Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is bringing a Cuban democracy activist as his guest to tomorrow night’s State of the Union address.
Rosa María Payá, a member of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement, wrote an open letter to President Obama in last month’s Washington Post in which she stressed that “there is nothing new in treating as ‘normal’ the illegitimate government in Havana, which has never been elected by its citizens and has been practicing state murder with impunity.”
“That strategy already has been done by all the other governments without positive consequences for democracy in my country,” she wrote.
Payá is the daughter of slain Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Payá, who died in an auto accident tied to Cuban government officials.
“I appeal to this goodwill, notwithstanding your decision to review Cuba’s place on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism despite the Cuban government’s attempt, just a year ago, to smuggle tons of weapons in a North Korean ship through the Panama Canal,” she wrote Obama. “And despite Cuban state security provoking the 2012 car crash that took the life of my father, Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents who represented the alternative to the regime, and his young associate Harold Cepero. And even though the Cuban government refuses to allow an investigation and has not given even a copy of the autopsy report to my family.”
Payá argued that Obama must “support the implementation of a plebiscite for free and pluralistic elections in Cuba; and support citizen participation in the democratic process, the only thing that will guarantee the end of totalitarianism in Cuba.”
Rubio, who has maintained his strong opposition to the easing of sanctions and normalization of relations with Cuba announced last month, said Payá has honored her father’s legacy “by continuing to advocate for a free and democratic Cuba and also fighting to bring his murderers to justice.”
“For years, Oswaldo Payá courageously traveled throughout Cuba collecting tens of thousands of signatures from ordinary Cubans on a petition that came to be known as the Varela Project, which sought a peaceful democratic transition. All Oswaldo Payá wanted was a better future for Cuba and the Cuban people, and the Castro regime assassinated him for it,” Rubio said in a statement today.
Rosa María Payá was welcomed to the Hill by many senators in 2013 at a meeting co-hosted by Rubio and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“In his remarks, I expect the president will bring up his new Cuba policy, especially since his administration is heading to Havana this week to discuss giving the regime legitimacy and greater access to American dollars it will use to fund its machine of repression – the very machine that harassed Oswaldo Payá for years, eventually murdered him and pays hush money to potential key witnesses,” Rubio said.
“While I disagree with the president’s new Cuba policy, I hope Rosa María Payá’s presence on Tuesday night will at least remind him that her father’s murderers have not been brought to justice, and that the U.S. is now, in fact, sitting at the table with them. I hope the administration takes the opportunity to demand reforms and changes in Cuban behavior before relations are normalized. At the very least, President Obama and his administration should push the Cuban regime to allow an impartial, third party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo and Harold.”
The White House announced that among the guests in first lady Michelle Obama’s box at the State of the Union will be Alan and Judy Gross.
Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor, spent more than five years in deteriorating health in Cuban custody before his release with Obama’s announcement of normalization of relations. In June, his wife Judy pleaded with Obama “to do everything in his power to end this nightmare and bring Alan home from Cuba now.”
The three remaining members of the Cuban five were negotiated for what senior administration officials said was a U.S. intelligence asset who had been held by Cuba for 20 years. They said Gross was separately release on “humanitarian grounds.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) stressed at the time that “this was not a ‘humanitarian’ act by the Castro regime — it was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American.”
Menendez said Obama “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government” with the swap.
The White House has since been trumpeting Gross’ support for Obama’s easing of sanctions.