- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

President Obama’s successor must do more to press for reforms and pressure the Castro regime if the opening to Cuba is to help the island’s people, a leading dissident and human rights activist said Wednesday.

Antonio Rodiles told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute that the next president must implement three policy changes to make “a huge difference in the future,” including sending a clear message against political repression, pressuring Cuba to ratify the U.N. Human Rights covenants and pressing for official recognition of the opposition movement.

“The American government has the power to push the regime to implement change so that people can get empowered,” said Mr. Rodiles, who warned that the U.S. overture may tempt Cuban President Raul Castro to impose crackdowns.

“Right now, the regime feels more comfortable, more legitimate, and now they are more violent,” he said. “People cannot go to the streets to say what they think or to have any kind of organization. We are now focused to change that situation.”

President Obama has cited his December 2014 overture to Cuba, ending a diplomatic freeze dating back to the early 1960s, as one of the biggest diplomatic breakthroughs of his second term. But Congress has balked at fully lifting the embargo on bilateral trade, and Cuban dissidents like Mr. Rodiles say the opening has not improved the state of human rights or civil liberties under Mr. Castro.

The former physicist is considered to be one of Cuba’s most prominent pro-democracy voices after founding an independent forum for Cuban artists, professionals and intellectuals.

A photo released in 2012 of Mr. Rodiles‘ severely battered face after he was harassed, beaten and detained for 19 days has come to symbolize the state of political repression on the island.

Mr. Rodiles said Wednesday that the U.S. government must offer the opposition its clear support, even if detente with the regime proceeds.

In addition to international support, Mr. Rodiles said, the opposition needs higher Cuban participation, although he contended there are noticeably more Cubans ready to protest.

“[The regime] cannot avoid the pressure that we are giving from the inside. This is the key point here in the transformation,” Mr. Rodiles said. “I don’t want to think that, little by little, in 20 years the regime is going to change. I don’t have time for that. I want the regime to change right now.”

Mr. Rodiles said that after Mr. Obama’s trip to the island in March, the first U.S. presidential visit in 88 years, the Cuban people were engaging in human rights conversations for the first time in more than 60 years.

True political reform, Mr. Rodiles said, means the end of the rule of the Castros: Raul and his elder brother Fidel.

“Corruption is something completely tied to this family and to this regime,” Mr. Rodiles said. “If you want a positive change in Cuba, you need to remove these people. If not, we are going to have a mess.”

In the meantime, the administration is pressing to widen diplomacy in the last months of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

A third round of talks between representatives of both governments is set for Monday. The Havana Times reported that Cuba’s top negotiator, Josefina Vidal, said Havana hopes the next U.S. president will maintain the policy of reconciliation between the two countries.

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