President Trump’s announcement of policy revisions toward Cuba — in which many strings on the Castro regime loosened by President Barack Obama were tightened again — was attended by a number of notable Cuban dissidents and victims of Castro violence.
Mario and Miriam de la Pena: Their son Mario Manuel de la Pena was murdered by the Castro regime in 1996 at the age of 25, while serving as a volunteer pilot for the humanitarian operation Brothers to the Rescue. He flew almost a hundred search-and-rescue missions before his plane and another Brothers to the Rescue aircraft were shot down by a Cuban MiG-29 over international waters, killing three U.S. citizens and one legal resident of the United States.
The unprovoked attack on two unarmed, propeller-driven planes was a blatant crime against humanity and violation of American law. The shootdown was condemned by both the United Nations Security Council and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
A Cuban spy named Gerardo Hernandez was convicted in U.S. court of tipping off the Castro regime to the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue planes. Hernandez served 16 years in prison before being released by Barack Obama and returned to Cuba, where he was hailed as a hero and decorated with a medal.
Mirta Costa Mendez: Her brother Carlos Costa was another victim of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown. Costa was 29 years old at the time of his death. “He was Brothers to the Rescue 24 hours a day,” his father said. “His greatest wish was to save lives.”
Antonio G. Rodiles: A Cuban dissident who often visits Miami to work with dissident groups based there, Rodiles was an outspoken critic of Obama’s policy and very energetic in calling upon Trump to erase it.
“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,” Rodiles said in March. “There was a moment when we understood that the administration was not an ally 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.”
His advice for the Trump administration to “recognize that they are dealing with a dictatorship” appears to have been heeded.
“Many, many people are telling me that we have to squeeze the government once and for all. And many people I meet in the street have much tougher opinions than mine,” Rodiles said of his experiences in Cuba while preparing for Trump’s announcement Friday.
Rosa Maria Paya: Her father Oswaldo Paya was a moderate but determined Cuban democracy activist who was murdered by the Castro regime in 2012. Coercive police state tactics were employed against the surviving witnesses to the vehicular homicide to cover up the crime.
His daughter carried on his work without hesitation. Her activities include calling out the regime for the abuses of power and terror tactics it supposedly abandoned when Obama implemented his liberalized policy.
Rosa Maria has been subjected to some police harassment herself, and not just by Cuban police. She says she was subjected to unusual scrutiny and then threatened with deportation to Cuba by Panamanian police in 2015 because they feared she would cause a riot at the Summit of the Americas, which Cuba wanted to keep free of Cuban dissidents. The Panamanian government later apologized to her for what it called a “bureaucratic mistake.”
Sylvia Iriondo: The president of a group called Mothers and Women Against Repression, Iriondo was incensed at claims by Cuban-American supporters of Obama’s policy that Cuba had changed and should be supported for liberalizing.
“With all due respect, where have they been these past 56 years? If they are part of our community, they must have felt the pain of thousands of Cubans who were victims of arbitrary human rights violations by a regime intent on maintaining its grip on power via repression and terror,” she wrote at the Miami Herald in December 2015.
She wondered how any member of the Cuban-American community could fail to see that the Castro regime was still killing its opponents, driving families to escape the island, and using totalitarian tactics to retain power.
“These gentlemen are not my fellow Cuban Americans,” she declared.
Iriondo was angered by the way President Obama’s supporters were ready to forget about all those who “have given their lives for freedom or have died in the pursuit of freedom,” as she said at an event commemorating the Castro regime’s victims.
Luis Haza: Born in Cuba, violinist Luis Haza was a child prodigy who began performing at the age of 11. His father was murdered by Fidel Castro when he was a child for the crime of supporting democracy and the mistake of thinking Castro would deliver it. He refused international scholarship offers to study with some of the world’s greatest violinists, telling a Cuban official: “No, but if you send me to the United States, I will go.” His family eventually fled Cuba for Spain, and then came to America.
“I had so much emotion pent up that music became my obsession. Since I could not express my feelings verbally, violin became my way of expression,” he said in a 2003 interview. He is now able to express those feelings verbally, musically, and through tireless education and activism in the cause of freedom.
As President Trump said during his introduction of Haza in Miami on Friday, he was forced at gunpoint to play music after refusing to participate in a command performance for Raul Castro, so he played the American national anthem, which he also performed before Trump’s address.
“You could hear a pin drop. I finished playing, and nobody knew what to do,” he said of that boyhood act of defiance against Castro’s evil.
Jorge Luis Garcia Perez and Bertha Antunez: Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, who often goes by the name “Antunez,” was arrested in 1990 at the age of 24 for protesting the Castro regime and its discrimination against the Afro-Cuban minority. His five-year sentence ended up lasting for 17 years, thanks to such acts of defiance as refusing to attend “re-education” sessions.
He wrote that “like many young Cubans, I have wasted my best years in prison, charged with the sole crime of not sharing the government’s ideology.”
His sister Bertha Antunez strenuously objected to President Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba, signing an open letter calling it “little more than a string of unilateral concessions to a totalitarian dictatorship that has tirelessly repressed the Cuban people for the past 56 years.”
“This has been a year of repression and jailings in Cuba,” she said in 2015. “The repression has increased in Cuba because the government believes that it can repress anytime and nothing happens. On the contrary, they have recognized us as a legitimate government.”
Bertha Antunez was chosen to collect an award from the National Endowment for Democracy on behalf of a group of Cuban dissidents, including her father, in 2009. President Obama did not meet with her or issue a message of support to the group she represented, despite two weeks’ advance notice. The Obama White House responded to media inquiries about the snub by claiming it was a clerical error.