Fidel steps aside, but repression persists

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The nation’s mainstream media and political pundits rarely miss an opportunity to attach the label of “hard-liner” to Cuban-American critics of the dictatorship. That begs a question: Are Cuban-Americans fairly labeled as “hard-liners”? Indisputably, the Cuban-American community has maintained its uncompromising support for complete political freedom and democracy in Cuba. Cuban-Americans have consistently and ardently opposed any political or commercial engagement with Cuba’s regime until it meets conditions set out in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act passed by Congress in 1996. Those essentially are: Immediate release of all political prisoners; recognition and respect for fundamental human rights set out by international accords; and legalization of opposition political parties, an independent news media and independent labor unions.

HBO’s popular new TV series, “John Adams,” about our nation’s Founding Father and second president, offers some significant historical perspectives on what “hard-liners” can achieve.

The enlightened and inspiring debates of the Second Continental Congress of 1775 included the likes of such “hard-liners” and “radicals” — as some historians now refer to them — as John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Adams and Jefferson, who became our third president, adamantly rejected all negotiations with the British monarch until the God-given freedoms of the American people were fully recognized.

Those early debates also provide some perspective about the “moderates” of the time, such as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and John Rutledge of South Carolina. They advocated dialogue and reconciliation as embodied in the “Olive Branch Petition” — also known as the “Humble Petition” — to King George III. The petition sought only limited economic and political concessions, rather than absolute emancipation. The British monarch’s rejection of the petition allowed the “hard-line” views of Mr. Adams to prevail and led directly to the democratic underpinnings of this great society.

During the course of the American independence movement, a “hard-line” approach also developed and became the basis for the 19th Century abolitionist movement that sought the immediate and absolute emancipation of all slaves. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who founded the abolitionist periodical “The Liberator” in 1839, was white and drew upon his deeply religious convictions. Frederick Douglass, who founded “North Star” in 1847 was a former slave, who drew upon personal tragedy and a lifetime of resolute resistance. While the two only differed in their backgrounds and the source of their inspiration, both were vitriolic in their opposition to slavery and uncompromising in their support for emancipation.

Douglass summarized his political philosophy as follows: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.”

Garrison concluded: “With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.” It is inarguable that after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, his tyranny trampled the fundamental human rights of the people of Cuba. Today the Cuban people do not have the benefit of free press that Garrison and Douglass placed at the service of the abolitionist cause. Neither do the Cuban people have the ability to somewhat gather as America’s Founding Fathers did to debate the form of government and rally popular support for independence. Yet Cubans share the same goal and desire for freedom and political rights.

Americans of all origins should find it fair and easy to conclude that not only are Cuban Americans uncompromising “hard-liners” on the issues of freedom and full emancipation of Cuba but also that there is no reason to back away from that hard line. It is, after all, a most American tradition.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is the director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

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