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Posted March 05, 2005 by publisher in US Embargo

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Miami Herald | BY PABLO BACHELET

Three top dissidents in Havana testified before two congressional panels Thursday in the first use of a phone link to bring the words of Fidel Castro’s domestic opponents directly to American lawmakers.

Martha Beatriz Roque, Rene Gomez and Felix Bonne used the occasion to strongly endorse President Bush’s hard-line policies on Cuba, including restrictions that make it harder for Cuban Americans to visit relatives on the island.

The hearing marked the second anniversary of a Cuban government crackdown in 2003 that sent 75 dissidents to long jail terms, a move that prompted Bush to tighten travel and trade restrictions on the island.

Roque, who was among the 75, was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released last year for health reasons.

She said she has been warned by Cuban officials that she could be rearrested if she did not behave, but continues speaking out against the Cuban leader.

The three dissidents, who spoke from the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, belong to the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society, a group that is trying to organize a May 20 gathering of more than 300 dissident groups in Havana to discuss a possible transition to democracy.

Roque, Gomez and Bonne were praised by lawmakers for their courage in testifying before a joint meeting of two House subcommittees, one on international relations and the other on Africa, human rights and international operations. Several referred to them as “heroes.’‘

‘‘I want to extend my gratitude, in addition to my most profound admiration and solidarity, with the three extraordinary Cubans who have honored the Congress . . . with their participation this afternoon,’’ said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican and a Cuban American.

When Rep. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and Cuban American, asked if they feared being arrested for their testimony, Bonne—who spent time in jail in the late 1990s—said that he had told his wife earlier that day that he was ‘‘simply a soldier of liberty and democracy’’ and was prepared to return to jail “to defend the interests of the Cuban people.’‘

State Department officials tried to set up a videophone link between the Congress members and the dissidents in Havana, but were unable to establish the connection for technical reasons.

But the audio connection was clear, and photographs of the three dissidents were flashed on screens in the hearing room as they spoke—Bonne in Spanish, the others in English.

The hearing came as congressional opponents of U.S. sanctions on Cuba, especially the ban on most travel to Cuba, are again preparing to try to weaken them in the next congressional sessions. Such efforts have repeatedly failed.

Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., said Castro should be provided with ‘‘incentives to stop attacking the dissidents.’’ Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., argued that open contacts had helped bring about democratic change in the Soviet Union.

Rene Gomez said he ‘‘disagreed with that theory’’ and that the communist governments in Eastern Europe fell because of the “firm hand of the government of the United States.’‘

In written testimony, Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the Cuban government had intimidated potential participants in the May 20 gathering by detaining them and warning them the event would not take place. He said the Cuban security forces even circulated a mock newspaper article dated May 19, which described how Roque and her supporters were arrested during the assembly.

Noriega also said the crackdown in the spring of 2003 initially succeeded in forcing the dissident movement to lower its profile, but that dissident activity was starting to pick up.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 05, 2005 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    And so the hard liners trot out their dog and pony show to try and convince us that the majority of Cuban dissidents support the continued economic embargo and travel restrictions to Cuba. Simply not true. The funny thing about lies, some folks feel if they shout them loud enough, and often enough, they will be believed.  While perhaps true in the short term, in the long skein of time deception and misrepresentation will always be exposed for what it is…B-S- served up on a platter. 


  2. Follow up post #2 added on March 05, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    Dissent is good. Having said that I believe that testifying for a congressional committee representing a government that is hostile to ones country is simply treachery. Furthermore I would like to suggest that the name U.S. Diplomatic mission in Habana change its name, since there is nothing diplomatic about what they do.


  3. Follow up post #3 added on March 07, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    I wonder why it was not possible to interview Cuban dissidents who are against the embargo and who oppose Bush’ myopic, hardline policy against Cuba. Was the inviation to these moderate dissidents ever made? I commented to some of my neighbors here in Havana(who are not particularily supportive the the Cuban government)that a couple of dissidents are supporting Bush’ hardline measures, they could only say how Roque, Bonne, and Gomez were completely out of touch with what the vast majority of Cuban’ want (both those who support the government, oppose it, or who are not commited) - a lifting of the U.S. embargo. It is so hard to find a Cuban who actually supports the embargo, and I am shocked at the length that these hand-chosen dissidents are willing to go to ingratiate themselves with the Republican Administration. Maybe they want to secure themselves some government position in a theoritical post-Fidel, U.S. run Cuban government. How foolish they are.


  4. Follow up post #4 added on March 07, 2005 by yumaguy with 176 total posts

    HASTA LA DESGRACIA, SIEMPRE!
    BLOQUEO O MUERTE,  LES JODEMOS!!

    Sad. :-(
    On and on, the farce continues on both sides.
    Cuba is the dreary telenovela that never seems to end. . .


