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Posted May 07, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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President Bush has reached out to Cuban dissidents, speaking by videoconference with activists on the communist island who are still struggling for change there, the White House said Wednesday.

The conversation between Bush and three dissidents took place on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, Bush also was using a speech at the State Department to call on Cuba’s leaders to begin a process of democratic change.

Those remarks were being made at the State Department, before the Council of the Americas, an international business organization committed to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy.

The developments are part of a stepped-up effort by Bush to talk about Cuba and press for political change since Fidel Castro officially stepped down in February after decades ruling the island. Fidel’s brother, Raul, took over as president in the ailing leader’s place. He had been provisional president since Fidel Castro, who led the nation for nearly a half-century, underwent emergency surgery in July 2006.

But Bush has stressed that a new Castro does not mean a new Cuba.

In the teleconference, Bush spoke with Martha Beatriz Roque, one of the 75 pro-democracy activists arrested in a 2003 crackdown for offenses against the Castro regime; Berta Soler, the wife of a still-jailed activist; and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, who was released last year after 17 years in prison. They were at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana while they talked to Bush.

“This was an opportunity for the president to hear directly from those in Cuba who are struggling on behalf of human rights,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on May 07, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Of course I support democracy in Cuba but I’m not sure it is very wise for Ms. Beatriz Roque to speak directly with the leader of the country that is trying to destabilize Cuba AND making it public.

    What does that do for her?

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on May 07, 2008 by arteest with 103 total posts

    It seems odd. It was a similar case with the “Mothers” a little while ago, wasn’t it?

  3. Follow up post #3 added on May 07, 2008 by arteest with 103 total posts

    Sorry, I meant the wives—“Damas de Blanco.”

  4. Follow up post #4 added on May 08, 2008 by abh

    It is my understanding that Beatriz Roque is Bush’s #1 ally in Cuba and thus has had more than a few communications with the U.S. president.  What this article neglects to mention is that in this video call, Beatriz Roque pressed the U.S. to change its Cuba policy, specifically advocating a lifting of travel restrictions and the limits on how much money Cubans in the U.S. can send to their families.  This is a big shift by the person who has for so long resisted any loosening of U.S. policy.
    It’s another indication of how “out there” the Bush policy is and how counterproductive it has been.  The number of Cubans on the island who support the embargo could be zero.
    This is a big deal to me.
    I heard a more complete report on NPR.  I’m too lazy to look for the link but maybe somebody could do that for me.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on May 08, 2008 by arteest with 103 total posts

    Here’s a link to an NPR page about Bush’s speech on 7May. It mentions the teleconference with Beatriz Roque and her requests. Here is the link (I hope) for “All Things Considered” aired 7May. I don’t know if this is what you were listening to, abh. It runs 4 min. 2 sec.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on May 08, 2008 by arteest with 103 total posts

    It would help if I had added the links!


  7. Follow up post #7 added on May 08, 2008 by abh

    Yes, thank you arteest, that is the specific report I heard.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on May 08, 2008 by abh

    I feel I should add that Bush’s speech the next day seemed to dismiss any possiblility of reforming/ending the embargo.  Not that it’s a surprise, but I think this should serve as an example when we are trying to make the case during the next administration to end the embargo.  I think one can now fairly say that no one in Cuba favors the embargo in its current form.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on May 08, 2008 by arteest with 103 total posts

    It’s a small thing, and just semantics, but I find it interesting that AP, an objective news organization, used the term “reached out” with reference to Bush’s speech and teleconference. He wasn’t reaching out—he has his own agenda. For him, it’s not about Cuba or Cubans. It’s about him winning.

  10. Follow up post #10 added on May 09, 2008 by abh

    The following was taken from an email sent out by “The Cuba Central Team” (http://www.democracyinamericas.org/cubacentral ):

    This week, when President Bush addressed the 38th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, he came to praise the wonders of video conferencing while disparaging the reform process in Cuba.  He said in his speech:

    “Yesterday I had a fascinating opportunity to speak with a leading Cuban dissident, a former political prisoner, and a wife of a man who is held in a Cuban prison simply because he expressed his belief that all people should live in a free society. Video-conferencing is one of the great wonders of the 21st century, and to be able to sit in the White House and talk to these three brave souls in Havana was a(n) inspiring moment for me.”

    He went on to say “there’s no change at all,” and said the regime had engaged in “empty gestures at reform.” 

    Apparently, the president was so inspired by his video conference experience that he forgot to mention what he actually heard on the call from one prominent dissident, Marta Beatrice Roque.  As covered by the AP, The Cuban Triangle, NPR, and others, Roque asked the President “to make it easier for Cuban Americans in the United States to visit family members on the island and send money to their relatives” there. 

    In other words, the President was asked by one of Cuba’s leading dissidents to reverse the policies that he put into place four years ago now that Cuba’s government is introducing the changes which the president and his administration dismiss as cosmetic.  Apparently, videoconferencing has its limits.  Having heard this appeal, the President announced, as ever, that U.S. policy would not change. 

