Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Remarks “How the Media and the Obama Administration Ignore Cuban Repression” at The Heritage Foundation Tuesday, November 15, 10:00 AM
*As prepared for delivery*
I would like to thank the Heritage Foundation for hosting me this morning and putting on this great event today. Today’s topic, “How the Media and the Obama Administration Ignore Cuban Repression,” is not just timely but a grim reality that we must commit to correct.
In recent years, we have witnessed oppressed people around the world directly challenge their oppressors. This year, it has manifested itself in what some have labeled the Arab Spring, with the U.S. and European nations, in some instances, committing their military resources to help remove a tyrant. But such was not the case for the demonstrators against the Iranian regime last year. The silence of President Obama was deafening, until he was politically dragged into standing with pro-democracy demonstrators in Tehran. At least the international media were alerting the world of the brutal beatings and unwarranted arrests by the Iranian regime.
Sadly, the press turns a blind eye to the suffering of the Cuban people, ignoring the deaths of Laura Pollan, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and so many others who have perished under or have been murdered by Cuba’s Communist dictatorship. Even worse, some media outlets act more like members of the Castro propaganda machine rather than independent, unbiased sources of reporting. They tout, as lasting reforms, the façade of property rights that Raul Castro is attempting to create.
Some media outlets are so enamored with Raul Castro and his policies that in an article published just yesterday, one said:
“Tea Party types in the US, and proponents of smaller government, should like what Castro is doing. He’s cutting one million workers on the state payroll, reducing ration card allocations, and ending some state subsidies entirely.”
Can you believe it? That’s as bad as a former Congressional colleague praising the Cuban apartheid healthcare system as a model for the U.S. to emulate.
If the media’s willful ignorance about conditions in Cuba or its romanticized notion of the butchers of Havana were not enough, we have an Obama Administration, offering concession after concession to the regime. During his inaugural address in 2009, President Obama said,
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
Almost 3 years later, we have learned that this Administration is willing to extend a hand to the Castro brothers who are not willing to unclench their fists. But Cuba’s internal opposition continues undeterred. They are no longer afraid and are taking it upon themselves to peacefully protest the inhumane actions of the Castro brothers and the Communist apparatchik that rules Cuba with an iron grip.
Last month, I asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to justify the Administration’s stance on various rogue regimes. In March, Secretary Clinton stated Qaddafi “should leave power.” In July, she stated, “Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power.”
When pressed for an answer, Secretary Clinton finally responded that Castro should go. Yet, this Administration continues to provide the Castro brothers economic lifelines in the form of allowing increased travel opportunities and supporting their offshore oil drilling aspirations. Rather than learning the lessons from the successful application of the Reagan doctrine of “peace through strength,” the Obama Administration appears to be following a doctrine of surrender and capitulation to a sworn enemy of the United States, just 90 miles from our shores.
Cuba’s continued designation as a state sponsor of terrorism underscores the severe threat that the regime in Havana poses to the U.S. and to regional security. It is a regime that actively works against U.S. security objectives—unilaterally and with other pariah states in the Hemisphere and beyond. It is a regime that has actively spied against the United States, penetrating U.S. intelligence and other agencies, compromising sensitive information about a range of U.S. operations.
Like its friends in Tehran and Pyongyang which take innocent U.S. citizens hostage to use as leveraging pawns in their sick political games, so too has the Cuban regime held Alan Gross captive in exchange for gains from the Obama Administration. Yes, we must work to counter the dangerous policies of this Administration and its apologists. But our focus needs to be on a permanent solution to the threats posed by the Castro dictatorship, and that solution lies with the Cuban people and on precipitating a transition to democratic rule on the island.
It is up to the U.S. and other responsible nations to keep pressure on the regime, and to keep supporting those in Cuba who are, in fact, bravely stand up for freedom and human rights. This is a vital lesson we learned from Ronald Reagan, who was staunch supporter of freedom and combated Communism anywhere and everywhere in the world. He understood that as a free nation, we have the responsibility and the resources to help the people of countries who are suffering under a totalitarian state.
It is our moral obligation to become a voice for those who are suffering under oppression and help them become free. President Reagan knew what it took to fight Communism without having to concede on our values or pander to demands from these tyrants. As Reagan once said,
“Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness; pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.”
President Reagan knew how to communicate with the Cuban people. When President Reagan signed the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act in 1983, he said that for the first time in the 25 years of Communist domination of Cuba, at that time, the Cuban people would finally be able to hear the truth and to hear it in detail.
