Bill Follows Hearing on Abuses of Castro Regime, Seeks Extradition of Fugitives like Cop-Killer Joanne ChesimardBill to Promote Cuban Human Rights Introduced in House of Representatives
Violations of basic human rights in Cuba are the focus of a bipartisan bill, HR 1782, introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House global human rights subcommittee and senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), Leonard Lance (NJ-07), Tom MacArthur (NJ-03), Mark Meadows (NC-11), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) and Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02) joining as original co-sponsors.
The bill was introduced following the Obama Administration’s announcement that it is seeking to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, despite the Castro government’s long history of sheltering terror groups from Spain, Colombia and the United States–including providing safe haven to Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists.
“Once again, the President is negotiating with a dictatorial regime and failing to make human rights a prerequisite to any concessions,” Smith said. “The Castro regime is a state sponsor of terror and harbors known fugitives from justice, including Joanne Chesimard, convicted in 1973 of murdering a New Jersey State Trooper. She must be extradited to the U.S. before we can begin to talk about any normalization in U.S.-Cuban relations, let alone removing Cuba from the list of terror sponsors. The bill also serves as a congressional rebuke to President Barack Obama, who has unilaterally sought to alter U.S.-Cuba policy, meeting with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama this past weekend.” Click here to read a Spanish version of this release.
Ros-Lehtinen added, “The Castro communist regime has been denying the Cuban people fundamental human rights and basic freedoms for over 50 years but this aggression is not limited to Cubans but also includes U.S. citizens. Just before President Obama’s arrival to Panama, a group of Cuban pro-democracy advocates and American citizens tried to lay a wreath at the statue of Jose Marti in Panama but were met by Castro thugs that attacked the peaceful gathering with violence. This important bipartisan legislation is aimed at educating the American people and my Congressional colleagues on the plight of the people of Cuba suffering under tyranny and the realities behind the violations of human rights orchestrated by the Castro dictatorial regime.”
Sires, Ranking Member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated, “We need to see more concrete measures in terms of human rights, political freedoms, and the release of all political prisoners permanently. The Cuban regime continues to harbor fugitives, such as Joanne Chesimard, allowing them to escape justice while attacking, harassing, and jailing peaceful Cuban dissidents. Neither prior nor since the December announcement has the Cuban regime relented its practice of mistreating the Cuban people and abusing their human rights. I implore the Administration to proceed with caution and to not concede to any of the Cuban regime’s demands until more significant steps are taken.”
Lance said, “I applaud Congressman Smith’s efforts to raise awareness to the Castro regime’s long history of harboring terrorists, repressing dissidents and stifling free speech. The United States should not move toward normal relations with Cuba without first demanding real and tangible improvements in human rights and the return of American fugitives such as Joanne Chesimard and others."
The Cuban Human Rights Act of 2015 was drafted following a Feb. 5 congressional hearing held by Smith entitled “Human Rights in Cuba: A Squandered Opportunity.” Former Cuban political prisoners, who spent as many as 20-plus years in prison, testified about numerous instances of abuse, including torture, and discrimination and other human rights violations on the island.
The legislation states:
“President Obama recently announced his intention to comprehensively modify and normalize relations between the United State and Cuba, all without the advice and consent of Congress or with any attempt to amend or modify the myriad of Federal laws and regulations that govern the United States-Cuba relationship or the related embargo. Cuba continues to be a destination country for the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls in the form of sex tourism, as well as a source country for the forced labor of individuals who subsequently face conditions of debt bondage or forced labor.”
Christopher J Burgos, President of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, praised the legislation, noting that the U.S. Government has ‘given away the store’ to Cuba in exchange for little more than political promotion of opening a new dialogue.
Burgos said, “The language in this important piece of legislation is crucial in recognizing that the government of Cuba continues to be a repressive dictatorial state, while the White House has used its executive powers trying to convince U.S. citizens that Cuba is bargaining equally on normalizing relations. In reality, the U.S. has given away the store to Cuba, with very little in return but political soundbites and photo ops promoting a historic new dialogue. This bill sends a strong, loud and urgently needed message that we will not forget the price N.J. Trooper Werner Foerster paid in 1973, protecting our freedom and way of life from domestic terrorism, what must be done to right the long lingering wrongs, which includes returning a 35-year fugitive from justice, convicted cop-killer Joanne Chesimard, to the U.S. This bill also aims to prevent conveniently sweeping these wrongs under the rug for the sake of those wishing for political expediency, and to bestow a legacy to an office holder.”
Smith added, “This legislation is not only about accountability of the Castro regime, but also concerns the accountability of the Obama Administration, with Congress exercising its proper role of both oversight and a voice to remind the world that Cuba remains a repressive dictatorship. The Castro government continues to jail political dissidents, despite the Obama Administration’s overtures and concessions, and Raul Castro openly disparaged the United States from the podium at the Americas summit with President Obama in attendance.”
The bill also directs the Secretary of State to annually produce a report on Cuban human rights, including compiling lists of persons “believed to be imprisoned, detained, or placed under house arrest, tortured, or otherwise persecuted by the Government of Cuba due to their pursuit of internationally recognized human rights.” The legislation requires the Secretary to consult with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom when preparing the reports, which would assess the extent to which “individuals are treated equally under the laws of Cuba without regard to citizenship, race, religion, political opinion, or current or former associations.”
Click here to read or watch Smith’s February hearing which had witnesses from human rights non-government organizations (NGOs) testifying, including Jorge Luis García Pérez, Secretary General, Cuban National Civic Resistance Front, and leaders from the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White).
Smith hopes to obtain a visa and travel to Cuba to visit victims of human rights violations.