On December 10th, President George W. Bush marked International Human Rights Day with a proclamation that included these words: "As a nation, we cherish the values of free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance, and we steadfastly oppose the forces of cruelty, injustice, and tyranny." Marta Beatriz Roque celebrated International Human Rights Day by promoting those values in Cuba, her home. She and dozens of Cuban dissidents held a meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The meeting is a first step to unite over three-hundred dissident groups across Cuba. Ms. Roque estimates that the groups together have over five-thousand members.
The meeting showed that the opposition leaders movement in Cuba is growing despite dictator Fidel Castro's efforts to suppress it. Castro has maintained an oppressive system of Communism for well over forty years. He has deprived the Cuban people of their livelihood and of the freedoms that are taken for granted in the rest of the Western hemisphere. His government persecutes journalists, dissidents, and human rights activists.
Marta Beatriz Roque is one of Cuba's most prominent human rights activists. She was among four dissidents arrested in 1997 for publishing a document called “The Motherland Belongs to Us All.” The document called for freedom and democracy in Cuba. But the four were convicted of incitement to sedition and sentenced to prison.
Ms. Roque held her meeting on Human Rights Day without incident. But dissidents in Cuba still operate at great risk. Just four days before International Human Rights Day, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, leader of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, and twelve other Cuban dissidents were meeting at a private home in Havana. Of the twenty individuals arrested by Cuban secret police on that day, Dr. Biscet and four others remain in custody without charge.
The United States will continue to shine the spotlight on human rights abuses in Cuba until the people are permitted to exercise their basic rights, including the right to choose who will govern them and how they will be governed. In the words of President Bush, "America has pledged to support all individuals who seek to secure their unalienable rights. Across the globe, we will continue to stand with those who fight for fundamental freedoms."