Today, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will address the Castro regime’s stranglehold on Cuban civil society and how best to tackle the nation’s continued political repression.
Congress deserves praise for highlighting this matter and drawing some much-needed attention to the need to reinvigorate U.S. commitment to the Cuban people and craft a new, more effective position in pursuit of a free, democratic, and prosperous Cuba.
One topic likely to be on the agenda is the case of USAID worker Alan Gross, who has been held in a Cuban prison for over two years. In a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela, during her recent trip to the U.S. asserted that “Alan Gross has been granted everything that he’s asked for…and he has been treated with respect and dignity the way we always treat prisoners in Cuba.”
“Respect and dignity”? Those two words have rarely been uttered in the same sentence with the phrase “Cuban human rights.” Take the Ladies in White, a group composed of the wives and other female relatives of imprisoned Cuban activists. The group’s activities center on peaceful protests, yet its members are often detained, arrested, and beaten by Cuban authorities while their loved ones are held in Cuban jails in worse than deplorable conditions.
And what about the story of Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, set to appear before the committee? A political prisoner arrested during the Cuban Black Spring in 2003, he served more than seven years in prison in Cuba. Describing his experience in recent testimony before the House, he spoke not only of the torture he witnessed but also of “the sadism, negligence, and cruelty of the prison guards and officials…that leads the prisoners to attack themselves so that they can demand the basic rights that all prisoners should be afforded under the Cuban penitentiary system.”
Despite these abuses, however, the Administration’s policy toward Cuba has remained one of openness, loosening travel restrictions, and pushing to enhance diplomatic relations. Yet some three years after President Obama called for a “new beginning” with Cuba, the policy of openness has produced disappointing results. It’s time that the Administration and Congress rethink its policy with Cuba and work to achieve a free, democratic, and prosperous Cuba.