Support for the Cuban Peopleby Representative Christopher H. Smith
Posted on 2015-01-12
of new jersey
in the house of representatives
Monday, January 12, 2015
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise to voice my strong
support for the Cuban people, who have suffered for so many decades
under the brutal regime of the Castro brothers, and to thank my
colleague, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for her leadership in calling for
statements on the record on the deplorable human rights situation in
Her leadership and moral clarity on this issue stands in contrast to that of the Obama Administration, which once again has demonstrated its fecklessness. The events of this past weekend--where the absence of our President among so many bold Heads of State who marched in Paris for freedom and against extremism was so glaring--underscores how this Administration scorns our friends while coddling this country's enemies. The disregard this Administration showed for the people of France is part of a pattern, a pattern of contempt which includes disrespect to our great ally Canada and Prime Minister Harper over the crucial Keystone pipeline, which includes allowing Administration spokesmen to insult Israel's courageous Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in the most juvenile fashion, and which includes abandonment of our Polish and Czech allies when they sought to base a missile shield in their countries in 2009.
By this move to normalize relations with Cuba without consultation with either Congress or the State Department, and without holding the Castro regime to minimum standards of protection of human rights and commitment to democracy as prerequisites to negotiations, the Administration betrays the aspirations of the Cuban people while embracing the brutal dictators and oligarchs who turned an island paradise into a gulag.
Again, there is a pattern here, a pattern of embracing our enemies, be it Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the mullahs of Iran, or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose rise this Administration helped facilitate. And with each embrace of dictatorships and murderous regimes, the Administration showed its contempt for the downtrodden of these countries--the masses of people in Venezuela who suffered first under the dictator Chavez and now suffer under his understudy in oppression, Nicolas Maduro, who continues to persecute democracy advocates such as Leopoldo Lopez.
This Administration was also silent when the Muslim Brotherhood Morsi regime oppressed the Coptic minority in Egypt, and it lifted no fingers to support the people of Iran during their peaceful Green Revolution protests in the wake of the 2009 election in that country, which were met with batons and pepper spray.
And now the President embraces the Castro brothers, who were tutors to Hugo Chavez in the ways of oppression and whose support of so-called revolutionary movements has brought so much suffering to countries in Latin America and around the world. Let's be clear about this: Cuba has been a state sponsor of terrorism, supporting violence against allies of the United States such as Colombia.
[[Page E53]] I have been a consistent supporter of the Cuban people in resisting tyranny. I am fortunate to have known many great Cuban dissidents, first and foremost Armando Valladares, whose autobiography Against All Hope was a first-hand account of Castro's tyranny, on par with the great work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I have also stood with the Ladies in White, or Las Damas de Blanco, and courageous leaders such as Ivonne Malleza Galano, and with heroes such as Dr. Oscar Biscet, a medical doctor and courageous human rights advocate who testified before our human rights subcommittee in February 2012 on ``Further Human Rights Violations in Castro's Cuba: The Continued Abuse of Political Prisoners.'' Dr. Biscet's story is far too commonplace to ignore. For the QUOTE UNQUOTE ``crime'' of organizing meetings on behalf of human rights, Dr. Biscet was first arrested and detained by Cuban police in 1999 along with two dozen other advocates. He was released after 5 days, but was rearrested again later that year, this time spending three years in prison. After he got out, he was rearrested a third time in December 2002, beaten and released. Presumably, the Castro regime saw his beating as sufficient warning not to speak out in defense of liberty and human dignity. When he continued to do so, however, the Castro regime arrested him a fourth time, in March 2003, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Fortunately, the Catholic Church intervened to secure his release and that of 50 other unjustly-jailed dissidents in March 2011. He was able to testify via phone at our hearing from Cuba from the US mission. To this day he is unable to leave the Island, prevented by the Castro Brothers.
Dr. Biscet is just one example of the many who suffer under the Castro Brothers. I join my voice with those of my colleagues to express my dismay that the Administration would squander so much leverage in seeking this rapprochement with Cuba, and not doing more to gain concessions from the Castro regime to advance the cause of human rights, offering so much in exchange for so little.
Despite today's news confirming that Cuba released 53 dissidents, which we welcome, since the Administration announced that it would seek normalization of relations with Cuba, hundreds have been arrested, and critics of the government who thought this might signal a new openness continue to be suppressed. This includes Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who along with other freedom advocates was detained following her attempt to speak and assembly freely in Havana's Revolutionary Square.
There should be no easing of the pressure until Cuba has met definitive and concrete human rights and democratic milestones. Among this is the release of all political prisoners, the end of harassment and a policy of releasing and then re-jailing, the ending of restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, and on the rights of Assembly. Moreover, the Church must be allowed to conduct its affairs fully and freely without government interference.
And, finally, the Castro regime must be held to account for their harboring of some seventy fugitives from justice, including Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of killing a state trooper from my home state of New Jersey in 1973, Werner Foerster, leaving his then-young wife a widow. The events of the past several weeks remind us how political violence done in the name of ideology destroys lives and creates deep divisions in the fabric of our society. That this Administration would fail to condition normalization upon the return of fugitives such as Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist list, shows where its priorities are.
In closing, I want to assure the Cuban people that I will do everything to make sure that human rights milestones are met before our government makes concessions that are effectively unilateral, squandering leverage. Mind you, this lifeline thrown by the Obama Administration to the Castro regime came at a time when Cuba's oil patrons, Russia and Venezuela, were themselves hurting for cash, and unable to continue subsidizing the regime in Cuba.
To that end, I plan to hold a hearing on the human rights situation in Cuba, focusing in particular on the plight of Afro-Cubans. I also intend to seek a visa to go to Cuba, so I can meet with political prisoners languishing in jail and visit churches, which are spheres independent of government control. I have on multiple occasions sought a visa, only to never have one granted. I say to the Cuban regime--if today marks a new day of openness, then prove it, and let one of your most consistent critics visit Cuba and have freedom of movement to meet with victims of the regime. And, finally, I will introduce legislation to make sure that human rights are not forgotten.