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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Column: Congress should focus on humanity, not diplomacy

The efforts to lift the Cuban embargo ignore the bigger picture.

Marcus Bowen

April 14, 2009

Last week, as part of a Congressional Black Caucus visit to Cuba, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., called on President Barack Obama to normalize relations with the communist state. In an interview with National Public Radio, Cleaver described his Cuban trip by saying, "If there is repression in Cuba, we didn't see it."

"We've been led to believe that the Cuban people are not free, and they are repressed by a vicious dictator, and I saw nothing to match what we've been told," Cleaver said in a Kansas City Star report.

Cleaver also said the U.S. delegation discussed many topics with Raul Castro except Cuba's human rights record.

I am astonished a congressman could be so naïve about the world. As a Methodist minister and respected civil rights leader, I expect more out of my congressman. Although I often disagree with Cleaver, his most recent actions are particularly disheartening.

Over the past 50 years, Cuba's record on human rights and religious freedom has been deplorable. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an international organization monitoring religious freedom has reported countless cases of brutality and imprisonment against people of faith.

In 2003, Jorge Luis Garcia Paneque, a Roman Catholic doctor, was sentenced to 24 years in prison after he advocated human rights and democracy. Paneque's health has deteriorated significantly due to malnutrition and he has been brutally beaten by fellow inmates.

Cleaver seems to believe the U.S. is behind the times. He is wrong. I'm surprised Cleaver vests so little concern in the human rights and religious freedom of the Cuban people.

No one knows the oppressive Castro regime better than those who have lived under its tyranny. A Florida International University poll indicates that 72 percent of Cuban Americans support continuing the embargo. These people and their families have lived under the brutality of Castro communism -- they know the real Cuba.

On April 1, after the Senate proposed a bill to lift travel restrictions to Cuba, Cuban-born U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., a Republican who came to the U.S. as an orphan in 1962, said, "This is the time to support pro-democracy activists in Cuba, not provide the Castro regime with a resource windfall."

I'll take the words of people who have lived under Castro before I'll believe a group of seven congressmen who spent a few days with the Castros.

As students, we value academic freedom. We know the freedom to speak and learn is a cornerstone of human existence. According to Human Rights First, a nonprofit advocacy group, Cuba remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere to effectively outlaw peaceful advocacy for human rights and democratic reforms.

To us, it should be particularly offensive that these seven congressmen would advocate giving more resources to a nation that has so little respect for academic and intellectual freedom.

Before Congress takes any action regarding the Cuban embargo, I hope they will first listen to the Cuban people. I hope we will one day have relations with Cuba, but first their people must be free. Diplomacy is important, but we should never value diplomacy over humanity.

Marcus Bowen is a former vice president of the MU College Republicans and serves with the Jackson County Republican Party. He can be reached at

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