put together. As a matter of fact, 14, to be exact, were released 6 to 8 months before the December 17 announcement. One was released over a year ago.

    So, clearly, the list that supposedly was put together by the administration with the regime could not have envisioned or could not take credit for [[Page S172]] those who were released well before the list was put together. Many had simply finished their unjust prison terms. Clearly, keeping the list secret provided the regime the flexibility to define ``mission accomplished.'' The fact is, the release of 53 political prisoners does not mean there are no longer political prisoners inside of Cuba. Human rights groups had stated, prior to the President's speech in December, that there were over 100 long-term political prisoners in the country, and there were 8,900--to be exact, 8,889--political detentions in Cuba last year--an appalling number--8,889.

    In short, while 53 political prisoners have been let out of jail, the same corrupt jailer is still ruling the country. The Castros have a long history. I have followed this not only for all of my career of 23 years in the Congress, but even before that. They have a long history of rearresting these political and human rights activists whom they previously released.

    Mr. President, how much time do I have remaining? The PRESIDING OFFICER. There is 1 minute remaining under Democratic control.

    Mr. MENENDEZ. I ask unanimous consent to be able to continue for about 10 minutes.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, the fact is that as someone who has spoken out time and again on the brutal repression of the Cuban people under the Castro regime, someone whose family has suffered the consequences, I believe the agreement this administration has reached with the Castro regime is one-sided and misguided. It fails to understand the nature of the regime that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for over 55 years. Now, no one wishes that the reality in Cuba were more different than the Cuban people and Cuban Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom.

    In December, the same month that the President announced changes to U.S. policies, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that works within Cuba, documented 489 political arrests, bringing the total number of political arrests during the first 11 months of 2014 to nearly 8,900.

    This is the regime that imprisoned an American citizen for 5 years for distributing communications equipment on the island. Releasing political prisoners today in Cuba is meaningless if tomorrow these individuals can be arrested again and denied the right to peacefully pursue change in their own country. It is a fallacy that Cuba will change just because an American President believes that if he extends his hand in peace, the Castro brothers will suddenly unclench their fists.

    As you see from the quotes I have read, a majority of democracy activists on the island, many whom I have met with in the past, have been explicit that they want the United States to become open to Cuba only when there is a reciprocal movement by the Castro brothers. They understand that the Castros will not accede to change in any other way. In my view and in theirs, the United States has thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but it will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world.

    This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve. It is a reward that at the end of the day perpetuates the Castro regime's decades of repression. The regulatory changes the regime has won, which are clearly intended to circumvent the intent and spirit of U.S. law and the U.S. Congress, present a false narrative about Cuba that suggests that the United States and not the regime is responsible for its economic failure. So let's be clear. Cuba's economic struggles are 100 percent attributable to a half century of failed political and economic experiments that have suffocated Cuban entrepreneurs. In Cuba private business is controlled by the Cuban government--most significantly the military--with the benefits flowing directly to the regime's political and military leaders.

    Cuba has the same political and economic relations with most of the world. But companies choose not to engage because of political, economic, and even criminal risks associated with investment on the island, as exhibited by the arbitrary arrests of several foreign investors from Canada, England, and Panama in just recent years.

    To also suggest that Cuba should be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism is alarming while Cuba harbors American fugitives such as Joanne Chesimard, a cop killer who is on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. She is not the only one who is a cop killer inside of Cuba from the United States. There is also Cuba's colluding with North Korea, as I showed before, to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and arms through the Panama Canal in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution, and for giving refuge to members of FARC from Colombia and members of ETA from Spain, groups that the State Departments has recognized as foreign terrorist organizations.

    Now, finally with respect to the President's decision to attend the Summit of the Americans, I am extraordinarily disappointed that we intend to violate our own principles laid down in the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, on the Summit being a forum for the hemisphere's democratically elected leaders. This action disavows the charter, and it sends the global message about the low priority that we place on democracy and respect for human and civil rights.

    So in this new Congress I urge my distinguished colleague, the now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Corker, to hold hearings on this dramatic and mistaken change in policy. I will keep coming to this floor to address at length all of the issues I have raised. I will come to this floor again and again to expose one of the most oppressive, repressive, and undemocratic regimes in the world.

    To those of my colleagues who herald this agreement and for those in the press who still live with the mistaken romanticism of the Castros' revolution and who speak out about human rights abuses and democratic movements all over the world, it is so hypocritical to be so silent--a deafening silence when it comes to the democratic and human rights movement inside of Cuba.

    I have listened to many eloquent speeches of my colleagues about human rights violations and democracy movements in many parts of the world. But on Cuba their silence is deafening.

    This does not end here. It does not end today with one speech. It surely will not end until the people of Cuba are truly free.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.

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