  5. Follow up post #5 added on March 07, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    I am also of the opinion that the three Cuban democrats are wrong to support the US embargo. However, that is THEIR opinion and no one who posts on this site should abuse them or imply that they are only doing so for personal advancement. They are extremely brave people, especially Martha Roque who knows the inside of a Cuban prision and could be returned there at any time.


  6. Follow up post #6 added on March 07, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Cubana…
    You are right in the sense that everyone should have a right to express their opinion on the embargo, and Roque and the others have just done that.
    But since Roque and the others openly support a policy which makes many of my Cuban friends and family suffer, I also have the right to question the motives for their support for the Bush strategy on Cuba. This is especially true since it is very difficult to understand how someone living in Cuba would support such a policy. Even the former US Interest Chief, Wayne Smith, criticizes the hardline Bush policy.
    Moreover, the most important thrust of my message was why did the Congressional Committee only interview these three dissidents? Why did other dissidents who openly oppose the embargo not get a chance to speak. It seems like the Republicans simply used Roque, Bonne and Gomez to justify their own policy, not make a serious reflection of the Bush policy on Cuba. Don’t you agree?


  7. Follow up post #7 added on March 07, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Gregory: I don’t know why the Congressional Committee only interviewed Roque, Bonne, and Gomez. It would be interesting to find out. However, as can be seen from the article there were at least three Democratic party representatives on the Committee so I presume they would not allow themselves to be used to justify the Republican party’ policy on Cuba.


  8. Follow up post #8 added on March 07, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Cubana…Recent behaviour by the Democrats in Congress have shown great deals of pusillanimity. There is no other explanation. It is easier to find a dissident in Cuba against the embargo than it is to find one in favor. Even the Catholic Church in Cuba is against the embargo. It is too much of a coincidence that the three that were interviewed happen to support Bush’ hardline. Manipulation by the Republicans can be the only imaginable explanation. Can you offer another possible explanation?


  9. Follow up post #9 added on March 07, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    No I can’t. But that does not mean your explanation is correct!


  10. Follow up post #10 added on May 17, 2005 by yonose with 4 total posts

    Gregory Havana…
    quote: “...a policy which makes many of my Cuban friends and family suffer…”

    How is it, exactly, this limited embargo is responsible for the suffering of Cubans on the island?  Afterall, it is a unilateral sanction.  Cuba is free to trade with whomever it pleases.  So why hasn’t its relations with other countries solved these sufferings?  Me, I call a spade a spade, and many like me have a very different view as to where the proper blame for all this suffering lay.  And, no, I am not an exile.  I’m straight from the midwest.


  11. Follow up post #11 added on May 17, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Yonose…
    If you would read a little bit about the U.S. embargo, you would realize that the most powerful country on Earth, Cuba’ biggest and most natural market (geographically speaking), will definitely have an impact on Cuba’ prosperity. In the context of globalization, even Canadian or European firms with significant commercial interests in the U.S. are easily intimidated from making investments in the United States. Moreover, all shipping that comes to Cuba cannot dock in the U.S. either six months before or after. The United States also uses its veto to deny Cuba of any IMF or World Bank assistance. Many specialized medical equipment, water treatment technology, etc that can only be purchased in the U.S. are denied Cuba. All of these things have an impact. Do U.S. policies explain all of Cuba’ problems? No! But they are ONE of the causes of Cuban’ hardships.


  12. Follow up post #12 added on May 17, 2005 by yumaguy with 176 total posts

    The problem with embargoes is that they mostly end up hurting the “little guy” stuck in the middle, not the bad governments that represent them. No doubt the Cuban people are exploited by their own government. But when you put the squeeze on Castro harder, all he will do in turn is squeeze even more out of the citizenry; that’ what happens when you pressure regimes with little accountability to their own people.

    Nice to know some folks aren’t bothered by this. But when you have friends and contacts on the island, and you know your govt. is taking actions that affects them indirectly as well as directly. . . that makes their living conditions more challenging than it already is. . . well, it’ a different story for me at least.

    Embargoes are fun when you’re on the giving end but it’ a different story when you’re on the receiving end. How quickly people forget the Arab Oil Embargo and the stagflation and recessions of the 70’ and early 80’. . .


  13. Follow up post #13 added on May 20, 2005 by yonose with 4 total posts

    Gregory Havana,

    I’m well aware of the sanctions.  The devil’ in the detail, so to speak.  I’m also well aware that Castro’ regime is largely, if not totally, legitimized because his brand of scapegoatism is bought, hook line and sinker, by many of his countrymen as well as others that lean left of center.  His idealism cannot succeed when the island cannot produce or buy enough to take care of its own.  It is just that simple.  Don’t convulute with causality that cannot be proven.

