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Expressing the Sense of Congress Regarding the Two-Year Anniversary of the Human Rights Crackdown in Cuba

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Location: Washington, DC


EXPRESSING THE SENSE OF CONGRESS REGARDING THE TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS CRACKDOWN IN CUBA -- (House of Representatives - April 26, 2005)

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 81) expressing the sense of Congress regarding the two-year anniversary of the human rights crackdown in Cuba.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, 2 years ago, with the world's attention riveted on Iraq, Fidel Castro ordered his feared state security apparatus to round up at least 75 of Cuba's best and bravest and brightest, prominent and even lesser-known dissidents. Among these are 28 independent journalists and 40 Varela project workers. With sickening speed, these men and women were paraded before kangaroo courts and given prison sentences ranging from 6 to 28 years; 61 remain in prison.

When the Committee on International Relations met on April 16, 2003 to decry this vile abrogation of justice, I stated at that time that "Even some of the most outspoken leftists who once saw in Fidel Castro something to admire now admit that Castro's unbridled cruelty, his thirst for blood, and extreme paranoia are indefensible." I regret to report that Castro has not given me and, frankly, he has given no one else as well, any reason to reassess that statement or those sentiments.

What were the so-called crimes that these brave men and women committed? They were advocating democracy, writing as independent journalists, and being men and women of faith.

Their real offense was to dare to question the authority of a single man: Fidel Castro. The Cuban Revolution is really about Castro's vanity and pursuit of personal power. From the beginning, Castro has shot and jailed anyone, even close friends, who have dared to get in the way of his personal ambitions.

Dictatorships, reflecting the whims of a despot, always subject their people to deprivations and absurdities. The Castro regime recently let a handful of its political prisoners out on parole, citing health reasons. The regime's callousness toward ailing political prisoners is well documented.

Now, independent Cuban journalists are reporting that Cuba's prisons have been virtually emptied of medical personnel. Why? Mr. Castro decided to send them to Venezuela and other places to advance his personal expansionist agenda.

Mr. Speaker, writing in the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, a Portuguese Communist and close friend of Castro, commented after 3 alleged Havana ferry hijackers were killed by a firing squad in Cuba in May of 2003, "Cuba has won no heroic victory by executing these three men, but it has lost my confidence, damaged my hopes, and robbed me of illusions."

Illusions, as Castro-lover Jose Saramago has only now begun to acknowledge, often persist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the case of Castro's Cuba.

Despite decades of credible reports of widespread egregious violations of human rights, including the pervasive use of torture and vicious beatings of political prisoners by the Cuban Government, some have clung to indefensibly foolish illusions of Castro's revolution.

Despite the fact that the Cuban Government systematically denies its people freedom of speech, press freedom, assembly and association, and severely restricts workers' rights, including the right to form independent trade unions, some have nevertheless clung to illusion.

Despite the fact that Cuba and Castro maintain an unimaginably vast network of surveillance by the thugs in his secret police and the committees for the defense of the revolution, or CDRs, neighbors spying on neighbors, some continue to embrace bogus perceptions, illusions about Castro and about Cuba.

In his book "Against All Hope," the book that I have actually read twice now, a memoir of life in Castro's gulags, Armando Valladares, a courageous and amazing man who spent 22 years in Cuban prisons wrote: "The government of Cuba and its defenders of the Cuban revolution denied that the incidents that I recount in the book ever happened." He says, "Castro sympathizers who were more subtle said the incidents that he described were exaggerations. And there were others, well meaning who simply could not bring themselves to believe that such horrors, crimes and torture existed in the political prisons of Cuba.

"My response," Armando Valladares goes on to say, "to those who still try to justify Castro's tyranny with the excuse that he built schools and hospitals, is this: Stalin and Hitler and Pinochet all built schools and hospitals, and like Castro, they all tortured and assassinated opponents. They built concentration and extermination camps and eradicated all liberties, committing the worst crimes against humanity."

