THE CRACKDOWN ON PRO-DEMOCRACY ADVOCATES IN CUBA
Mr. President, tomorrow marks the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King's life reminds Americans of our unyielding commitment to freedom, justice, and equality for all. The peaceful civil rights movement that Dr. King lives and died for serves as a model for the ideals America promotes worldwide.
Today, just 90 miles off the shores of the United States, a desperate dictator is 2 weeks into a Stalinist-style crackdown on his country's non-violent democratic movement and its leaders. One political prisoner, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, has often been compared to Dr. King for his brave struggle to seek a non-violent transition to democracy in Cuba. The International Republican Institute (IRI), of which I am chairman, recently awarded Dr. Biscet with its Democracy's People Award for his courageous commitment to human rights, despite his imprisonment and the painful disease from which he suffers, and which remains untreated.
In a severe crackdown that demonstrates the true and brutal character of Cuba's dictatorship, the Castro regime has imprisoned over 80 independent journalists, human rights advocates, independent labor and pro-democracy activists, and supporters of the pro-democracy Varela project since March 18. Many of these activists are currently on trial. Dr. Biscet, who was arrested on December 6, 2002, while organizing a human rights discussion for International Human Rights Day, may be sentenced to life in prison and has apparently been threatened with the death penalty. The founder of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, which carries out educational campaigns to end the death penalty and forced abortions, Dr. Biscet was formerly imprisoned from 1999-2002. Dr. Biscet's wife, Elsa Morejon, had her house ransacked and her computer, phone, pictures and letters from her husband taken by the Cuba government.
Freedom-loving people everywhere condemn the use of the death penalty against peaceful political opponents of Castro's rule. Rather than threaten them with death, Fidel Castro should release all political prisoners in Cuba, which the State Department estimated to number between 230 and 300 before the current, massive crackdown.
The many brave Cubans who work and sacrifice every day for non-violent and democratic Cuba ask only that their fundamental human rights be respected. Although world attention is focused on Iraq, it is important that we not lose sight of the continued, aggressive repression of Cuba's democracy and human rights activists. The United Nations Human Rights Commission is currently in Geneva preparing what I hope will be a strong and clear condemnation of these systematic violations of fundamental freedoms. It is imperative that the Cuban government be held accountable for this repressive crackdown.
One day soon, the political prisoners now held in Fidel's gulags will be celebrated as the voices of conscience that finally brought freedom and justice to Cuba after decades of brutal dictatorship. Castro and his regime cannot extinguish the flame of freedom and hope that burns in the hearts of Cubans, who will continue to peacefully seek liberty and justiceand will one day prevail.