Friday, March 04, 2005

Click here: | 03/04/2005 | Castro foes testify, support the U.S.

Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Mar. 04, 2005


Castro foes testify, support the U.S.

In a first-ever phone link, three top Cuban dissidents testified before members of Congress and endorsed President Bush's tough anti-Castro policies.


WASHINGTON - Three top dissidents in Havana testified before two congressional panels Thursday in the first use of a phone link to bring the words of Fidel Castro's domestic opponents directly to American lawmakers.

Martha Beatriz Roque, René Gómez and Félix Bonne used the occasion to strongly endorse President Bush's hard-line policies on Cuba, including restrictions that make it harder for Cuban Americans to visit relatives on the island.

The hearing marked the second anniversary of a Cuban government crackdown in 2003 that sent 75 dissidents to long jail terms, a move that prompted Bush to tighten travel and trade restrictions on the island.

Roque, who was among the 75, was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released last year for health reasons.

She said she has been warned by Cuban officials that she could be rearrested if she did not behave, but continues speaking out against the Cuban leader.

The three dissidents, who spoke from the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, belong to the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society, a group that is trying to organize a May 20 gathering of more than 300 dissident groups in Havana to discuss a possible transition to democracy.

Roque, Gómez and Bonne were praised by lawmakers for their courage in testifying before a joint meeting of two House subcommittees, one on international relations and the other on Africa, human rights and international operations. Several referred to them as ``heroes.''

''I want to extend my gratitude, in addition to my most profound admiration and solidarity, with the three extraordinary Cubans who have honored the Congress . . . with their participation this afternoon,'' said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican and a Cuban American.

When Rep. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and Cuban American, asked if they feared being arrested for their testimony, Bonne -- who spent time in jail in the late 1990s -- said that he had told his wife earlier that day that he was ''simply a soldier of liberty and democracy'' and was prepared to return to jail ``to defend the interests of the Cuban people.''

State Department officials tried to set up a videophone link between the Congress members and the dissidents in Havana, but were unable to establish the connection for technical reasons.

But the audio connection was clear, and photographs of the three dissidents were flashed on screens in the hearing room as they spoke -- Bonne in Spanish, the others in English.

The hearing came as congressional opponents of U.S. sanctions on Cuba, especially the ban on most travel to Cuba, are again preparing to try to weaken them in the next congressional sessions. Such efforts have repeatedly failed.

Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., said Castro should be provided with ''incentives to stop attacking the dissidents.'' Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., argued that open contacts had helped bring about democratic change in the Soviet Union.

René Gómez said he ''disagreed with that theory'' and that the communist governments in Eastern Europe fell because of the ``firm hand of the government of the United States.''

In written testimony, Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the Cuban government had intimidated potential participants in the May 20 gathering by detaining them and warning them the event would not take place. He said the Cuban security forces even circulated a mock newspaper article dated May 19, which described how Roque and her supporters were arrested during the assembly.

Noriega also said the crackdown in the spring of 2003 initially succeeded in forcing the dissident movement to lower its profile, but that dissident activity was starting to pick up.

Click here: 03/04/2005 Castro foes testify, support the U.S

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01/17/96 Top House Democrat leads 23-member mission to Cuba
02/11/96 Freed Cuban dissidents come to Miami
03/20/03 35 Cuban dissidents arrested
12/02/04 Dissidents say five releases not a sign of change in Cuba

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