Obama's New Cuban Partners, My Old Jailers
The regime was built on the blood of dissidents like those the U.S. now
By ARMANDO VALLADARES
Aug. 20, 2015 7:23 p.m. ET
All Rosa Maria Payá wants is a copy of her father's autopsy report. All
her father wanted before he was murdered by Castro's thugs was free
elections. These are simple requests that those of us living in freedom
enjoy without issue.
But not in Cuba.
In Cuba, to ask for man's basic rights is to ask for intimidation,
incarceration, torture and death. This persists, despite any fanciful
ideas that Americans may have about warming relations with the world's
oldest dictatorship. So it's a tragedy that our own secretary of state
was in Cuba on Aug. 14 and failed to make the simplest of requests for
the people of Cuba: freedom of speech and religion.
Thousands of Cubans have died fighting for these rights that Americans
so freely enjoy. The right to build a church and preach without fear of
harassment and secret recording by government hooligans. The right to
protest without wondering if your friends will be carted off, never to
be seen or heard from again. The right to criticize your government
leaders in the opinion pages of a newspaper without fear of being hauled
away at gunpoint in the night.
I experienced the latter in Cuba not for what I said, but for what I
wouldn't say: "I'm with Fidel." I spent eight of my ensuing 22 years in
Castro's jails naked and in solitary confinement because I refused to
wear a prison uniform. I was a conscientious objector, and the regime
wanted to mark me as a common criminal.
The final cries of my friends at the execution wall that drifted through
my cell window, when I had one, became a sort of refrain for the Castro
regime, until the government realized that gagging and silencing them
before they died sent a more powerful message. I saw countless friends
tortured and executed for protesting a government that still crushes the
people of Cuba under its boot. A government that our government is
treating as a negotiating partner.
The U.S. Embassy opening on Friday, Aug. 14, was little more than
fanfare to placate journalists and complacent diplomats in the
international arena. Dissidents were excluded. Though many dissidents
walk the streets of Cuba, keeping them away from the public eye erects a
different sort of prison.
It's a prison that contains the truth in a sanitized box to protect the
Castro brothers' carefully crafted image that they are reasonable. The
purpose is to legitimize their dictatorship, which has not held
elections in 50 years and is built on the blood of former prisoners like
myself, like Antonio González Rodiles; like Martha Beatriz Roque; like
Héctor Maseda; like the father of Rosa Maria Payá, Oswaldo, who was
killed in a suspicious car crash in 2012; and like all the dissidents
still suffering in Cuba who were kept away from Friday's celebrations.
As Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio said when he wrote to Secretary of
State John Kerry on Aug. 11 asking that dissidents be invited to the
embassy ceremony: Dissidents "among many others, and not the Castro
family, are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people."
For decades, many have protested the Cuban government's position that
rights come from the state, that they are a gift from Fidel that he can
revoke as quickly as he grants. America is founded on the principle that
rights come from God, they precede the state, and they cannot be
usurped. If America begins to cede that principle, it will be signing
its own death certificate.
I spent 22 years in jail for the principle that it's what we do not
say—in my case, not wearing the state's uniform—that can count as much
as what we say. Our government, if it is to stand on the principles on
which America was founded, has an obligation to speak the truth and
demand from the Castro regime the rights that the Cuban people are
entitled to by their very humanity. To fail to so do is to say, without
saying, "We are with Fidel."
Mr. Valladares is the author of "Against All Hope," which was first
published in 1986. From 1987 to 1990, he served as the U.S. ambassador
to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Source: Obama's New Cuban Partners, My Old Jailers - WSJ -