Ted Cruz: Fidel Castro's repressive legacy will not automatically follow him to the grave

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the death of Cuba’s murderous Communist dictator Fidel Castro. Cruz reflected on Castro’s legacy of exploitation and oppression, while recommending a new path forward for Cuban American relations.

“Let me be absolutely clear, Mr. President,” said Sen. Cruz. “We’re not mourning the death of a romantic revolutionary or distinguished statesman. We’re not grieving for a protector of peace or a judicious steward of his people. Today, we are thankful. We are thankful that a man who has imprisoned, tortured, and degraded the lives of so many is no longer with us. A brutal dictator is dead, and I would like to pay tribute to the millions who have suffered at the hand of the Castro regime. We remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the totalitarian Communist dictatorship he imposed on Cuba.”

Sen. Cruz’s speech may be viewed in its entirety here. The full text of his remarks as prepared can be found below:

Mr. President, it was Armando Valladares, a Cuban dissident and poet imprisoned for 22 years under the Castro regime, who so powerfully observed in his memoir: “My response to those who still try to justify Castro’s tyranny with the excuse that he has built schools and hospitals is this: Stalin, Hitler and Pinochet also built schools and hospitals, and like Castro, they also tortured and assassinated opponents. They built concentration and extermination camps and eradicated all liberties, committing the worst crimes against humanity.”

Mr. President, this week we witnessed a powerful moment for people all across the country, and especially for Cuban Americans like myself.  Cuba’s longtime oppressive dictator Fidel Castro is dead.

Let me be absolutely clear, Mr. President: we’re not mourning the death of a romantic revolutionary or distinguished statesman. We’re not grieving for a protector of peace or a judicious steward of his people. Today, we are thankful. We are thankful that a man who has imprisoned, tortured, and degraded the lives of so many is no longer with us. A brutal dictator is dead, and I would like to pay tribute to the millions who have suffered at the hand of the Castro regime. We remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the totalitarian Communist dictatorship he imposed on Cuba.

And now, the race is on to see which world leader can most fulsomely praise Fidel Castro’s legacy, while delicately averting their eyes from his less savory characteristics. Two duly elected leaders of democracies who should know better, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and American president Barack Obama, are leading the way. Mr. Trudeau praised Castro as a “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century” and a “legendary revolutionary orator” who “made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation.” Mr. Obama offered his “condolences” to the Cuban people, and blandly suggested that “history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure.” Now, he added, we can “look to the future.”

Mr. President, earlier this week, I insisted that no United States government official attend Castro’s funeral unless and until Raul releases his political prisoners, first and foremost those who have been detained since Fidel’s death. Unfortunately, my request went unheeded.

Two high-level U.S. government officials attended Fidel’s memorial service yesterday. This unofficial delegation includes Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba.

Yesterday, when asked about a U.S. presence for the memorial service, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “We believe that this was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment to an ongoing future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people” and “this is an appropriate way to show respect, to participate in the events that are planned for this evening, while also acknowledging some of the differences that remain between our two countries.”

I must ask Mr. Earnest – were any of these differences publically acknowledged while Rhodes and DeLaurentis were commemorating the legacy of Fidel Castro? I can hardly imagine those differences were noted in the funeral pamphlet.

Mr. Earnest also claimed last night that “Certainly no one from the White House and no other delegations will be sent to Cuba to participate in any of the other events.” Mr. President, let’s hold him to these words. My hope and prayer is that these officials do not attend the funeral.

Although I must say that it’s quite convenient that Rhodes had a pre-planned trip to Cuba this week. Earnest remarked that “Mr. Rhodes has played a leading role in crafting the normalization policy that President Obama announced about two years ago” and “he has been the principal interlocutor with the Cuban government from the White House in crafting this policy and implementing it successfully.

The life and legacy of Fidel Castro is no cause for celebration or commemoration. His contributions consist of a ruined country and broken people.

My own family’s experience is a case in point. My father, Rafael, had been an early supporter of the revolution against Fulgencio Batista — and spent a time in prison getting his teeth kicked in for his efforts. He fled the island, only to return to what he hoped would be a liberated Cuba. Instead, he found a new, even more brutal, form of repression had taken hold. In 1960, he left again, never to return. His sister, my Tia Sonia, bravely joined the resistance to Castro and was jailed and tortured in her turn, and what they did to girls in Cuban prisons was unspeakable.

The betrayal and violence experienced by my father and aunt were all too typical of the millions of Cubans who have suffered under the Castro regime over the last six decades. This is not the stuff of Cold War history that can be swept under the rug simply because Fidel is dead. Consider, for example, the dissidents Guillermo Fariñas and Elizardo Sanchez, who warned me in the summer of 2013 that the Castros, then on the ropes because of the reduction of Venezuelan patronage, were plotting to cement their hold on power by pretending to liberalize in order to get the American economic embargo lifted. Their model was Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power in Russia (Sanchez called it “Putinismo”), and their plan was to get the United States to pay for it. It worked. The year after I met with Fariñas and Sanchez, Mr. Obama announced his famous “thaw” with the Castros, and the American dollars started flowing. As we now know, there was no corresponding political liberalization. Last September, Mr. Fariñas concluded his 25th hunger strike against the Castros’ oppression.