Armando Valladares goes on to say: "Unbelievably while many NGOs like Amnesty International and America's Watch have denounced the human rights situation in Cuba, there has been a continuing love affair on the part of the media and many intellectuals with Fidel Castro."

Mr. Speaker, that love affair, that illusion seemed to crash and burn with the onset of the current crackdown on dissidents. The EU for its part took action in June of 2003 by limiting high-level EU governmental visits and inviting Cuban dissidents to National Day celebrations. But, sadly, their memories are short. In January of this year, at the initiative of the Spanish Government, the EU temporarily suspended these measures for a 6-month period.

Mr. Speaker, at the 61st session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, which was held this past month, the United States, I am very proud to say the United States offered a resolution on the human rights situation in Cuba. The resolution recalled the resolutions of the previous 15 years; and I would just say, parenthetically, I was there 15 years ago when Armando Valladares led the U.S. delegation, having been sent out of the government or out of Cuba by Castro, and got that body, which is dysfunctional in many ways, to finally focus on these ongoing and persistent violations of human rights in Cuba, and that was the first time.

I am glad to say that we just, at U.S. insistence, were able to get another statement by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights focused on the ongoing abuses by Cuba. The resolution passed by a vote of 21 to 17 with 15 abstentions, but only after a full court press by the U.S. delegation led by Rudy Boschwitz, which included personal pleas from President Bush to the presidents of Ukraine and Mexico.

I am sad to point out that China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Sudan and Zimbabwe all voted against the resolution, in effect putting their stamp of approval on Castro's actions.

Let me just say finally, Mr. Speaker, that this resolution we have today is a reiteration. It is a bipartisan resolution offered by my friend and colleague from New Jersey (Mr. Menendez). And I hope that every member will vote in favor of it.

Two years ago, with the world's attention riveted on Iraq, Fidel Castro ordered his feared State Security apparatus to round up at least 75 of Cuba's bravest and brightest, prominent and lesser-known dissidents. Among these are 28 independent journalists and 40 Varela project workers. With sickening speed, these men and women were paraded before kangaroo courts and given prison sentences ranging from 6 to 28 years. Sixty-one remain in jail.

When the Committee on International Relations met April 16, 2003 to decry this vile abrogation of justice, I stated at that time: "Even some of the most outspoken leftists, who once saw in Fidel Castro something to admire, now admit that Castro's unbridled cruelty, thirst for blood and extreme paranoia are indefensible."

I regret to report that Castro has given me no cause to reassess that statement.

What were the so-called crimes of these brave men and women? Advocating democracy ..... writing as independent journalists ..... being men and women of faith.

Their real offense was to dare to question the authority of a single man, Mr. Castro. The Cuban Revolution is really about Castro's vanity and pursuit of personal power. From the beginning, Castro has shot and jailed anyone-even his close friends-who has dared get in the way of his personal ambition.

Dictatorships, reflecting the whims of a despot, always subject their people to deprivations and absurdities. The Castro regime recently let a handful of its political prisoners out on "parole," citing health reasons. The regime's callousness towards ailing political prisoners is well documented.

Now, independent Cuban journalists are reporting that Cuba's prisons have been virtually emptied of medical personnel. Why? Mr. Castro decided to send them to Venezuela and other places to advance his personal expansionist agenda.

Writing in the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, Noble prize winner Jose Saramago, a Portuguese communist and close friend of Castro commented after three alleged Havana ferry hijackers were killed by firing squad in Cuba in May 2003, "Cuba has won no heroic victory by executing these three men, but it has lost my confidence, damaged my hopes and robbed me of illusions."

Illusions, as Castro lover Jose Saramago has only now begun to acknowledge, often persist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in the case of Castro's Cuba.

Despite decades of credible reports of widespread egregious violations of human rights, including the pervasive use of torture and vicious beatings of political prisoners by the Cuban government, some have clung to indefensibly foolish illusions of Castro's revolution.

