Ex-political prisoner warns Congress on U.S.-Cuba accord
By William E. Gibson
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s outreach to Cuba will only
perpetuate the torture, beatings and harsh imprisonment faced by Cubans
who dare speak out against the Castro regime, former political prisoner
Jorge Garcia Perez Antunez told members of Congress on Thursday.
Republicans welcomed testimony from Antunez and two other advocates for
human rights in Cuba as an opportunity to shed light on Cuba’s
repression of dissidents and abuse of people jailed for opposing the
government. They also seized a chance to blast Obama’s move toward
normal relations with Cuba.
“These are the people who have suffered the consequences of this
administration,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said of the
witnesses. “The administration is turning its back on them.”
“It is important to understand the murderous regime in Cuba that the
administration wants to establish relations with,” she said.
The hearing by the House subcommittee on global human rights — the third
this week on Cuba policy — focused on human rights but gave critics a
chance to raise other concerns.
Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Smith, R-N.J., blasted Obama for
agreeing to move toward normal relations without demanding that Cuba
turn over Joanne Chesimard, a former member of the Black Liberation Army
wanted for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.
Cuban leaders are “not interested in discussing her return,” Assistant
Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson testified at a hearing on Wednesday.
“This is unacceptable,” Smith said on Thursday. He read a comment from
Christopher Burgos, president of the State Troopers Fraternal
Association of New Jersey: “We are shocked and very disappointed that
returning a convicted killer of a state trooper was not already demanded
and accomplished in the context of the steps announced by the White
House regarding this despotic dictatorship.”
Police officials from New Jersey will take part in a future hearing,
Cuban officials have indicated that they are willing to discuss the
return of fugitives accused of common crimes but not those who were
granted asylum in Cuba for accusations considered political in nature.
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A Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence that large numbers of Cubans
who ripped off Medicare, credit-card companies and insurers have found
refuge in Cuba. Jacobson promised on Wednesday to press for the
extradition of fugitives in Cuba.
At Thursday’s hearing, Democrats defended Obama’s policy, saying it
provides an opportunity to pressure Cuba to improve its human rights record.
“You cannot change people and governments that you do not engage with,”
said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.
“The embargo [of Cuba] has impeded our relations throughout the Western
Hemisphere, as many Latin Americans see the embargo as a violation of
human rights against the Cuban people.”
Dissidents in Cuba contacted by American news organizations have given
conflicting opinions about Obama’s policy. Some see it as a betrayal,
others as an opportunity to pressure the government to improve living
conditions, open up the economy and accept international standards on
Antunez, who said he was tortured during 17 years of imprisonment in
Cuba, remains stoutly opposed to the U.S.-Cuba accords.
“These agreements are considered by a vital segment of the Cuban
resistance as a betrayal of the aspiration to freedom of the Cuban
people,” he said. “They are unacceptable to us.”
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, told him and other witnesses:
“This House will continue to stand with you, with the people of Cuba.”
Source: Political prisoner warns Congress on U.S.-Cuba accord – Sun