A well-known Cuban dissident will be in West New York on Friday to speak out against continued human rights abuses on the island despite the recent thaw in U.S. relations, and to be honored by one of the town’s own outspoken critics of the island’s authoritarian regime.
The dissident, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, is a 72-year-old economist and longtime critic of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul. She has spent years in and out of prison in Cuba on charges including counterrevolutionary activities.
North Hudson, and West New York in particular, have one of the largest Cuban-American communities in the country outside of the Miami area.
Roque Cabello will have a sympathetic audience in Mayor Felix Roque, a Cuban native and outspoken critic of the Castro family regime. The mayor has previously met with other Cuban dissidents, and even talked about returning to Cuba to run for office some day.
“For me, it’s an honor,” Roque said of Roque Cabello’s visit. “And it shows there’s still people out there fighting for freedom of speech and democracy.”
Roque will be joined by members of the West New York Town Council at 11:30 a.m. Friday, in his office at town hall, where they will hear Roque Cabello speak and present her with ceremonial “Key to the Town.”
While Roque is not a common name in Cuba, the mayor said he and the dissident are not related.
“It’s just a weird coincidence,” he said.
Roque Cabello is a member of what is known as Cuba’s “Group of Four,” which published “The Homeland Belongs to Us All,” a 1997 paper that called for political and economic reforms, advocated a boycott of the country’s one-party elections, and urged international investors to keep their money out of Cuba.
The visit to West New York was arranged by an anti-Castro activist in New Jersey, Sergio Gatria, director of the Cuban Information Center in Lyndhurst. Gatria said he had been in contact with Roque Cabello in advance of her visit and that she was interested in meeting Roque and visiting West New York.
“I called Roque because he is well known in Cuba,” among dissidents, Gatria said.
Gatria said Roque Cabello’s visit to New Jersey is a brief stop on a visit to the United States from Cuba, and that she will fly back to Miami on Saturday before returning to the island.
Roque has met with members of the Ladies in White, a group made up of the wives of imprisoned Cuban dissidents who dress in white for Sunday Mass and silent marches through Cuban streets. He has also helped bring Cubans across the Mexican border into the United States.
Like U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th District), former mayors of Union City and West New York, respectively, Roque is among Cuban-American Democrats who opposed President Obama’s reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Roque said he fears that cozier relations with the U.S. government will only embolden the Cuban regime in its suppression of dissent.
“We never got anything in return,” he said.