According to reports, Berta Soler, the iconic leader of the Ladies in White, has been arrested and charged with bogus crimes, and stripped of her ability to travel.
As Berta’s arrest demonstrates, President Obama’s policy of appeasement has emboldened the Castro regime to further oppress the Cuban people. For the first four months of 2016, there have been 5,351 political arrests in Cuba with 498 of those occurring during President Obama’s two-day trip in March. The dictators know that President Obama is too wedded to his policy of weakness to let the realities of escalating repression, political arrests, and mounting human suffering affect his course. Shamefully, his policy is failing Cuba’s human rights and pro-democracy activists, and it is propelling record numbers of Cubans to attempt risky escapes. Meanwhile, the regime has allowed Russian ships to spy from its waters, engaged in weapons smuggling, harbored terrorists and fugitives from U.S. justice, and assisted the Maduro regime suppress dissent in Venezuela.
Despite the regime’s egregious human rights record, President Obama will barrel ahead in encouraging businesses to directly enrich the very dictatorship that suppresses dissent, brutally beats activists, and engages in vicious acts of repudiation. While he unreservedly embraces a brutal regime, he is shockingly disengaged from the terrible consequences of his policy for the Cuban people.
Berta Soler is a recipient of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She bravely accepted the mantle of leadership of the Ladies in White after its previous leader, Laura Pollan, died at the hands of Castros’ thugs. She is often among the other Ladies in White who are beaten, threatened or insulted on their way to mass virtually every Sunday.
I urge the president to end his damaging concessions to the Castro brothers, as Berta herself also has advocated, and require that the Castro regime respect basic human rights and liberties. Rather than sidling up to the ailing octogenarians that have oppressed the Cuban people for decades, President Obama should embrace the true leaders such as Berta Soler.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was first elected to Congress in 2002.