Ladies in White

Cuban dissidents testify on Capitol Hill against Obama policy
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD MWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
02/05/2015 3:31 PM 02/05/2015 9:21 PM

Cuban dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez, who spent 17 years in jail as a
political prisoner, said Thursday during a House subcommittee hearing
that U.S. efforts for a rapprochement with Cuba are a “betrayal.”

“These agreements are considered by an important part of the Cuban
resistance as a betrayal,” said the dissident, who is known as Antúnez.
“They are unacceptable.”

He was one of three Cuban activists who testified before the House
Subcommittee on Global Human Rights. Berta Soler, the leader of the
Ladies in White, and Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo, active in the Ladies
in White and now a political refugee in the United States, also disagree
with U.S. efforts to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba.

New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican, said he called the hearing to
ask whether in overturning 50 years of U.S. policy toward Cuba, the
Obama administration “used the considerable leverage it wields to seek
to better the condition of the Cuba people, or, as I fear, it’s an
opportunity squandered in the haste to achieve a breakthrough and even
create a legacy for the president.”

But Geoff Thale, Cuba program director at the Washington Office on Latin
America, testified that far from a squandered opportunity, the new Cuba
policy of engagement will lead to expanded family visits, assist a small
but growing private sector, increase religious and cultural contacts and
help Cubans connect to the outside world.

While subcommittee members agreed on their support for the Cuban people
and the need to hold Cuba accountable for its human rights record, they
disagreed on the best way to do it.

“The president’s policy of opening up relations with Cuba I actually
think is a very good thing, especially for people who are concerned
about human rights,” said California Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat.

“I think many times that is the way societies become more open and
accountable and democratic, and trade and culture exchange becomes
mutually beneficial,” she said. “You just can’t change people and
governments who you refuse to engage with.”

Not only did the United States’ former Cuba policy hurt U.S. relations
with other Latin American countries, she said, but “many Latin American
nations view the embargo itself as a human rights violation against the
Cuban people.”

Even though Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Roberta Jacobson testified repeatedly Wednesday at a hearing before the
full House Foreign Affairs Committee that human rights is very much a
priority in the United States’ evolving relationship with Cuba, South
Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said President Barack Obama
has chosen to ignore repression in Cuba.

“This is Cuba in front of us today,” he said, indicating the dissidents.

Antúnez, who said he was first arrested for calling for reforms similar
to those sweeping Eastern Europe in 1990 and then tortured and punished
while in jail because he continued his activism, said he was testifying
at the subcommittee hearing “in the name of my brothers and sisters in
the resistance and most especially those in prison for their political
ideas — of which there are dozens.”

They have remained in prison, he said, despite the “unconvincing process
of release agreed upon by Barack Obama and dictator Raúl Castro.”

As a separate gesture that was not part of the deal to begin the process
of restoring diplomatic ties, Castro agreed to release 53 Cuban
political prisoners on a list provided by U.S. negotiators over the summer.

Although Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat, said he still
has “deep concerns” about the way Cuba treats its people, he said the
previous policy didn’t work either.

“I hope the Cuban government will come to the negotiating table with the
United States with a real desire to work with the United States for a
more free, open and more tolerant society for the Cuban people,” he said.

But South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the new
policy will only serve to “embolden the regime by implying that it can
continue its repressive machinery with impunity.”

Indicating the democracy activists in attendance, Ros-Lehtinen said,
“Rarely do they invite dissidents who disagree with this administration.
These are the people who have to suffer the consequences of the
administration’s decisions.”

Soler said that just before she left Cuba to come to the United States,
dozens of activists were arrested in Havana and other provinces for
attempting to place flowers at statues of José Martí on Jan. 28, the
anniversary of the birth of Cuba’s national hero.

“Cuba continues to be a one-party government where fundamental freedoms
that are an absolute right in American society constitute crimes against
so-called state security,” said Soler, who heads a group of
pro-democracy women.

She called for unconditional release of all Cuba political prisoners,
recognition of civil society in Cuba, the elimination of laws that
penalize freedom of expression and assembly and “the right of the Cuban
people to choose their future through free, pluralistic elections.”

Fonseca, who was arrested repeatedly while living in Cuba and was one of
four women who in 2011 unfurled a banner calling for release of
political prisoners at the Capitolio building in Havana, said she, too,
disagreed with Obama’s new Cuba policy.

“Why negotiate with a dictatorship without taking into account the
people and their resistance?” she asked. “What has Raúl Castro given in
exchange?”

Source: Cuban dissidents testify on Capitol Hill against Obama policy |
The Miami Herald The Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article9352205.html

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