Trending

Newsletter

Mr. President: As You Visit Cuba, Remember Selma

By: José Azel - Mar 20, 2016, 9:45 am
Obama will visit Cuba on Sunday, March 20
The Ladies in White, wives of political prisoners, are regularly repressed by the Cuban regime. (América Tevé)

In 2015, an alliance of Cuban groups opposing the Castro regime launched a campaign for rights and liberties spearheaded by peaceful marches. They adopted the name Todos Marchamos (We All March). Each Sunday, hundreds of Cuban citizens march peacefully demanding amnesty for the regime’s political prisoners, only to be brutally suppressed by General Castro’s security forces.

The Cuban marchers are “motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, protesting racial injustice in the American South.

At that time, southern state legislatures maintained a series of discriminatory practices that disenfranchised African Americans, not unlike the way Cuban citizens are disenfranchised in Cuba by the Castros’ totalitarian regime.

On March 7, 1965, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” state troopers and deputized posse-men in Selma brutally attacked the peaceful marchers with nightsticks, whips, and tear gas. Alabama governor George Wallace had ordered his deputies to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march.”

Seventeen marchers were hospitalized and many others treated for lesser injuries. One of the organizers of the march, Amelia Boynton, was cruelly beaten. Newspapers around the world published her photograph on their front pages; she appeared lying on the road unconscious.

The violent repression against the marchers received worldwide televised coverage, which resulted in a national outcry. This impelled President Lyndon Johnson to ask for the passage of voting rights laws to enable African-Americans to register and vote without harassment.

This month, 51 years after the Selma marches, the first African-American President in US history will visit Cuba, where disenfranchised citizens will be marching for their rights and liberties. Their marches are inspired by Dr. King’s teaching that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Following President Obama’s December 17, 2014 initiative for a rapprochement with the Cuban government, repression has markedly increased in Cuba, with 1,141 political arrests reported in February of this year alone. And the Cuban government has repeatedly stated that it will not change its ways, exhibiting the same intractability that white officials showed in the Alabama of the 1960’s.

The Castro government will do all it can — beyond camera range, of course — to prevent the Todos Marchamos groups from carrying out their peaceful marches. It will arrest group leaders preemptively, intimidate them, restrict their movement, and more.

General Castro’s repression forces will be smarter than county officials in the Alabama of the 1960s in that they will keep their abuses off camera; but they will still repress their citizens.

[adrotate group=”7″]Many of the Cuban marchers will be Afro-Cubans, among them Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, who, like Amelia Boynton did in Selma, will be marching for her rights as a citizen. Let’s pray Berta and the Todos Marchamos Cubans are not beaten like Amelia and the Selma marchers were.

It would be appalling if an African-American president chooses to look the other way as the Cuban version of the Selma marches for civil rights takes place during his visit to that tragic Island.

Mr. President, as you visit Cuba, remember Dr. King’s admonition:

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it… In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Mr. President, as you visit Cuba, remember Selma.

José Azel José Azel

Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.