    The truth of the matter is that Cuba has very little of what the U.S. wants and none of what it needs from an economic POV.  Cuba enjoyed economic prosperity pre-Castro largely due to favorable sugar quotas from the U.S.  Then, the Soviet Union became Cuba’ ’ugar daddy’.  Now, who’ll provide the hand-out?  Maybe Venezuela?

    You come across like Cuba is entitled to U.S. trade.  I wonder why.  I will not go into the long, sordid history of U.S./Cuba relations since ‘59, but I will simplify: the U.S. and Cuba have no formal diplomatic relations; the term ‘enemies’ is applicable; Cuba is fully aware of U.S. terms to reconcile and resurrect formal diplomacy; Cuba has shown no sign it favors reconciliation, to the contrary it antagonizes the U.S.  So why is it you believe the U.S. should ‘drop its guard’?  I’d be damned if you don’t reply “for humanitarian reasons”.  Am I right?

    If that’ what you think, then I suggest calling a spade a spade.  Dispense with all the anti-Bush THIS and blame the embargo THAT and simply state that you’re in favor of a U.S. hand-out (which we both know would never be accepted by Castro).
     


  14. Follow up post #14 added on May 20, 2005 by yumaguy with 176 total posts

    “Cuba enjoyed economic prosperity pre-Castro largely due to favorable sugar quotas from the U.S.”

    Huh? During the 40s and 50s, many sugar mills were owned and operated by U.S. firms. Most of the profits went directly back to the U.S. and the country was labeled throughout Latin-America as a “Banana Republic.” There was a middle class that was well off but also HUGE disparities in income distribution in those years, one of the highest in Latin-America at the time. It was this as well as other ways the U.S. dominated the economic and political affairs of Cuba. . . that caused the deep resentment amongst the impoverished peasants. . . that allows someone like a Castro to sweep into power. I’m afraid something similar will eventually happen in the Middle East now that the U.S. is deeply involved with several nations over there.

    I think not being Cuban and not having visited Cuba (or lived in Florida), you have totally missed an important point. There has been a nastly little mini-war being played out between the exiled middle-class in Florida and the Cuban regime. It’ been going on for quite some time now. BOTH sides play the U.S. against each other and off one another. BOTH sides try to manipulate the U.S., have it play the role of the “tonto til” (useful idiot). The “tonto til” is sadly a strategy too often used in the dog-eat-dog world of Latin-American politics. When dipping into this world, remember to think you’re positions through very carefully lest you too become one. wink

    As for Cuba’ “usefulness” to the U.S., I think you underestimate. Farmers from the poorer heartland red states wouldn’t mind selling more of their crops to Cuba. I suspect sometime in the future when Castro is long gone, Cuba will be an island targeted for outsourcing, especially health care where costs in the US have gone out of control. You heard it here first! grin

    I do agree that Castro would never allow the embargo to totally go down. He needs it more than we do. We can be cold-hearted realists and grant him his wish, just make it a little more humane and logical. Less red tape to sell foods & medicines. Roll back the new restrictions on visitations and remittances which just make the U.S. look petty. Is that too much to ask?


  15. Follow up post #15 added on May 20, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Yonose…
    It is good to see that you at least acknowledge some sort of impact created by the US embargo on Cuba. At least that is what is apparent in your last comment and is what any intelligent person who understands Cuba, regardless of their political position, would do.
    I take exception to several other points you have made.
    First, by claiming the Cubans have taken “hook, line and sinker” the spurrious claims of Fidel, you grossly underestimate the intelligence of Cubans and their knowledge of the outside world. All Cubans have some sort of contact with people living outside of Cuba, and if you had ever visited Cuba, you would realize that they have a broad contact with US culture and society.
    Second, you claim that Cuba cannot take care of its own. Well, compared to its neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba in fact does a better job of meeting basic human needs, as defined by the United Nations. I know this because I work for the UN. Moreover, if you are one of those types who thinks the UN is some commie front, maybe the past president of the World Bank would hold more creditibility for you. He publically stated that the capitalist world and something to learn from Cuba in regards to its social acheivements. Does Mexico, Brazil, or Honduras take care of its own, with thousands of homeless street children, abject poverty, and rampant violence and corruption?
    Third, if you think Cuba want to keep the embargo, how can you explain the fact that it pays for American food in CASH when it could buy the same food from Canada on credit? The most plausible explanation is that it wants to persuade the US food exporters lobby so push for a lifting the embargo. Do you have any other explanation for Cuba insisting on buying US food at disadvantageous financial terms?
    Finally, all I think your country should do is treat Cuba like it treats other authoritarian countries like China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, etc. The U.S. terms for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, in the context of relations with other un-democratic countries, reveals the base hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy.


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