Republican Congressional and State of Florida leaders meet with Cuban pro-democracy activists

Photo: ADNCuba

Photo: ADNCuba

CFC Executive Director testifies on events in Cuba, and policy options with Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Governor Ron DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor, Jeannette Nuñez, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and the Leader’s Advisory Team on Cuba

Group of Republican leaders met with members of the Cuban-American community and Cuban pro-democracy activists at the 2506 Brigade Museum, in the city of Hialeah, to discuss the situation in Cuba after the massive protests on July 11. Event was attended by US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor, Jeannette Nuñez, and leaders of the Leader’s Advisory Team on Cuba. Republican congressmen María Elvira Salazar, Mario Díaz-Balart; former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; Carlos Hernández, the mayor of Hialeah, among others were in attendance.

On the Cuban side, the coordinator of Cuba Decide, Rosa María Payá; the coordinator of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat; the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, John Suárez; and activist Martha Beatriz Ferrer whose father Jose Daniel Ferrer has been held incommunicado since July 11, 2021.

Below is the statement made by CFC executive director John Suarez at today’s hearing:

Thank you for the opportunity to take part in this roundtable discussion on the ongoing situation in Cuba. 

The Castro regime is a communist dictatorship that has killed tens of thousands of Cubans, and created a police state terrorizing millions. Fidel and Raul Castro along with thousands of their soldiers went to Ethiopia to assist  war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam consolidate power and commit genocide.

The Castro dictatorship undermines and compromises democracies in Latin America, turning Venezuela into a colony where thousands of soldiers, and spies torture, rape, and kill Venezuelan dissidents. Havana for over six decades has sponsored international terrorism on several continents and created terrorist groups still operating today. It is not an overstatement to say they are experts in violence and terror.

Notwithstanding, on July 11th protests began in San Antonio de los Baños, just South of Havana, and spread across Cuba in over 50 cities and towns demanding freedom.

President Miguel Diaz Canel, handpicked by Raul Castro, called for violence in a nationally televised address: “They [protesters] would have to pass over our dead bodies if they want to confront the revolution, and we are willing to resort to anything.”

Protests in Cuba are common. Nationwide mass protests involving tens of thousands are rare due to the lack of communication, regime surveillance and repression that shutdown planning for large-scale protests. 

The July 11, 2021 nationwide revolt and the August 5, 1994 uprising now known as the Maleconazo , succeeded because they were spontaneous and caught secret police off guard. Protests in 1994 were confined to Havana, while in 2021 they spread across Cuba due to social media.

Now as then the regime response was extremely violent with shots fired on unarmed protesters, brutal beatings, violent house to house searches, and mass arrests. 14ymedio reported 5,000 detained and Cubalex identified over 780 missing or detained in the current protests.

Videos of Cuban shock troops firing on unarmed protesters, and regime agents with baseball bats attacking dissidents leaked out over social media shocking the international community.

There is a growing American bipartisan consensus in solidarity with Cubans’ desire to live in a free and democratic Cuba that “condemns the violence ordered by Miguel Dıaz-Canel against peaceful protesters,” and recognizes the Castro regime as oppressing the Cuban people.

These sentiments are in the bipartisan Senate Resolution unanimously approved on August 3rd. It also reflects the Biden administration’s statements on Cuba.  These public statements are important, but sustained actions are also needed.

The Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) has asked for the opening of a humanitarian channel, independent of the Cuban state, which will allow the arrival of food and medicine directly to Cubans, understanding that on previous occasions Havana has blocked and confiscated the aid collected and sent.

CFC is also calling for the expansion of Magnitsky sanctions on functionaries of Cuba’s political-military junta, Cuban Communist Party members, all the members of organizations and institutions (and their relatives), that participate in repressive acts against Cubans. The U.S. Economic embargo on Cuba, especially the elements that target restrictions on the Castro regime’s military involvement in the economy must be fully enforced, and defended at international venues.

Radio Marti must be fully funded, and programming expanded and improved.

CFC has reviewed workable options that would provide uncensored internet in Cuba and actively encourage democratic governments, civil society, and the private sector to facilitate the free flow of information into Cuba. Looking back at the poor record of American tech companies that entered into joint ventures with Beijing, the Center is concerned that Google signed agreements with Havana that may result in complicity with the dictatorship, not engagement with the Cuban people.

Improved relations with Havana must be conditioned to specific reforms.

1.       A general amnesty for all political prisoners like the one Fidel Castro received in 1955 from the Batista government;

2.       That the Castro government withdraw its troops and military leadership from Venezuela;

3.       That Havana eliminate all restrictions and regime profiteering on the distribution of humanitarian aid from international organizations and from Cuban Americans to needy Cubans in the island.

It is also important not to confuse engagement with the Cuban people with collaborating with the dictatorship that oppresses them.

Before Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro bailed out Havana, European, Canadian and Latin American investors helped fund Castroism and keep it afloat. It was complicity with a dictatorship oppressing Cubans, and in the case of Latin America led to the destabilization and destruction of Venezuela’s democracy.

This has continued to the present. The Spanish government in 2020 sold $1.4 million in weapons to the Castro regime. These included “revolvers and automatic pistols, automatic weapons with a caliber of 12.7mm” that included “rifles, revolvers, pistols, machine guns, silencers, chargers for these weapons, and optical sights.”  These kinds of weapons were used against protesters in the July 11th protests.

This is why CFC is joining with voices from the island to call for an international embargo on weapons and repressive equipment being sent or sold to Cuba.

Now is the time for the international community to side with Cubans, not their oppressors.