Despite the fact that the Cuban government systematically denies its people the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, and severely restricts workers' rights, including the right to form independent trade unions, some have, nevertheless, clung to illusion.

Despite the fact that Castro maintains an unimaginably vast network of surveillance by the thugs in his secret police and Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs)--neighbors spying on neighbors-some continue to embrace bogus perceptions-illusions about Cuba.

In his book, "Against All Hope, a Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulags" Armando Valladares, a courageous and amazing man who spent 22 years in Cuban prisons wrote:

The government of Cuba and defenders of the Cuban Revolution denied that incidents that I recount (in the book) ever happened. Castro sympathizers, who were more subtle, said the incidents I described were exaggerations. And there were others, well meaning, who simply could not bring themselves to believe that such horrors, crimes and torture existed in the political prisons of Cuba.

My response to those who still try to justify Castro's tyranny with the excuse that he has built schools and hospitals is this: Stalin, Hitler and Pinochet also built schools and hospitals, and like Castro, they also tortured and assassinated opponents. They built concentration and extermination camps and eradicated all liberties, committing the worst crimes against humanity.

Unbelievably, while many non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and America's Watch have denounced the human rights situation in Cuba, there has been a continuing love affair on the part of the media and many intellectuals with Fidel Castro.

That love affair-that illusion-seemed to crash and burn with the onset of the current crackdown on dissidents. The EU took action in June 2003 by limiting high-level EU governmental visits and inviting Cuban dissidents to national day celebrations. But their memories are short. In January of this year, at the initiative of the Spanish government, the EU temporarily suspended these measures for a six-month period.

At the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva this past month, the United States offered a resolution on the human rights situation in Cuba. The resolution recalled the resolutions of the previous 15 years which the Commission had passed on Cuba, and asked that the mandate of the Personal Representative of the High Commissioner be continued. The resolution passed by a vote of 21-17, with 15 abstentions, but only after a fullcourt lobbying press by the U.S. delegation which included personal pleas from President Bush to the Presidents of Ukraine and Mexico. China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Sudan and Zimbabwe all voted against the resolution, in effect putting their stamp of approval on Castro's actions.

Let me mention a few of the ones who were summarily sentenced and remain in prison. Omar Rodriguez Saludes, an independent journalist known to ride his bicycle to news conferences: 27 years. Hector Palacios, one of the key figures promoting the Varela Project: 25 years. Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who wrote critical articles about the Cuban economy for the Internet: 25 years. The President of the Independent United Confederation of Cuban Workers (CUTC), Pedro Pablo Alvarez, 25 years. Journalist Raul Rivero and Ricardo Gonzalez Afonso, an editor at "De Cuba" magazine, each got 20 years. The list goes on and on.

For its part, the Bush Administration has made its deep and abiding concern for the political prisoners and the protection of elemental human rights in Cuba abundantly clear. At the time of the crackdown, former Secretary of State Colin Powell declared:

In recent days the Cuban government has undertaken the most significant act of political repression in decades. We call on Castro to end this despicable repression and free these prisoners of conscience. The United States and the international community will be unrelenting in our insistence that Cubans who seek peaceful change be permitted to do so.

In like manner, the Congress has consistently demanded the immediate release of all the prisoners and support of the right of the Cuban people to exercise fundamental political and civil liberties. H. Res. 179, a resolution offered by Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen in April 2003, passed by a vote of 414-0, 11 present. In April of 2001, I sponsored a resolution, H. Res. 91, calling on the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva to condemn Cuba's human rights abuse and appoint a Special Rapporteur for Cuba. While it passed, there were a disturbing number of negative votes. That vote was 347-44 with 22 voting present.

We have another opportunity today to move forward a resolution offered by my Colleague, Mr. Menendez, to show that these prisoners are not forgotten. Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, and numerous leaders of Cuba's dictatorship, are directly responsible for crimes against humanity past-and present. Some day these oppressors will be held to account and the people of Cuba will live in freedom.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of our time.

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