Surrounded by members of the Union of Cuban Ex-Political Prisoners, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) warned that Cuban President Raul Castro is not the softer Castro brother that some make him out to be but has “more blood on his hands” than Fidel.
Menendez spoke Saturday in Union City, N.J., in front of walls filled with framed photos of people detained, tortured and killed by the Castro regime.
The senator said the images “remind us of what Fidel Castro’s legacy is truly all about.”
Menendez said he woke up to hundreds of emails from friends and Castro opponents expressing joy at the death of Castro, 90, “and I understand what they meant — but today I find no real joy.”
“Too many families have been torn apart, too many killed and imprisoned, too many tortured, too many hungry, a nation destroyed and millions enslaved. And a Castro still rules 11 million Cubans with an iron fist,” he said.
“Time has made Americans numb to those harsh realities. But for the people of Cuba, they are the nightmare they live every day. Time weakened our resolve and so the Obama administration two years ago made enormous one-sided concessions to the Castro regime only to see two years of greater repression instead of greater freedom.”
Menendez stressed that since Obama announced detente with Cuba, “political repression in Cuba is at a historic high,” with the number of Cubans fleeing the island “risen to levels not seen since the 1994 Flight of Rafters.”
“Violations of religious freedom have increased tenfold and the small private sector businesses promised under reform have turned negative,” he added.
The passing of Castro, the senator emphasized, should be a time for the United States to reflect and “recalibrate” policy toward the communist regime.
“Instead of condoning the continuation of a repressive regime simply because it’s been around long enough, the United States and the international community must stand up and support the Cuban people — support democracy activists, independent journalists and human right leaders, as we did with Lech Walesa in Poland, as we did with Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic, as we did with Soviet Jewry in the former Soviet Union,” Menendez continued. “We need to stop the economic lifeline the Obama administration has given the Castro regime through a flood of U.S. dollars and lowered restrictions.”
“And we need to say to Raul Castro what we said to Burma, no less: Release all political prisoners. Hold free elections. Permit a free press. Let the UN Commission on Human Rights enter the country. And then you can have a relationship with the United States.”
Menendez addressed those who think Raul Castro is “a more gentle man than his brother,” declaring that Raul “has more blood on his hands than Fidel did” thanks to his leadership of the military and security apparatus “that has oppressed, tortured and killed for over five decades.”
The senator had a message for Fidel: “History will condemn you. And it will condemn us if we do not help the Cuban people.”
Last month, Menendez blasted the Obama administration for directing a “profound shift away from our own commitment to the rule of law and the processes of democracy as we have always known them” with its Cuba concessions and “blatantly” breaking the law with Treasury amendments to ease economic relations as much as possible without Congress lifting the embargo.
President Obama said his goal was to make the Cuban outreach so entwined in the private sector that his successor would not be able to reserve it as he tries to force Congress’ hand on the embargo.
Menendez said the new regulations “simply and blatantly violate both the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and the Libertad Act of 1996, which codified the embargo against Cuba, and indicate that the United States government will now actively ‘authorize contracts and violations currently prohibited by the embargo.’”
“While the administration may not like the embargo or agree with it, it remains the law of the land,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is outrageous that our own government would seek to break the law and blatantly acknowledge its intent to do so.”