A year has elapsed since normalization talks were divulged between the United States and Cuba, and the prophetic words of Cuba’s dissidents reverberate within the current, grim reality of a nation in shackles. Pro-democracy activists “are totally against the easing of the embargo the government will have more access to technology and money that can be used against us,” declared Ángel Moya, a former political prisoner, one year ago.
Sonia Garro, a member of the Ladies in White, having served almost three years in prison at the time of her release, expressed: “A country that violates the human rights of its people shouldn’t have sanctions lifted. Here there is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom of anything. This will give them more leeway to continue operating with the same impunity that they have always operated with.”
On Sept. 25, 2015, Cuba’s foremost dissidents sent a letter to the U.S. Congress: “The lifting of the embargo, as proposed by the [Obama] administration will permit the old ruling elite to transfer their power to their political heirs and families, giving little recourse to the Cuban people in confronting this despotic power.”
Clamors for the embargo’s lifting persist despite the fulfillment of dissident and exile warnings that diplomatic recognition of the Castro regime would strengthen the oppressors and crush popular dissent. The removal of what little trade sanctions remain is legally and morally unjustified.
President Obama’s negotiations with the dictatorship were conducted sans the legitimizing presence of Cuba’s pro-democracy groups and civil society. The darkly covert negotiations were also in direct violation of U.S. law as outlined in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton Act). The embargo should not be lifted until the requisite conditions in the Helms-Burton Act are honored by the Castro regime.
Situating the embargo in its proper context, Cuban activist Rosa María Payá wisely observes: “The cruelest embargo, and the one that depends only on Cubans to maintain or eliminate it, is the one maintained by the Havana regime against the rights of our citizens.”
While contravening U.S. laws and basic diplomatic rules of engagement, Obama, for the past year, has been rewarding the intransigent dictatorship with undeserved unilateral concessions. In turn, Castro apparatchiks have indicated their steadfast refusal to concede not one “iota” or “millimeter” in favor of measures leading to true reconciliation.
The oft-repeated rhetoric that the embargo has “exacerbated the hardships” of the Cuban people is untrue. The Castros' totalitarian system of governance, which has created economic, sociopolitical and spiritual impoverishment, is the veritable culprit, not the embargo. Fifty-five years of global trade with Cuba refutes allegations of enforced isolation. Given Castro’s propensity to default on loans, the embargo has actually saved U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars by denying the corrupt regime easy credit.
Sadly and devastatingly, opportunistic global capitalists, looking for profits, perpetuate the exploitation of the Cuban people. Foreign companies are provided Cuban workers by the state. The Castro regime deducts 80 percent of the average employee’s wages, and pays the remaining 20 percent in worthless Cuban pesos. Doing business in Cuba entails striking a nefarious bargain with Castro’s monopolies, GAESA, ETECSA and ALIMPORT, which control the Cuban economy. The Castro elites hoard the foreign revenue, acquire debts and incur national insolvency. These tactics financially ruin the nation, but in no way does it affect the rulers’ accumulation of personal wealth.
The fruits of Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy has been an “annus horribilis” of over 8,600 short-term arbitrary detentions, weekly beatings of peaceful protesters, extrajudicial killings, long-term incarceration of political opponents, and a migratory crisis involving a number of Latin-American nations. The Cuban government has demonstrated a clear unwillingness to embrace free markets or incorporate judicial safeguards for business investments. The political opposition, fully cognizant that commerce without civil liberties is meaningless, seeks a restoration of their political rights and civil liberties.
The voices of Cuba’s dissidents and exiles, ignored and marginalized, must be respected and acknowledged. The Stalinist purveyors of misery and death must face justice for their homicidal and economic crimes. Only then will Cubans move forward with renewed hope and optimism forging a path to the progress and prosperity so cruelly swept away in the Castroite madness that engulfed Cuba in 1959.
Daisy Penaloza left communist Cuba on a U.S.- sponsored Freedom Flight In 1967 and currently resides in Bakersfield, California.