- - Friday, April 10, 2015

A day before President Obama was scheduled to attend the Summit of the America’s in Panama, Cuban government enforcers brutally attacked several pro-democracy demonstrators taking part in a peaceful march in Panama City.  One of the attackers has been identified as Col. Alexis Frutos Weeden, who is the head of Cuban intelligence in Venezuela. During the attack, a U.S. citizen, Orlando Gutierrez, was pulled from a vehicle and beaten while trying to leave the scene of the mob. Mr. Gutierrez is the national secretary of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a group that works to improve the human rights situation in Cuba. This is par for the course in Cuba, but such aggressive action taken in broad daylight in Panama City shows an emboldened totalitarian regime now flexing its political will internationally.

And why wouldn’t they be emboldened? For over half a century, they’ve bullied and intimidated their own people, forcing many into a desperate and sometimes deadly trek over perilous waters for a chance at freedom in America. Untold thousands have died trying to cross to freedom. Cuba’s story of communism is horrific but familiar; we’ve seen the same iron grip of despotic regimes on a people before — the Soviet Union, North Korea, Iran, etc. Without exception, the government controls everything, including money, food or aid coming into the country. They ration basic necessities and offer extra benefits as rewards to those citizens willing to spy on their families, friends and neighbors. They deny the general public any access to outside information via radio, television, the internet or wireless connections. Telephones are monitored. Churches are watched and guarded. Even protests are infiltrated by informers and government thugs. Cuban government enforcers have held tight control of Venezuelan police for decades and even taught the military of the old Soviet Union some lessons in communist intimidation and control.

It’s important to note that the Cuban government has not changed its stance, and its actions in the past two years continue to reveal the adversarial intent of the Castro regime toward America and her allies. Twice in the past two years, the Castro regime has been caught red-handed attempting to smuggle illegal arms shipments to and from North Korea or China. On Feb. 26 of this year, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a public hearing titled “The President’s New Cuba Policy and US National Security” to discuss Mr. Obama’s push to remove Cuba from the State Department’s terrorism list. Cuba provides military, police and intelligence advisers to Venezuela to monitor and repress dissenters. There is also an ongoing investigation of the case of 173 Venezuelan passports being issued to Islamist radicals in an attempt to allow them to enter Canada. The testimony also included cases of attempts to sell U.S. state secrets to the governments of Iran, Syria and Russia, and the Castro regime’s attempt to recruit and infiltrate spies in the U.S. government.

So why would the Obama administration insist on establishing normal relations with such a despotic, adversarial regime? Why would it be intent on taking Cuba off the list of terrorist regimes? Has Cuba changed? Is freedom of speech being recognized or embraced? Are protesters allowed to demonstrate in peace without fear of imprisonment, torture or death? Are the people being given honest representation in their government?

Unfortunately, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. Nothing has changed. In fact, the famous “Ladies in White” of Cuba, who bravely walk in peaceful protest carrying nothing but flowers in an effort to ask that their loved ones be released from wrongful imprisonments are being attacked more often and more brutally than ever before. The Cuban people use their amazing resourcefulness and ingenuity to figure out when and where they might have a few minutes of access to wireless networks to send out messages and ask for help.

If we want to affect true change, we’re going about it all wrong. We look around the world and think, “If other counties travel there, maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe if we’re nice, they’ll start to be nice. If we just spend our money in Cuba and lift our sanctions, they’ll mature and start acting better.” Wishful thinking at best. The government still owns everything and any money coming in doesn’t boost the Cuban economy — it boosts the oppressive Cuban government. There’s a big difference.

It’s time to listen to Cuban-Americans advocating for their former homeland. They’re telling us that there is a solution and it’s pretty simple.  If we truly want to support the expansion of freedom and democracy in Cuba, if we want to support the people of Cuba, we must support the Pro-Freedom Resistance. Led by courageous men and women who have intentionally decided to stay and fight for freedom in Cuba, the resistance movement is well- organized and growing. If we want to help, we must learn the names of the leaders and spread the word about their brave attempts at freedom. Share their stories and denounce their oppressors openly. Refuse to spend our money at the government-owned resorts.

As much as other nations believe they are helping the economy of Cuba by vacationing in their government-owned resorts, they’re not. The Cuban people never benefit from tourist dollars — the government does. The well-meaning vacationers are actually subsidizing the continuing oppression of the Cuban people.  

Sometimes, tough love is necessary, and America is the only nation that has held out hope for Cuba by keeping sanctions in place on the brutal Castro regime. For America to legitimize such a tyrannical government in any way, strips hope from the heart of the desperate Cuban resistance movement. The Cuban people understand what is at stake and they are counting on America to stay strong, to limit their government as much as possible until the people of Cuba have again gained power.  

Mr. Obama has heard the pleas of Cuban-Americans, but has chosen to legitimize the Castro government with his actions. His “feel-good” gesture of foreign relations is all wrong, because it supports the wrong side. It supports the powerful and privileged oppressors, not the people. I’m “Just Sayin’, haven’t we always sought to promote freedom, the rule of law and free elections in every corner of the globe?  We can’t give up on those who are bravely facing imprisonment, torture and even death in order to gain a chance at freedom just a few miles from our shores.      

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