Monday, April 25, 2005

In his second inaugural address earlier this year, President Bush articulated how “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” In essence, we must stand with the oppressed rather than their oppressors and defend human dignity by supporting those who toil for freedom.

We must begin in our own hemisphere, where 90 miles from U.S. shores the Cuban people remain enslaved by a ruthless anachronistic Communist dictator and a sworn enemy of the United States.

Day after day, year after year Cubans of all ages, races and beliefs are arrested and left to languish in jail cells for exercising fundamental rights that we take for granted, such as drafting a document that criticizes the Cuban communist regime’s repressive policies to calling for free elections on the island.

Journalists, poets, civil society, labor unions, mothers, fathers, students, farmers all live under the dark cloud of a terrorist regime and suffer under conditions we could not imagine. The rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion and all of the other rights that free men and women enjoy are denied to the Cuban people.

Much of the Cuban nation is comprised of dissidents who are afraid to openly confront the Stalinist-style state apparatus. Others, as former Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky describes, are members of the opposition — an ever-growing group of brave men and women who risk it all for the cause of a free and democratic Cuba.

All they ask from the international community is to support and assist them in their struggle; to put principle over profit; to deny the tyrant the resources to continue his reign of terror. These are also the pillars of U.S. policy toward the Castro regime.

Yet, we continue to hear voices denouncing the embargo. Some call for more trade with this repressive regime. Others frolic with the idea that tourists enjoying the crystalline waters of Varadero Beach, building luxury resorts where Cubans are denied access, and flooding the island with dollars, will bring freedom and democracy to the Cuban people.

Not far from these pleasurable locales, men are dragged down the stairs of one of hundreds of Castro’s notorious jails, thrown in squalid cells, beaten, and tortured. Women are raped, humiliated and beaten. Not far from the pristine beaches, the people of Cuba remain prisoners in their own island.

As for the future of Cuba, the children are forced from infancy to prepare for the defense of the country and its regime. Parents who follow their conscience and try to shape their children’s values and education are considered enemies of the state and are arrested or persecuted. Those parents whose love for their children supersedes any individual concern for their safety are punished by the Castro regime and punished for violating Castro’s laws.

Those laws include the Code of the Child and Youth established by Law Number 16 published on June 30, 1978. This law reiterates the requirement that the young generations must participate in the “construction of socialism,” and that “the communist ideological formation of children and youth” must take place “through a coherent system … in which the Cuban Communist Party assumes the pivotal role of vanguard and protector of Marxist-Leninism.’ Those are the exact words.

It is not our sanctions which deny the Cuban people their universal rights. It is not U.S. policy which tortures and starves the Cuban people, while foreigners are provided with the best medical care, food and accommodations.

It is the policy of the United States to help foment democratic principles and strengthen civil society in Cuba through a series of democracy programs. The United States did not create Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Marta Beatriz Roque, Felix Bonne, Renee Gomez Manzano, Raul Rivero and countless other members of Cuba’s peaceful internal opposition.

In our attempt to bring freedom to Cuba, we look forward to the day that political prisoners are liberated; political parties are legalized; there is a viable and active independent media; where labor unions are able to function; where the rule of law is supreme; and free elections are held. In other words, where freedom reigns. Then, and only then, will sanctions be lifted.

As other parts of the world have successfully brought forth the winds of democratic change across their hills and valleys, we know this day will come to Cuba. We must not waver. We must not weaken our stance. As Winston Churchill said: “[T]he destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee.

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