    Meanwhile, in Cuba, the list of reforms adopted by the government continues to grow longer.

    In the three months since Raul Castro took office, Cuba’s government has removed wage limits for workers, ended restrictions on cell phones, ended limits on the use of tourist facilities by Cubans, ended restrictions on where Cubans fill their prescriptions, ended limits on the sale of consumer items such as DVD players and computers, reorganized the family doctor program, provided raises for retirees and court employees, provided titles to Cuban families for government owned housing, commuted death sentences, introduced decentralizing reforms for agriculture, and encouraged a broadening public debate about these changes.

    While it is impossible to know where this process will ultimately lead, foreign governments have to decide whether applauding these changes or denigrating them will more likely lead to a better outcome for the Cuban people.  The President appears to count himself as one of a dwindling number of critics for whom progress on Cuba will never be enough to provide even a measure of encouragement.  It’s hard to know whether it’s worse to be wrong or simply irrelevant in the eyes of history.  For now, our policy is both.

  11. Follow up post #11 added on May 09, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    It would be much better for Cuba for Bush to go back to playing with Iraq and Afghanistan.  The paths ahead for Cuba are going to be difficult enough without Bush gtting involved,  Just my 2 centavos worth.

  12. Follow up post #12 added on May 13, 2008 by J. Perez

    Bush is totally irrelevant at this point, he can talk to whoever he wants but it means nothing, he has done as much damage as a president can do, but for all intent and purposes he is done.

    Aside from that, talking to someone who has no authority or control over what happens in Cuba is an excercise in futility. Like it or not the people to talk to are Raul and his inner group, turning our back on them is to follow the same old tired policy we have been pursuing for the last 48 years, it hasn’t work and it won’t work, so get over it and start using your head.

    I believe it will happen when Mr. Obama becomes president.

  13. Follow up post #13 added on May 13, 2008 by arteest with 103 total posts

    The first part was very well said. As for Obama, I think he will prove to have his own agenda. American politicians aren’t known for their hubris and generosity without an agenda. Since this isn’t a thread about the American election, I’ll only say that Obama has shown his own version of a policy slightly less than American world domination. “Leading the world” is how he put it on the Letterman Show.

  14. Follow up post #14 added on May 13, 2008 by J. Perez

    True, everyone has an agenda, however, the end result for Cuba I believe will be good with an increased numbers of people travelling to the Island and more opportunities for trade with the U.S. which would inevitably result in better standard of living for Cubans.

    My interpretation of his statement “leading the world” is slightly different than yours and in any event, I do not believe the world is buying the same b.s. Bush has dished out, even if it has a different face or philosophy.

  15. Follow up post #15 added on May 23, 2008 by abh with 244 total posts

    I saw this article in the Miami Herald about our friend Marta:

    Cuban dissident faces scrutiny at home, in Miami
    Posted on Thu, May. 22, 2008
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    When Martha Beatriz Roque uses an Internet cafe in Cuba, not only does the government read all the dissident’s electronic missives, but they dust the keyboard for fingerprints.

    They tap her phone and film her walking, protesting, shopping and even typing. Then they show it all on TV, as proof that the 63-year-old former economist is on the dole of Washington and Miami militants with ties to terrorism.

    ‘‘This is a never-ending soap opera that is being released episode by episode,’’ Roque told The Miami Herald by phone from Havana. ``Today they’ll show the second part and maybe tomorrow there will be a part three. I will speak out when the show is over.’‘

    After nearly two decades as a member of Cuba’s dissident movement, Roque finds herself under attack again as the Cuban government releases copies of her emails and footage of her movements showing she allegedly received money from militant anti-Castro activists in Miami and that the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana served as the ‘‘mule’’ to deliver the cash.

    Roque is still on parole from a 2003 conviction on ‘‘crimes against the state,’’ and this latest controversy could be the thing that lands her back behind bars to finish the 18 years left on her sentence.

    The Cuban government newspaper Granma on Wednesday published several emails she allegedly wrote blasting other dissidents, calling them brazen pimps. Officials also have said more evidence of her ‘‘mercenary’’ activities will be released in coming days.

    The first series of emails the government published indicated that she allegedly took $1,500 a month from a Miami group founded by Santiago Alvarez, the imprisoned benefactor of Luis Posada Carriles, a longtime anti-Castro militant accused of a deadly 1975 airline bombing.

    ‘‘Cuba says Santiago Alvarez is a terrorist,’’ Roque said. ``The only thing he’s been charged with is illegal possession of weapons.’‘

    Roque was a professor at the University of Havana and an official at Cuba’s sugar ministry before joining the fledgling opposition movement 18 years ago. A vocal advocate for democracy who heads the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, she has spent five years behind bars.

