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1/2/04 - LACK OF FREEDOM IN CUBA - 2004-01-02

New Year’s Day 1959 marked the beginning of the repressive rule of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Forty-five years later, Cubans still dream of free elections, freedom of expression, and the right to choose their own economic and political system. But these rights continue to be denied by the Communist regime.

In 2003, the Castro regime arrested one-hundred or more men and women in a brutal crackdown on human rights activists and journalists. As Cuban government interrogators told one of them, “Ideas have a price, which you will now have to pay.” In Stalinist-style show trials, seventy-five were condemned to a total of more than fourteen-hundred years in prison -- an average sentence of almost twenty years. Victor Arroyo, a fifty-two-year-old journalist, was sentenced to twenty-six years in prison. His crimes: Buying toys for disadvantaged children with money from a Miami group -- and accepting an award from Human Rights Watch. Marcelo Cano Rodriquez, a thirty-eight-year-old physician, has been sentenced to eighteen-years in jail. Dr. Cano was convicted of maintaining ties to the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, and visiting prisoners and their families. For associating with Amnesty International and other human rights groups, Marcelo Manuel Lopez Banobra, a thirty-nine-year-old tugboat captain, received a fifteen-year prison sentence.

Having what the regime calls “subversive” labor-related books and magazines in his home brought Nelson Molinet Espino, a thirty-eight-year-old trade unionist, a term of twenty years. And for putting up pro-democracy posters on the street, not paying dues to the regime’s labor union, and having a copy of a Miami newspaper at his workplace, Felix Navarro Rodriguez, a forty-nine-year-old journalist and educator, was sentenced to twenty-five years in a Castro prison.

The U.S. is committed to the cause of Cuban freedom. As President George W. Bush says, Cuba’s proud history of fighting for liberty will go on:

“Today, the struggle for freedom continues in cities and towns of that beautiful island, in Castro’s prisons, and in the heart of every Cuban patriot.”

In all that lies ahead, “the Cuban people have a constant friend in the United States of America,” said President Bush. “No tyrant can stand forever against the power of liberty, because the hope of freedom is found in every heart.”