On 17 December 2014, President Barack Obama announced a change in U.S. Cuba policy and the Free Cuba Foundation feels the need to make its position clear in the following statement:
The Free Cuba Foundation (FCF) was founded at Florida International University in 1993. Throughout its history, FCF has been a steadfast and independent voice in favor nonviolent resistance to injustice and tyranny.
We agree with President Obama on one general observation from his December 17 statement: that one cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Unfortunately, the efforts of the Clinton Administration to engage the Castro dictatorship as well as loosen sanctions before and after 1996 went unmentioned in President Obama's comments. President Clinton began joint military exercises with the Castro regime in 1994 in pursuit of normalized relations. The shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996, by Castro regime MiGs -- which killed Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa (age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24) and Pablo Morales (age 29) -- led to the passage and signing of The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act by Congress as an alternative to military action in an election year.
The attack took place on a day that a national gathering called Concilio Cubano was to have started. A massive crackdown had been underway for days attracting international press attention. Despite this act of state terrorism against Americans, President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and loosened sanctions that opened cash and carry exports from American corporations to the Castro regime. This turned the United States into one of the top five trading partners of the Castro regime.
Economic sanctions were not designed to overthrow the dictatorship but were part of a policy of containment to prevent the spread of its totalitarian model. The rise of Hugo Chavez and the spread of Cuban influence in Venezuela began during Bill Clinton's presidency and are now harming the entire region undermining the democratic gains of the 1980s and early 1990s. Despite this disaster, the Obama Administration began in 2009 to loosen sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship. The Castro regime's response was to take Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, hostage. The Obama administration remained very low key about Gross's arrest, and it was 25 days before U.S. diplomats even saw this jailed American. FCF believes that this lack of concern sent a message to the dictatorship that they could continue to arbitrarily detain Gross and use him as a bargaining chip in their goals to secure the release of five Cuban spies captured in 1998. These five had not only engaged in spying on U.S.-military facilities but planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil and were criminally involved in the February 24, 1996 shoot down.
As was the case in 1996, this policy of appeasement had dire consequences for the democratic opposition in Cuba, which suffered several setbacks over the next four years. Prisoner-of-conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike under suspicious circumstances in 2010; Ladies in White founder Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died from a suspicious illness in 2011; and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero died in the summer of 2012, under circumstances that point to a state security killing. Rising violence against opposition activists, including machete attacks, is a new and disturbing phenomenon.
FCF is concerned that releasing the three remaining spies, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue in exchange for Gross and an unknown Cuban intelligence operative -- may lead to the Castro regime murdering more innocents inside and outside of Cuba. We also know, as does the regime, that due to short-term economic interests that economic engagement with the dictatorship will not be seriously impacted by whatever new atrocities are committed.
Additionally, the hostage demand having been met by the United States government also sets a dangerous precedent for Americans traveling abroad. Add to this the normalization of diplomatic relations and the further loosening of sanctions and the signal sent to the hardline elements within the regime is clear: operating with criminal impunity delivers results. This was the same message sent by President Clinton in 2000.
FCF and its members are disturbed by the President's statement on December 19,2014 that the 1996 shoot down was not a premeditated move by Castro but a "tragic circumstance." This statement was deficient on two basic points. First of all, two planes were shot down over international airspace not one as he stated in the press conference. More importantly, the president's statement ignored documented evidence as well as court decisions and investigations by international human rights bodies that have concluded that the attack was indeed a premeditated extrajudicial execution.
Every year since the week following the 1996 shoot-down, FCF members have joined together to hold a silent vigil at Florida International University on February 24th between 3:21pm and 3:27pm at the times both planes were blown up by Castro's MiGs in remembrance of Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo who gave their lives in service to others in a continuing demand for justice. This tradition has been maintained for the past 18 years and next year on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 3:21pm we will gather with the families of the four martyrs.
We the present and former members of the Free CubaFoundation say to the United States government and the Castro regime that the fruits that have emerged thus far from these negotiations point to the impure means upon which they were founded and will only lead to more grief. Therefore, with great respect we say, not in our name!
Grace Cuelez Droblas
Yosvani Oliva Iglesias
Neri Ann Martinez
Pedro M. Ross
Juan Carlos Sanchez
Harold Alexander Silva
This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.
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