U.S. Denounces Cuban Crackdown on Dissidents Traveling to Summit of the Americas

Cuban authorities are using oppressive, undemocratic means to prevent individuals from visiting Peru

Cuban President Raul Castro / Getty Images

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The State Department is condemning efforts by the Cuban government to prevent members of the country's dissident community from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit of the Americas later this week.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday said U.S. government officials have received numerous "credible reports" that the Castro regime is preventing political opponents and other members of Cuba's "independent civil society" from traveling to Peru for the summit.

Nauert said Cuban authorities are using oppressive, undemocratic means to prevent individuals from visiting Peru, including arbitrary stops of travelers at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals' homes warning them against trying to leave the island.

"The United States condemns these actions," she said in a statement. "We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right."

She also said that the United States stands with the "brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime."

"We are working with the government of Peru and civil society to promote a Summit that features open, inclusive dialogue with the full participation of independent civil society representatives from Cuban and the hemisphere."

The Cuban government is undoubtedly trying to avoid a repeat of the disruptive confrontations that took place ahead of the 2015 Summit of Americas, which was held in Panama.

Just before the summit was set to begin, members of the Cuban delegation and anti-Castro groups clashed openly during a "civil-society forum."

At one point, supporters of the Castro government and dissidents came to blows one day before the summit began.

The White House on Tuesday said President Trump would be forced to skip the summit as he deals with the crisis in Syria after a deadly chemical weapon attack on civilians over the weekend in Syria's eastern province. Vice President Pence will attend in Trump's place.

The full-throated State Department support for Cuban dissidents ahead of the Summit stands in stark contrast to the way Obama administration officials approached its relationship with Cuban President Raul Castro in the weeks and days leading up to the Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015.

The Obama administration was in the middle of selling its new détente with the Cuban government to the American public and members of Congress and carefully avoided the use of the word "regime" and other pejoratives to describe the Castros.

During the summit, which was held in Panama that year, Obama famously sat down for a meeting with President Castro, the first face-to-face discussion between the leaders of the two countries in a half-century.

Last week before Trump decided to skip the Summit, administration officials ruled out any chance of a one-on-one Trump-Castro meeting during the two-day conference.

After unexplained debilitating sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana that first occurred in the fall of 2016 and continued into last year, as well as Trump's decision to tighten rules governing U.S. travel to Cuba, the relationship between the two countries is so icy that an administration official last week ruled out even a Trump handshake with Castro.

Pence is also expected to steer clear of encounters and handshakes with leaders who don't share U.S. values and perspectives.

Pence and other U.S. officials will focus their diplomatic energy at the Summit on building regional unity and sanctions against Venezuelan President Maduro, whom Peru barred from attending.

Sen. Marco Rubio, (R., Fla.) on Tuesday during a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing highlighted the Summit as an opportunity for the administration to demonstrate its commitment to the region and to promote the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

During the hearing, Rubio blamed the "puppet masters in Havana" for Venezuela's decision to "replace its democratic elected government with a dictatorship," by disbanding the elected National Assembly and reconvening another filled with Maduro supporters.

"It is both ironic and lamentable that a Summit, which is supposed to be a gathering of the democratic nations of the region, has invited the Cuban dictatorship, which has authored the Venezuelan tragedy and the Cuban one before it," Rubio said.

Rubio, who will sit down with Pence ahead of the Summit, urged the vice president to promote the restoration of democracy in Venezuela by announcing "an immediate and substantial" U.S. effort to provide the necessary food, medicine and other assistance to the Venezuelan people, as long as the aid is distributed by credible non-government organizations and not taken by the Maduro government.

In addition, Rubio said he hopes Pence will announce that the U.S. is prepared to make a substantial contribution to a regional and international effort to help rebuild Venezuela once it has instituted "free and fair" election reforms and has abolished Constituent Assembly and restoring a democratically elected legislature.

The Florida Republican also pressed Pence to call on the nations who are members of the Organization of American States, a membership body for Western Hemisphere leaders, to expel the Maduro regime from its membership.

Susan Crabtree

Susan Crabtree   Email Susan | Full Bio | RSS
Susan Crabtree is a senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. She is a veteran Washington reporter who has covered the White House and Congress over the past two decades. She has written for the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and Congressional Quarterly.

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