Valiant Cuban dissident and democracy activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez) delivered a message of solidarity from the island to The Heritage Foundation in May. On June 7, Antunez testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee via video conference from Cuba.
On both occasions, he urged real solidarity with those struggling for authentic liberty on the island.
To Heritage: “It is alarming that while activism and Resistance is increasing inside Cuba and while repression also increases, the government of Mr. Barack Obama has exercised a political agenda of approach and relaxation with the regime of Havana, instead of strengthening the support for the Resistance.”
To the Senate: “And we need to bear in mind that no increase in remittances, no increase in the number of trips, no increase in the cultural exchanges can speed up the democratization process in our country. This only serves to strengthen the repression and to grant impunity to the people that commit these acts of repression.… These increases in trips both from North Americans to Cuba and Cubans themselves have not helped at all with the democratic process in our country because they come to our country on matters that have nothing to do with what we’re doing.”
These words enraged the Cuban regime. On June 9, Antunez was arrested, beaten, and doused with pepper spray. The vicious attack provoked fiery responses from Senators Roberto Menendez (D–NJ), Marco Rubio (R–FL), and dozens of other lawmakers. On June 12, Antunez was released, although he still faces serious legal charges that could easily return him to jail. He immediately called for “reflection” by those pushing for exchanges with the repressive regime.
Sadly, the logic of the Obama Administration’s Cuba’s policy, which Antunez exposed, rests on the hypothesis that easing travel and remittance restrictions is opening doors for democratic change. One continually hears the mantra: “Cuban Americans are our best ambassadors to Cuba.” More liberal guidelines for travel by non–Cuban Americans allows thousands the chance to smoke Cuban cigars, dance a Cuban rumba, visit Old Havana, or indulge in sexual tourism.
Regrettably, the Obama Administration’s extended hand has once more encountered the clinched fist of repression. The Castro regime makes it clear that it wants U.S. dollars—but not our democracy, economic freedom, or protections of human rights. It wants a path to sustained political tyranny hooked to an economic respirator that keeps its ailing economy on life support.
U.S.–Cuba policy should return to bedrock fundamentals. It should focus less on appeasing the Castro regime and more on aggressive and innovative support for the enduring victims of the communist system and the future architects of genuine change that shatters the dictatorship’s grip.