What the dissidents told the president
Cuban dissident Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas donned a crisp suit and tie to meet the president of the United States in Miami, but it was his battle wounds that spoke volumes.
The former psychologist and veteran Cuban soldier of the Angolan war — a humble man from central Santa Clara who has become an internationally recognized human rights activist after staging some two dozen hunger strikes to protest government abuses — was sporting bruises and cuts from the latest beating by pro-government mobs and police.
When Fariñas told President Barack Obama, leader of the free world, that repression in Cuba is increasing despite what appears to be positive economic-driven changes, he wasn’t citing a report but speaking from personal experience. So was Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, who also met the president at the Friday night Democratic Party fund-raising event. It was a momentous gathering because of the presence of these two brave Cubans — black dissidents who have severed the racial divide the Castro regime has tried to create between Cubans on the island and in exile.
And here they were, meeting with not just any American president, but with a black man who made history breaking through this nation’s own racial divide in a historic election.
Yet this is a president who, until this moment, had been publicly absent from the topic of Cuba, even as beatings and detentions of activists like Fariñas and Soler have become commonplace.
It was a welcome and symbolic meeting, one that many people hope translates into greater international protection for all of Cuba’s dissidents, and particularly for these two brave leaders taking the physical blows at ground zero.
Surprisingly, the meeting has generated little commentary. I’d venture to say perhaps because the event at the home of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, was closed to the media. Or perhaps the lack of enthusiasm shows we’ve become a people weary of presidential gestures high on rhetoric but short on results. It’s been five decades of “ Cuba sí, Castro no” chants, and policies, isolationist and otherwise, that continued to expand exile and didn’t yield democratic changes.
Not that Obama broke any ground beyond the symbolism.
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