Then there is the case of the prominent dissident Oswaldo Paya, who in 2012 died in a car crash that is widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Castro regime. His daughter, Rosa Maria, has pressed relentlessly for answers, and thus become a target herself. When, just three years after her father’s death, the United States honored the Castros with a new embassy in Washington, D.C., Rosa Maria tried to attend the related State Department press conference as an accredited journalist. But she was spotted by the Cuban delegation, who demanded that she be removed if she dared ask any questions. The Americans complied, in an act of thuggery more typical of Havana than Washington.

Finally, I had the honor last summer to meet with Dr. Oscar Biscet, an early truth-teller about the disgusting practice of post-birth abortions in Cuba who has been repeatedly jailed and tortured for his fearless opposition to the Castros. I asked him, as I had asked Senores Farinas and Sanchez, whether his ability to travel signaled growing freedom on the island. He answered just as they had three years earlier: “No.” In fact, he said, the repression had grown worse since the “thaw” with America. Didn’t we realize, he wondered, that all those American dollars were flowing into the Castros’ pockets, and funding the next generation of their police state?

That is the true legacy of Fidel Castro — that he was able to institutionalize his dictatorship so it would survive him.

Fidel Castro’s death cannot bring back his thousands of victims, nor can it bring comfort to their families. For 60 years, Fidel Castro systematically exploited and oppressed the people of Cuba – and now that tyrannical reign falls to his brother, Raul.

Mr. President, I was with my dad when he found out the news that Fidel Castro was dead. I asked my father, ‘‘What do you think happens now that Fidel is dead?’ And he shrugged and said, ‘Raul has been in charge for years. The system has gotten stronger.’ What Obama has done is funneled billions of dollars to Raul Castro, which is being used to oppress dissidents. In 2016, roughly 10,000 political arrests occurred in Cuba – that is five times as many as occurred in 2010, when there were only about 2,000. This tyrannical regime has gotten stronger because of a weak president and weak foreign policy.

There is a real danger that we will now fall into the trap of thinking Fidel’s death represents material change in Cuba. It does not. The moment to exert maximum pressure would have been eight years ago, when his failing health forced him to pass control to Raul. But, rather than leverage the transition in our favor, the Obama administration decided to start negotiations with Raul in the mistaken belief that he would prove more reasonable than his brother (an unfortunate pattern they repeated with Kim Jong-un, Hassan Rouhani, and Nicolas Maduro). The administration lifted the embargo that had been exerting economic pressure and having a real, meaningful effect.

Efforts to be diplomatically polite about Fidel’s death suggest the administration still hopes Raul can be brought round.

All historical evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Raul is not a “different” Castro. He is his brother’s chosen successor who has spent the last eight years implementing his dynastic plan. Unlike Cuba, however, the United States has an actual democracy, and our recent elections suggest there is significant resistance among the American people to the Obama administration’s policy of appeasement towards hostile dictators. We can — and should — send clear signals that that policy is at an end. Among other things, we should halt the dangerous “security cooperation” we have begun with the Castro regime, which extends to military exercises, counter-narcotics efforts, communications, and navigation — all of which places our sensitive information in the hands of a hostile government that would not hesitate to share it with other enemies from Tehran to Pyongyang. I hope all my colleagues will join me in calling for these alterations.

A dictator is dead. But his dark, repressive legacy will not automatically follow him to the grave. Change can come to Cuba, but only if America learns from history and prevents Fidel’s successor from playing the same old tricks.

It is very much my hope and belief that with a new president coming into office in January, President Trump and a new administration, that U.S. foreign policy, not just to Cuba but towards our enemies, whether they are Iran or North Korea, will no longer be a policy of weakness and appeasement, but instead using U.S. strength to force and press for change.

This ought to be a moment where Cubans are dancing in the street because they are being liberated, but instead, if you dance in the street, you’re going to be thrown in jail. Cuba is not a free  society. You aren’t allowed to speak or worship freely. We’ve got to prompt real change and real freedom in Cuba.

Valladares wrote in his memoir, “The mass execution was ordered by Raúl Castro and attended by him personally. Nor was it an isolated instance; other officers in Castro’s guerrilla forces shot ex-soldiers en masse without a trial, without any charges of any kind lodged against them, simply as an act of reprisal against the defeated army.”

Mr. President, I look forward to one day visiting Cuba and seeing a free Cuba, where people can live according to their beliefs without fear of imprisonment, violence, or oppression.  But Mr. President, under President Raul Castro, this is not that day.  The people of Cuba need to know there are still those in America who understand that and stand with them, not the corrupt and vicious family that has oppressed them for so long.

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