Lack of basic human rights one reason to keep embargo
Last weekend, during a presentation of the book "Cubans: An Epic
Journey," which Sam Verdeja and I co-edited, a man in the audience asked
the most expected question: "Why doesn't the United States lift the
embargo on Cuba?"
My response had little to do with the book. Like a good nephew of a
Jesuit priest, I responded to the question with a question of my own:
"Do you know who Antonio Rodiles is?" His answer was honest and simple:
"No, I don't know."
That is part of the problem.
For decades Cuba's repressive forces have been perfecting ways of
suppressing dissent within the island and at the same time trying to
attract the least international notice for their abuses. Sad to say,
their methods appear to be working.
Back in April of 2003, when dissidents began making their peaceful
protest against the island's Communist regime, the state's repressive
security apparatus quickly arrested 75 of the leading dissidents. The
world rose up in protest. The European Union restricted ties and
assistance to the island's regime and human rights advocates throughout
the world protested.
The Castro regime paid a price for the arrests of what became known as
Cuba's Black Spring.
Slowly over the years, and as had been Cuba's habit, those jailed were
released — this time at the request of Cuba's Catholic Church. Most were
forced to leave the island with their families.
Since then, repression of dissidents in Cuba has not died down. It has
only been perfected to attract less attention worldwide. Now they have
government trained goon squads go out to harass and beat the dissidents
when they peacefully protest. If that doesn't work, they are beaten up
in public, thrown into state security vehicles and arrested for a few days.
Some have been known to die while in jail, like Bertha Soler, the leader
of the Ladies in White, a group of women who ask for the freedom of
political prisoners in the island by peacefully marching outside
churches throughout the island on Sundays.
A decade ago they marched only in Havana outside Santa Rita, a church in
the Playas District, adjacent to Havana. Now they have chapters in
countless cities throughout the island.
But, getting back to Rodiles: The scientist, trained in Cuba, Mexico and
the United States after living outside the island with permission from
the government, decided to return to raise his voice peacefully in
opposition to the regime. He organized a television program that is
distributed within the island and aired in Radio and TVMartí to discuss
with a panel the lack of freedoms in Cuba.
Rodiles' most dangerous endeavor, however, was to sign, distribute and
present to the Cuban government a petition called "Citizens Demand for a
Different Cuba." The petition turned over thousands of signatures to
Cuba's National Assembly, asking only that the government abide by its
own laws respecting the rights of people to peacefully assemble and protest.
All this makes Rodiles a dangerous man in the eyes of the Cuban
government. When he went to the offices of the Interior Ministry on
November 8 to seek information on why another dissident Yaremis Flores,
an attorney, had been arrested, Rodiles was picked up and jailed. Now
the government wants to try him and jail him for a year. He has been
behind bars since he was arrested.
Rodiles is not alone. The internationally renowned blogger Yoanis
Sánchez was arrested and released for inquiring about the arrest of
another dissident. The number of dissidents arrested in recent weeks in
Cuba is in the hundreds. They are harassed, beaten by goon squads, taken
in unmarked cars, and released in a few days.
The harassment of these brave people who clamor only for the respect for
the most basic human rights extends to their families. They are urged,
and sometimes forced to leave Cuba. Some are allowed to die while on
hunger strikes in jail.
Some international human rights organizations protest. The U.S. State
Department issues a statement condemning what is going on.
Yet few know of their plight. The world is a much too dangerous a place
to include the rights of a few brave souls in the daily headlines. Cuba
has perfected the way to make those opposed to the regime invisible to
all but those who live in South Florida.
This alone is not reason to lift what is left of the embargo. But then,
that is another column.
Guillermo I. Martínez on Twitter at @g_martinez123, or email him at