Community Voices: Don't ignore plight of Cuba's oppressed people
By Daisy B. Peñaloza
“But why does that repressive regime get a free ride?”
— “Where Were You the Day Orlando Zapata Died?” by I.H.A.D.
Vice President Mike Pence, freshly returned from his participation at the Eighth Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, penned an Op-Ed letter to the Miami Herald in which he writes: “Last year, President Trump reversed the failed policy of the last administration. No longer will U.S. dollars fund Cuba’s military and intelligence services.”
Pence echoed Trump’s emphatic promises to hopeful Cuban exiles and dissidents last June, in Miami, that the administration would be “strictly enforcing U.S. law.” To date, the promises have gone unfulfilled.
Trump’s measures moderately scaled back U.S. tourism and commerce dollars destined for the Castro elites and military; however, the half-hearted rollback failed to abide by the letter of the law as explicitly outlined in the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. The majority of Obama’s Cuba policy remains intact having never been officially rescinded. In violation of Helms-Burton, U.S. corporations Marriott, Google, the airline industry, and cruise ships continue to financially transact with the monopolistic regime. On March 30, 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved more airline flights to Cuba, which will reap a potential $495 million for the parties involved. Current law prohibits these transactions.
U.S. and foreign cruise ship companies daily profit from the use of properties stolen from U.S. citizens and Cuban exiles. Under Title III of Helms-Burton, U.S. citizens can sue the Cuban regime and any foreign business engaged in trafficking on the island. U.S. companies breaching the dictums of Title III should also be liable. Since 1996, all U.S. presidents have suspended Title III at six month intervals. This July, Trump will mull over doing the same as his predecessors. The “litigation ban” should end enabling due process for the many aggrieved claimants who have waited decades for compensation.
Much has been written about the Castro regime’s direct culpability in the Venezuelan societal crisis and in that nation’s free-fall into dictatorship. Mystifyingly, countries such as Canada, Britain, and Australia, which profess to uphold human rights, have been unwilling to hold the regime accountable for its copious crimes.
With renewed urgency, Cuba’s dissidents are pressing for greater sanctions against the Castro oligarchs. Trump can start promoting a “Hemisphere of Freedom” by enforcing the just U.S. laws already in place. The organizers of the next Americas Summit should bar any Cuban leadership that has not engaged in a democratic transition. Unsurprisingly, Miguel Díaz-Canel, the Cuban puppet figurehead, intends to stay on the totalitarian path of repression and economic stagnation.
The Ladies in White, a pro-democracy group advocating the release of political prisoners and the restoration of civil liberties, have obtained no reprieve from the regime’s henchmen. The brave women press on enduring threats, beatings, arbitrary detentions and denunciatory mobs. Heads of state, foreign correspondents and tourists, with a few exceptions, have mostly closed their hearts and minds to the omnipresent suffering of Cubans. Dissidents and independent journalists on the island document, visually and in writing, the human rights abuses, and publish them on social media; otherwise, no one would know.
With each passing year, the Cuban dissident movement gathers strength and unity. The regime-instilled fear and apathy among the general population is gradually dissipating. The nations of the world can facilitate a democratic transition by lending moral and diplomatic support instead of ignoring the plight of the oppressed. Individuals everywhere can conscientiously forego vacations that enrich the Castros, publicize through social media the quotidian human rights abuses inflicted on the populace, and pressure the Trump administration’s enforcement of Helms-Burton and associated laws.
Words are powerful. Their potency is doubly magnified when they are coupled with sincerity and follow-through. My great-grandfather, a veteran of the 1895 Cuban War of Independence, would agree with Mike Pence: “¡Que Viva Cuba Libre!”
Daisy B. Peñaloza of Bakersfield is a preschool teacher. She left communist Cuba on a 1967 Freedom Flight. The opinions expressed are her own.