Cuban dissident leader to Trump: ‘Treat Cuba like a dictatorship’

Frustrated by what they see as “indolence” from the previous administration, some Cuban government opponents are urging President Donald Trump to backtrack current Cuba policy and speak out about increased government repression on the island.

Antonio G. Rodiles and his partner Ailer González — both members of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms — are calling on the new administration to reset U.S.-Cuba relations and “recognize that they are dealing with a dictatorship.”

“The main thing would be for those of us who are legitimate actors on the Cuban scene — inside and outside the island — to be part of the policy design and part of that political process toward the island” unlike what former President Barack Obama did, Rodiles said during a recent meeting with el Nuevo Herald.

The couple also denounced an increase in repression since Obama announced his policy of engagement and the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba in December 2014. The situation, they said, has become worse since the death of former leader Cuban Fidel Castro in November with a “millimetric monitoring” of opponents’ actions and harassment of their families.

“It is important for the new administration to start taking action on the issue and make some statement, because silence is being very well used by the regime to try to crush the opposition,” Rodiles said.

The Cuban government opponent criticized the “indolence” of the Obama administration toward the human rights situation on the island.

“We have direct experience, including talking to President Obama, and the direct experience was that there was a lot of indolence in what happened with Cuba … There was a moment when we understood that the administration was not an ally [in the struggle for] for democratic changes in Cuba, that they had a vision that Cuba was going to change in the long term and that we would have to accept neo-Castroism,” he said.

Although he was careful not to mention what measures taken by the previous administration should be eliminated — such as sending remittances or authorizing U.S. airline travel to the island, which are popular in Cuba and within a large portion of the Cuban American community — Rodiles said he supports returning to the previous longtime policy of applying economic pressure against the Raúl Castro government, a practice Obama has referred to as a “failed policy.”

“If the regime is taking advantage of some of these measures, I’d cut that economic income,” Rodiles said. “Everything that is giving benefits to the regime and not to the people must be reversed.”

The frustration expressed by the activist couple has become increasingly evident. A video published by the Forum for Rights and Liberties and in which González exclaims, “Obama, you are finally leaving!” unleashed a whirlwind of controversy within social media networks.

According to Rodiles, Obama asked dissidents and activists during a meeting in Havana on March 22, 2016, to have patience with his policy of rapprochement.

“I told him that you can’t be patient when they are kicking citizens and women with impunity,” Rodiles said. The couple was among several activists arrested during a widely reported act of repudiation against dissidents on the same Sunday that Obama arrived in Havana for an historic visit.

Rodiles and González dismissed criticism by those who question their support for President Trump and claim their agenda is dictated by groups within the Cuban exile community. They said their interest is in readdressing Cuba issues not taking a position on U.S. domestic issues.

“Those same people who say that we are being radical and confrontational, are extremely unsupportive. They do not report any violation of human rights. These are hypocritical positions,” González said.

As for other strategies being carried out by other opposition groups on the island in an effort to incite change, the couple acknowledged that there are many different ideologies and approaches, which they said was a healthy element in the struggle for democracy.

“The most important thing,” Rodiles said, “is that the regime has to understand that 60 years is more than enough, and that it’s over.”

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