March 15, 2002

March 15, 2002 | Lecture on Latin America

Against All Hope: A Memoir Of Life in Castro's Gulag

Good afternoon to all of you. I would like to thank the Heritage Foundation and my friend Charlotte Ponticelli for having invited me to participate in this conference.

The Heritage Foundation has always been a great defender of the human rights of the Cuban people. Fifteen years ago I was here for the first time speaking about the violation of human rights in Cuba, this on the occasion of the first edition of my book. When my memoirs were published in 1986, during my first appearance at Heritage, things were very different. At that time, the government of Castro and his allies designed a campaign of disinformation to try to say that what I described in my book was not true. Thanks to the work of many advocates and defenders of human rights in Cuba - some of them are in the audience here today - all the horrors that I relate in my memoirs were documented by the working group of the UN Commission on Human Rights which visited the island at the end of the 1980's. Today no one doubts that Castro is one of the worst dictators of the 20th century and, unfortunately, the 21st century as well. The UN has condemned Castro repeatedly, as have non-governmental organizations throughout the world.

For me, the horror that I relate in my book is in the past, but not for hundreds and hundreds of political prisoners in Cuba who today still languish in the same torture cells where my friends and I were tortured.

Today I think of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez, president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, a humanitarian organization which is considered illegal by the Cuban government. Dr. Biscet was arrested on November 3, 1999, for allegedly "insulting the symbols of the homeland"(article 203 of Cuba's penal code) for having hung the Cuban flag on his balcony. This was only a pretext for which he was condemned to a year in prison. However, on February 25, 2000, he was again sentenced to three years in prison, having been accused this time of "public disorder" and "inciting criminal acts." Dr. Biscet, who denied all of these charges against him, explained that he had hung the flag as a peaceful protest.

I also wish to express my admiration for another courageous Cuban, Marta Beatriz Roque, of the Internal Dissidence Working Group for the Analysis of the Cuban Socio-Economic Situation. She was arrested many times for "sedition." On January 26 she was arrested again for refusing to allow government officials to come into her home and fumigate it with substances to which she was allergic. This is something so ridiculous that it might provoke laughter except for having occurred in Cuba where for some time now even laughter can be considered subversive! From Cuba, with great courage, Marta Beatriz Roque, proposes the only formula that will give Cubans the opportunity to enjoy freedom, and that is the exit of Castro and his dictatorship from the political scene.

The dissident Maritza Lugo Fernandez , was allowed to emigrate to the United States by the Cuban government on January 11 of this year. Even though she is only 40, she has documented many recent arrests in Cuba and she herself has been arrested more than 30 times. Her husband, Rafael Ibarra Roque, is serving his eighth year of a 20-year sentence. Jay Nordinger, of the National Review, recently interviewed Mrs. Lugo. His moving article describes the challenges that Cuban dissidents are facing.

Cuban dissidents, standing face to face with Castro's forces, and even at the risk of retaliation, steadfastly maintain their opposition to the dictatorship. Amnesty International has documented all of the cases I have mentioned and hundreds of additional cases involving political prisoners in Cuba. To abandon these dissidents, to fail to remember them by their names, is like abandoning the Cuban people.

One school of thought some years ago was that a dialogue with Fidel Castro would somehow move the old dictator and give way to democracy. I believe that any solution that puts in Castro's hands the illusion of a change toward freedom is just that, an illusion. It would be like putting in Hitler's hands a solution that would be respectful and humanitarian for the Jewish people, or putting in the hands of racial extremists the life of African Americans, or in the hands of Pol Pot and Ian Sari the democratization of Cambodia.

Cuba continues to be under international scrutiny not only as a country that violates human rights, but also as one of the countries that protect, promote and practice terrorism. There is substantial evidence to back this up: the shooting down of the unarmed planes of the "Brothers to the Rescue" organization, the sinking of the tugboat which carried adults and children, the training of terrorists from all over the world, and the fact that Cuba has become a sanctuary for terrorists and criminals in this hemisphere. Only two weeks ago, the independent film producer Eduardo Palmer produced a documentary precisely on this subject. This is a 45-minute film. I have a copy of it with me for those who want access to statements, information and evidence that Castro supports and fosters terrorism.

Unfortunately, as long as Castro continues in power, there will be no change. Castro himself declared three weeks ago that for those who hope for change, "Let them sit down and keep hoping, because in Cuba there is no need to change a thing."

I do not want to conclude without pointing out recent events that occurred in the Mexican embassy in Havana. These events were not unexpected. The policy of collaboration between the government of Mexico and the Cuban dictatorship is nothing new. The Mexican embassy in Cuba has a long history of handing over people who seek political asylum, people who are persecuted, to Castro's police. I remember my prison companion Reynaldo Aquit. After he escaped from prison, he was denounced by the then-ambassador of Mexico, Gilberto Bosque.

In truth, to me, it is no surprise that Mexican authorities would ask Castro's secret police to come into their diplomatic headquarters to take away the people seeking asylum there. From the day President Fox declared that there was no dictatorship in Cuba, when he denied that Castro was a dictator, I knew such a thing could happen.

The Mexican embassy in Cuba continues to be a branch of Castro's police and Mexico his most loyal accomplice. Only two weeks ago, with President Fox's blessing, a conference of international terrorists was held in Mexico. The conference was convoked by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. How can Mexico, a country that is supposedly an ally of the United States, and an ally of the people of Cuba, also be an ally of the Cuban dictatorship?

Prestigious journalists like Mary O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal, Jay Nordlinger of National Review, Robert Novak and many others have told the story of Cuban dissidence. However, their accounts are outnumbered by the articles that have been published in reference to the alleged mistreatment of the Taliban prisoners now in Guantanamo. I do not believe that anyone should be mistreated or tortured. However, the same journalists who are worried about the lack of air conditioning in Guantanamo do not concern themselves with the hundreds of innocent people now in Cuba's jails or the reasons why millions of Cubans are suffering from a lack of freedom, hunger, a thirst for a civil society - all that is necessary for their spiritual and material well-being.

Recently, Washington Post journalist William Raspberry wrote a column about his visit to Cuba in which he says that he felt free walking the streets of Cuba. That is a very ironic statement and charged with cynicism. And I wonder, how is it possible that a person of such intellect can go to Cuba and know nothing of Cuba, go to Cuba to drink pina coladas without seeing the dictatorship and without thinking for a single moment about the victims, without visiting those prisons, without speaking with those dissidents?

Much is to be done yet in Cuba. I have no doubt that with our friends in Congress and my friends in the State Department, Assistant Secretary Otto Reich and Undersecretary Paula Dobriansky, U.S. policy toward Cuba will be of great support to the dissidents in Cuba. Thanks to organizations like The Heritage Foundation, the focus of the nation and of the policies of the United States will continue to be on the dictator Castro, and they will not be fooled by his maneuvers.

Many thanks.

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