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WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following remarks earlier today on the latest series of crackdowns perpetrated by the Cuban regime against Cuban dissidents in Havana just days ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26-28 visit to the island.

Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“Mr. Speaker, in the last year, we have witnessed dramatic changes in the Middle East and North Africa. There was vast media coverage in detailing the brutality of oppressors like Assad in Syria.

“Yet, very little has been said about the escalation of violence against Cuba’s internal opposition, a peaceful group who are being attacked by the Castro tyrants and their agents of terror, [who] operate just 90 miles off U.S. shores. But there is an opportunity to correct this wrong, to join forces and shed light on the systematic abuses against freedom-loving Cubans, and to call on Pope Benedict XVI, as he prepares to visit the island gulag, to publicly support the aspirations of the enslaved Cuban people to exercise their God-given rights.

“The Cuban dictatorship has ramped up its use of short-term detentions in order to intimidate and silence the voices of these brave Cubans standing up against tyranny and oppression. The Castro regime has continued its assault on fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

“The Cuban people are reminded daily that no dissent is allowed as they live under constant threat and surveillance by Cuban State Security forces. Regime sympathizers and security forces have barred opposition leaders from leaving their homes and have violently attacked other peaceful pro-democracy protestors on the streets.

“Just 48 hours ago, the Castro regime detained about 70 members of the peaceful Ladies in White movement, including 18 women who were arrested in Havana on their way to mass. Berta Soler, an important leader of the Ladies in White, was detained during the crackdown.

“The Ladies in White [is] a peaceful group, founded by wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners who suffered in Castro’s gulags. These Ladies are advocates of freedom, and by silently marching through the streets they convey a powerful message of peace and a voice for all [of] the oppressed. The Ladies in White have expressed their interest in meeting with the Pope during his visit next week but have not been able to confirm that meeting.

“A few days ago, 13 members of Cuba’s opposition staged a peaceful sit-in at a Catholic Church in Havana to call attention to their request for Pope Benedict XVI to meet with pro-democracy advocates during his visit to the island. Reports indicate that Castro agents forcibly removed these human rights defenders from the Church, detained them, and subjected them to severe interrogation.

“It is my hope that Pope Benedict will meet with these brave dissidents and shine a light on the struggles of the Cuban people who are living under the rule of the oppressive Castro brothers. I urge the Catholic Church to express its support and solidarity with the internal peaceful opposition and hear the voices of the dissidents who are yearning for freedom.

“The passionate struggle of the internal opposition will not be deterred by the abuses that are occurring daily at the hands of the Castro regime. These recent crackdowns by the regime illustrate its fear, its paranoia, [and] its concern that the Cuban people are no longer afraid of the regime and are demanding a democratic change on the island.

“The citizens of Cuba are denied basic human rights by the Castro regime, including the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and due process of law. These fundamental freedoms should not be reserved for the citizens of some countries, while denied to those in other nations.

“I urge free nations—responsible nations—to condemn the recent actions by the Castro brothers,
to speak out against the atrocities that are committed daily in Cuba, and to reaffirm unconditional support for the Cuban people who seek to break free from the shackles of the Castro tyranny.”

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