Ex-Political Prisoner Warns Congress of U.S.-Cuba Accord

Sunday, February 8, 2015
From The Sun-Sentinel:

Ex-political prisoner warns Congress on U.S.-Cuba accord

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, Smith said.

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.

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 human rights.

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."