U.S. diplomat gets tough on Cuba in human rights speech
BY DAVID CAZARES
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
HAVANA - The new chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana honored several of the island's leading dissidents and opposition groups Saturday in a polite but tough speech that said Cuba is out of step with the world's shift toward democracy.
In his first major address, Michael Parmly marked the 57th anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by lauding Cubans who struggle for greater human rights.
"Sadly, Cuba has been left behind in the global march toward democracy and greater respect for human rights," Parmly said. "The Cuban regime does not represent the people, nor does it have any interest in bettering their lives. Rather, the regime is obsessed with self-preservation."
Parmly said the Cuban government maintains its grip on power by isolating Cubans from the rest of the world, keeping Cubans artificially poor and instilling fear.
"It is through the abuse of universally recognized human rights that the Cuban regime is able to cling to power," he said.
Cuba denies those charges. In a recent speech, President Fidel Castro said that during the country's 46 years of revolution, "not one man has been tortured."
However, Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Varela Project who led a petition drive for democratic reforms, said that the Cuban government has launched a series of repressive acts against opponents. He said the opposition's struggle is now in touch with hundreds of thousands of Cubans.
"If there are to be human rights, it will be because of important people," Paya said. "It's not only something that society gives you, or the law, but something that we have to look for."
Among those Parmly said deserved recognition are Paya, as well as Marta Beatriz Roque, a dissident and independent economist, and the Damas de Blanco - or ladies in white - relatives of 75 imprisoned dissidents. Parmly said the women would receive the European Parliament's Andrei Sakharov prize for freedom of expression this month. Palmly also honored opposition figure Vladimiro Roca, who has a 36-point plan for economic, social and political reform; Cuban journalists; librarians; and religious leaders.
He also criticized the so-called actos de repudio, or acts of repudiation, which he said were government-sanctioned violent demonstrations against pro-democracy dissidents.
"The regime would like us to think that these so-called actos de repudios in front of the homes of dissidents are spontaneous," Parmly said. "We all know that most neighbors refused to participate in such vile abuse. Instead, the regime resorts to busing in its modern-day equivalent of Nazi `Brown Shirts.'"
The new section chief's support drew praise from opposition leaders, who said it was important to focus on the need for more human rights in Cuba.
Roque was particularly heartened by the recognition.
"Cubans appreciate the support of the U.S., European Union, Canada and Japan," she said. "They know that the democratic countries of the world recognize that democracy is needed on the island."
Parmly said there are more than 300 political prisoners in Cuba, such as Oscar Biscet, jailed for daring to call for democratic elections and respect for human rights.