    ‘‘Do you remember the `Kiss of Death?’‘’ said Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in 1994. ``To me, every dissident who connects themselves to the Interests Section and to the exiles in Miami are losing any possibility of legitimacy.’‘

    He said Roque in particular was always controversial, in the past because she had a harsh style, and now because she puts too much emphasis on the goings on in Miami and Washington.

    ‘‘Martha Beatriz was one of the most hated officials in the Ministry of Sugar for many, many years. She was an extremist,’’ Amuchastegui said. ``I did not take her seriously in the days she was a staunch communist, and I don’t take her seriously now. I don’t think she’s a political leader of any sort.’‘

    Roque is one of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents and a favorite of some exile groups in Miami. But her close ties to both Washington and groups that advocate a hardline policy toward the communist-ruled nation have long rankled not only the Cuban government but also other members of the opposition in Havana. She is considered a hardliner who openly supports George Bush, and once cast a mock vote on his behalf.

    ‘‘Martha is a very brave woman who has been in prison a long time,’’ human rights leader Elizardo Sánchez said by phone from Havana. ``I don’t think this is going to make her change her mind.’‘

    Roque was one of six children born to Spaniards from the Canary Islands. Her father lost his taxi company after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, but despite that, Roque was a firm believer in the revolution, even as her siblings left one by one for Miami.

    ‘‘I believed in the revolution, yes, yes, yes,’’ Roque said this week. ``I believed in all their lies.’‘

    She said it was not one single event that made her join the opposition.

    ‘‘The process is slow and reflective,’’ Roque said. ``It creates an emptiness inside you. You think about your work, your inspirations, your life. And then realize you were struggling for something that doesn’t work. That’s truly disappointing.’‘

    Roque was the director of the Cuban Institute of Independent Economists in the mid 1990s when she and three other dissidents collaborated on a leaflet called The Homeland Belongs to All. The four were charged with threatening foreign investors, lying about the state of Cuba’s economy and plotting to disrupt local elections.

    In 1997, she was jailed and in 1999 was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. She was released in 2000 after a 52-day hunger strike.

    ‘‘She saw how the government was killing people and didn’t let young people study in the university. All those things made her change and struggle for the nation,’’ said Nenita Roque, one of Roque’s three sisters in Miami. ``She is not a terrorist or anything. She is simply a person who, with her writings and her word, has struggled and continues to struggle to see Cuba free.’‘

    In Miami, the longtime dissident is widely praised on conservative Cuban exile radio shows, while other government opponents on the island who do not back the economic embargo are sometimes shunned. Roque recently spoke on the telephone with Bush, and surprised some when she asked him to ease controversial travel restrictions.

    Roque is closely associated with the American diplomatic mission in Havana, where she attends special events, uses the Internet and is dialed in to the U.S.-funded Radio Martí in Miami to speak out against the Castro government.

    In 2003, the former chief of the Interests Section, James Cason, was a guest at a meeting with dissidents at her house.

    Weeks later, the government rounded up 75 government opponents across the island in what came to be known as ‘‘black spring.’’ Sentenced to as long as 27 years, most of them remain imprisoned. Roque also was jailed and sentenced to a 20-year prison term, but was one of 14 people released for medical reasons.

    ‘‘She is smart, dynamic and committed, but she is not a team player,’’ said Vicki Huddleston, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. ``She does not want to play second fiddle to anyone. She wants to be the leader in Cuba.’‘

    A 2004 survey by the University of Miami polled 217 Cubans within three days of their arrival in the United States. Only 5 percent had ever heard of her.

    The only coverage the Cuban government press ever gives her are exposés showing her shopping or allegedly conspiring with American diplomats.

    ‘‘Cubans see her as a political representative,’’ said Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. ``The last thing a Cuban wants to talk about is politics.’‘

    Roque, he said, is ‘‘honorable and highly respected in her inner circle’’ but has trouble selling her agenda within the dissidence movement. Like other opposition leaders in Havana and Miami, she’s becoming irrelevant particularly among young people, Gomez said.

    Her sister Nenita pleads with her to leave Cuba.

    ‘‘I don’t want her to be martyr,’’ she said. ``I have begged her many times to leave and she won’t do it… She will struggle till the end.’’

  16. Follow up post #16 added on May 23, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Thanks for posting that.

    Even though I don’t support her methods and ties to the US government and politicians in Miami, I support her intent, goals and courage.

    Cuba consulting services

  17. Follow up post #17 added on May 23, 2008 by abh with 244 total posts

    Yeah I guess.  I still haven’t seen much evidence of a strong grassroots movement for change.  I know there is a lot of discontent in Cuba with the status quo but I believe that there is not a unified agenda among those who want change.  Maybe Beatriz Roque’s change to now advocating for a lifting of the travel ban will make a difference if she has sway with the Cuban American community.  I’ll be watching reaction to Obama’s speech today to see if there are any noticeable cracks in the right wing exile grip on U.S./Cuba policy.

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