Cuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White dissident group during a protest on International Human Rights Day, Havana, December 10. Cuban police detained at least six protesters shouting "Freedom" and "Long live human rights" in Havana on Thursday and dissidents reported 100 arrests nationwide on U.N. Human Rights Day, when some Cubans seek to hold unauthorized demonstrations. Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuban Political Prisoners Measure the Impact of Obama’s Cuba Policy
by Elliott Abrams
December 19, 2015
This past week marked the anniversary of President Obama’s new Cuba policy.
That policy is failing to produce any human rights improvements in Cuba. So 126 Cuban former political prisoners—who together have served 1,945 years in Castro’s prisons—wrote a letter to Mr. Obama about his policy.
It was delivered to the White House by Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez, a former political prisoner and poet who spent more than 22 years in Cuba’s prisons.
These former political prisoners call the Obama policy a “regrettable mistake” that “will prolong the life of the dictatorship, is worsening the human rights situation there, marginalizing the democratic opposition and compromising U.S. national security.”
It’s a powerful message that the people who have suffered most from Castro’s vicious dictatorship find no benefit in the new U.S. policy and indeed feel abandoned by it.
The full text follows.
Based on our history and experience as political prisoners under Castro’s totalitarian regime, the new Cuba policy established by your Administration has been a regrettable mistake. This will prolong the life of the dictatorship, is worsening the human rights situation there, marginalizing the democratic opposition and compromising U.S. national security.
The normalization of relations is creating false expectations and granting benefits to the tyrannical regime in Cuba; it is also allowing the Paris Club to forgive billions in debt providing the regime hard currency which it funnels into its most repressive institutions: the military and intelligence services giving new life to what we’re dying institutions.
Human rights violations in Cuba have a terrible history, but the current policy has taken a bad situation and made it worse. Violent beatings against activists peacefully assembling have escalated and worsened over 2015.
Politically motivated arbitrary detentions in Cuba as of the end of November 2015 are a documented total of 7,686 and are on track to break the previous record set in 2014 with 8,899 arrests. Over the course of this year the number of detentions have escalated: 178 in January; 492 in February; 610 in March; 338 in April; 641 in May; 563 in June; 674 in July; 768 in August; 882 in September; 1,093 in October; and 1,447 in November. Political prisoners continue to be a reality in Cuba.
Despite the claim that there would be continued support for improved human rights and democratic reforms in Cuba the past year has demonstrated otherwise. Inviting the Castro regime to the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama in April of 2015, violated the democratic ideals of the summit.
The dictatorship’s anti-democratic and violent nature was made evident during the Summit with Cuban nationals and U.S. citizens beaten up by state security and requiring hospitalization and summit events interrupted by acts of repudiation organized by the Castro regime. The U.S. government responses were low level pro-forma protests while President Obama met with Raul Castro as an equal.
The Administration’s new Cuba policy over the past year has compromised U.S. national security. First, commuting Gerardo Hernandez’s two life sentences; he was convicted for among other things conspiracy to murder three U.S. citizens and one resident of the U.S., and returning him to Cuba where he received a hero’s welcome in what was an immense propaganda victory for the Castro regime, sending a dangerous signal to those who would harm Americans.
Secondly, removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list on May 29, 2015 despite: 1) the Castro regime being caught smuggling heavy weapons and ammunition through Colombia on February 28, 2015. 2) Being linked to international drug trafficking along with its client state Venezuela as reported on January 27, 2015. 3) Being in violation of UN international sanctions to North Korea on July 15, 2013 when caught smuggling tons of weapons and ammunition including ballistic missile technology. Ignoring this will get more Americans killed and undermine U.S. interests.
Finally, having the US Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas meet with the Castro regime’s Interior Minister Major General Carlos Fernandez Gondin in what was officially described as a visit of collaboration and engagement sends worrisome signals that should concern those who care about national security.
Gondin has a history of engaging in the mistreatment of opposition activists and has an agenda to undermine U.S. interests, legitimizing him with an official visit sends a terrible message.
We the undersigned are political prisoners who collectively have served 1,945 years in prison for resisting the Castro dictatorship and fighting for democracy in our homeland of Cuba. We are writing this letter out of a deep conviction that this new U.S. Cuba policy will not only harm Cuban aspirations for a free and democratic Cuba while worsening human rights there but also endanger American lives.
The letter is followed by the 126 names, and after each comes a number: the number of years they served in Castro’s gulag.