Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, the head of Cuba’s Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement aimed at organizing black Cubans against the communist regime of Raúl Castro, had a pointed message for the Congressional Black Caucus during a talk in Washington, D.C., this week: stop helping the white Castro oligarchy oppress black Cubans.
Pérez, armed with statistics, challenged the members of the CBC, which has long lobbied for the United States to help the Castro regime, to find black figures of authority on the island. “They should look closely at Cuba’s Council of State, and see how many black Cubans they find there,” she argued. Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Mike González notes that there are not many–only 8 of 31 top government officials in a nation where, Pérez noted, 75% of the prison population is black, and most believe black Cubans are a majority.
Pérez is particularly incensed with the Congressional Black Caucus for a number of trips it has made to the island, which have resulted in press conferences showcasing its support for the oppressive dictatorship. This has happened repeatedly; on one occasion, in 2009, Rep. Bobby Rush told the press that meeting Fidel Castro was “like listening to an old friend” and that Castro was “the ultimate survivor.” Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have committed such acts as apologizing to Castro for voting for a resolution that would have requested that Cuba extradite American criminals to the United States.
Pérez recalled one particular CBC trip to Cuba because she, once again, was imprisoned. “While I was languishing in prison, they paraded around Havana. My sister tried to deliver a petition asking them to come and visit me. They didn’t even accept it,” she said. Pérez has been arrested countless times in the past ten years, most recently on June 11 before heading to the United States at the behest of Cuban-American congresspersons to speak on the violence faced by political dissidents and capitalists in Cuba. Her arrests have been extremely violent; she told her audience in Washington that Cuban officials routinely break into her house, beat her, and “feel all [her] private parts” before tossing her into jail. Below is a video of one of her arrests in 2011 (warning: graphic footage of beating toward the end):
Pérez is not only a target for her individual work in organizing Cuban communities for freedom; for her, the human rights movement is a family business. Pérez is the wife of one of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents, Jorge Luis García Pérez (popularly known as Antúnez), who spent 17 years in prison for disagreeing with the Castro regime. Antúnez, too, is routinely arrested, and he has gone on a hunger strike as recently as this February.
For many black Cubans who choose to defy the regime, prison and violence are a daily reality, one that the Congressional Black Congress routinely ignores. Of all the stories of beatings or the apathy from black congressmen to her plight, however, the most chilling remark Pérez made in her statements may have been a lighthearted truth. From a safe haven in Washington, the capital of the world’s freest nation, Pérez mused, “I will pay for this once I get back.”