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US Lawmakers Express Outrage at Castro's Recent Crackdown on Dissidents - 2003-04-08

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution condemning the arrest and imprisonment of dissidents in Cuba and calling for the immediate release of political prisoners.

Adding their voice to condemnations by Latin American and European countries and human rights organizations, Republican and Democratic lawmakers took to the House floor to express outrage.

"We cannot and must not be silent," said Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "We cannot and must not be indifferent, to the anguish and misery endured by the Cuban people just 90 miles off our shores, at the hands of the depraved and cruel dictator and his agents of terror."

Another Florida Republican, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, said the Cuban leader used the world's focus on the war in Iraq, to move against human rights campaigners.

"Since the world's attention has been focused on Iraq for some weeks," he said, "the Cuban tyrant decided to crack down on the peaceful pro-democracy movement, including independent librarians, independent journalists, independent physicians, and many others rounded them up and has thrown them in dungeons."

Similar sentiments were expressed by a leading Democratic supporter of human rights, California's Tom Lantos.

"Castro and his henchmen are convicting individuals for practicing their profession and exercising their fundamental political and civil liberties," he said.

The crackdown began in March, when human rights activists, political reformers and journalists, were rounded up and accused of conspiring against the government, among other charges.

Some dissidents received prison terms of up to 25 years, including key supporters of the Varela Project, a petition drive attempting to force the Castro government to carry out democratic reforms.

Even some key members of a congressional "Cuba Working Group" who favor lifting the U.S. economic embargo and ban on travel to Cuba, demonstrated displeasure. William Delahunt says the Castro government has "squandered" an opportunity:

"Over the last three weeks, decisions have been made in Havana that seriously undermine efforts to normalize relationships with the United States," he said.

Two lawmakers from New Jersey, Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Chris Smith, aimed these comments at colleagues who favor normalization:

MENENDEZ:"To all who go sip wine with Castro, smoke his cigars, and are regaled by his soliloquies, where is the outrage?"

SMITH:"Castro's brutal actions hopefully will serve as a wake up call to those in the United States, especially those in the U.S. Congress, who argue that it is time to lift the travel ban and sanctions against Cuba."

The House resolution demands the immediate release of all political prisoners in Cuba. It urges the U-N Commission on Human Rights to condemn the crackdown, and urges Latin American governments to exclude Cuba from the commission.

The Bush administration has condemned what it calls "show trials" of Cuban dissidents. The administration has stuck by its position that any change in relations could only come after political reforms and free elections in Cuba.