Pompeo to Cuba: Free Tortured Political Prisoner or Face Consequences

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks during a joint news conference with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on Saturday in Athens. Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published an open letter on Monday to his Cuban counterpart, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, urging Cuba to free tortured political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer, the head of the largest dissident group on the island.

Pompeo warned that Washington would continue to hold the Castro regime accountable for its many human rights atrocities so long as it continued to engage in them and demanded an end to policies that criminalize criticism of communism.

The State Department published Pompeo’s letter shortly after Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) defended the Castro regime during 60 Minutes on Sunday, and shortly before he stood by his comments claiming violent dictator Fidel Castro’s “literacy” child indoctrination programs benefitted the nation 24 hours later on CNN.

José Daniel Ferrer is the head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a political organization that advocates for democratic governance in Cuba. He disappeared in October after organizing a widely attended peaceful protest against the Castro regime in September to mark the feast day of the patroness saint of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity.

Since his disappearance, his family and attorneys have accused Havana of beating him, forcing him to eat and drink rancid materials including “fecal” matter, and psychologically torturing him. His wife Nelva Ortega and some of his older children have been repeatedly arrested for demanding to know why their patriarch is in prison; Ortega and Ferrer also have a son under the age of one that Cuban police have detained alongside his mother.

“Cuban human rights defender Jose Daniel Ferrer has endured more than 100 days of unjust imprisonment and repeatedly has been dragged, chained, beaten, and burned at the hands of the regime, which you represent,” Pompeo wrote Rodríguez on Monday. “The United States government joins a chorus of international voices demanding Ferrer’s immediate release.”

“The current spurious charges against Ferrer follow a familiar pattern of harassment, violence, and arbitrary arrests against Cubans who seek only to advocate for democracy and the political and economic freedoms that would enable the Cuban people to create prosperity in Cuba,” Pompeo continued. “It cannot be a crime to criticize policies that have set Cuba’s development tumbling backwards for the past 61 years.”

Pompeo concluded stating that America “will never forget the brave Cubans who put their lives on the line for the sake of a free Cuba” and will “continue to hold the regime accountable” for human rights abuses.

Rodríguez responded to Pompeo on Twitter, declaring the minimal trade barriers the United States has set up against Cuba “genocidal” and demanding Pompeo somehow fix the American healthcare system through his job as the nation’s top diplomat.

“Pompeo doesn’t care about the human rights situation in Cuba,” Rodríguez wrote. “If that were true, he would be trying to lift the genocidal blockade. Worry in the United States about health care, women’s rights, Afro-Americans, the poor, the homeless, migrants, and detained children. End the ‘travel ban.'”

While the United States prevents tourism to Cuba – the Castro regime owns all tourism infrastructure on the island, so it is impossible to engage in tourism without funding the human rights abuses by the regime like the crimes against Ferrer – the embargo that Cuba has imposed on American goods, particularly humanitarian aid sent from Cuban-Americans to their families, is stifling, and rarely mentioned by Cuba’s regime agents.

The Cuban regime disappeared Ferrer, without telling families or an attorney of his arrest, in October, and has since reportedly set a court date for him on Wednesday. Since Cuban legal authorities did not even announce his arrest and only appear to have told other UNPACU members through word of mouth about his court date, it is not exactly clear what sort of charges he will face. Reports early this month suggested that the Castro regime is seeking as many as nine years in prison for Ferrer.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, has repeatedly referred to Ferrer, without evidence, as a “mercenary” and CIA agent attempting to overthrow the Cuban government on Washington’s behalf. Among the other outrageous accusations in the propaganda outlet against Ferrer are that he is a domestic abuser and that he has physically injured himself to fake police assaults that he has received in prison. Cuban state television broadcast a grainy video recently of a white man with short hair, claiming it to be Ferrer, banging his head on a table. The video’s low quality made it impossible to identify the man at all, much less positively identify him as the human rights champion.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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