The Great Communicator also made it his mission to inform the world about the atrocities being committed by the Cuban dictatorship and the systematic human rights abuses that defined the regime. He sent a former political prisoner, Armando Valladares, as the U.S. Ambassador to the then United Nations Human Rights Commission, to present the evidence to the world. Today, under the Obama Administration, the U.S. is satisfied with a UN Human Rights Council that has Cuba as a member.
The last few months have been some of the most dangerous for Cuba’s opposition and pro-democracy advocates. The Castro regime’s crackdown knows no boundaries as arrests and attacks of all sorts occur daily. It is clear that no man, no woman, no child can escape the violence.
September was the most active month, with almost 500 Cubans arrested. Who has reported on that? No one. Unfortunately, these facts and figures go largely unpublicized. The mobs comprised of Castro puppets have thrown women around like rag dolls and the regime’s police regularly use tear gas to silence peaceful protests. Any independent journalist or media correspondent who dares report on the real situation in Cuba is subject to intense violence, arrests, jail time and expulsion. These brave men and women are only guilty of exercising their basic right of free speech, a right that the Castro dictatorship denies them every day. The numbers don’t lie and the violence will only intensify if no action is taken.
The peaceful Ladies in White are continually threatened and beaten as they simply try to protest in a silent and peaceful way, the unjust incarceration of their family members. They are champions of freedom, founded by wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners of the Cuban dictatorship. These women wanted to give a peaceful voice to the imprisoned and in 2003, during what is known as the Black Spring, organized to take the streets in order to convey a message of change, a message of respect for human rights, and a message of freedom of expression.
As the respect and admiration grows among the general population for these courageous women, so has the targeting of the regime against them. In August of this year, while peacefully protesting, more than 40 members of the Ladies in White were attacked in Havana by a regime organized crowd. And then again in September, the Ladies in White were harassed and prevented from marching to Mass on the feast day of the Virgin of Mercy. This kind of harassment showcases how the Castro brothers continue to oppress 11 million Cubans who reside under their Communist dictatorship.
I would also like to take this time to remember the valiant efforts of Laura Pollan, an integral member of the Ladies in White, who passed away in Cuba last month. Even after her husband was released from the Cuban dictatorship’s gulags, Laura did not forget the suffering of the Cuban nation. She continued to peacefully march for other prisoners of conscience because, as she underscored, “as long as this government is around there will be prisoners.”
Each day, we receive more pictures and more videos flowing out of Cuba showing the Cuban people rallying in support of the Ladies in White, and other protest movements that are taking place throughout Cuba. Change is happening before our very eyes, and I look forward to a day when Cuba is a free and democratic nation. As Americans and defenders of individual freedoms, we must never abandon the innocent Cubans suffering under Castro’s tyranny nor fail to support their determination to be free.
We must never forget those who have given their lives in the struggle to free Cuba from the shackles of tyranny, nor can we allow their suffering to be swept under the rug. We must not allow their sacrifice to be betrayed by those who put profit margin over principles or who, as with the Obama Administration, seek accommodation and appeasement at any cost.
Even though the Cold War is over, the threat from this ideology still exists in our world, specifically in Latin America with tyrants such as Castro, Chavez, Ortega, Morales, and Correa. To succeed in rooting out socialism in our world, we must do a better job of joining forces with responsible nations who emerged from the ashes of Communism and are reliable democratic allies.
Ronald Reagan set the example as he was not alone in fighting off Communism. He had a staunch ally in Margaret Thatcher in Britain who joined his goal of liberty for all people. I applaud the Heritage Foundation for recognizing the outstanding contributions that Lady Thatcher made to make our world a better place by founding The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom. The partnership between President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher serves as a testament of what can be accomplished when government leaders are dedicated to root out repressive evil ideologies wherever they may exist.
It is evident that the Cuban people reject Communism, reject dictatorial rule by the Castro brothers, and reject authoritarian control over the island. We must remain united during this conflict and continue to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters that are valiantly fighting for freedom and democracy. Make no mistake, they are active and fighting this tyranny. Standing up against the dictatorial and corrupt Castro regime takes dedication, tenacity, and above all, courage. With the Cuban people as our inspiration and guided by the legacy of Ronald Reagan, we can prevail.
Muchisimas gracias (Thank you).