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Sen. Cruz: A Dictator is Dead, But His Dark, Repressive Legacy Will Not Automatically Follow Him to the Grave

"The Castros' legacy is nothing but the systematic exploitation and oppression of the Cuban people"

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the death of Cuba’s murderous Communist dictator Fidel Castro. Cruz reflected on Castro’s legacy of exploitation and oppression, while recommending a new path forward for Cuban American relations.

“Let me be absolutely clear, Mr. President,” said Sen. Cruz. “We’re not mourning the death of a romantic revolutionary or distinguished statesman. We’re not grieving for a protector of peace or a judicious steward of his people. Today, we are thankful. We are thankful that a man who has imprisoned, tortured, and degraded the lives of so many is no longer with us. A brutal dictator is dead, and I would like to pay tribute to the millions who have suffered at the hand of the Castro regime. We remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the totalitarian Communist dictatorship he imposed on Cuba.” 

Sen. Cruz’s speech may be viewed in its entirety here. The full text of his remarks as prepared can be found below:

Mr. President, it was Armando Valladares, the Cuban dissident and poet imprisoned for 22 years under the Castro regime, who so powerfully observed in his memoir: “My response to those who still try to justify Castro’s tyranny with the excuse that he has built schools and hospitals is this: Stalin, Hitler and Pinochet also built schools and hospitals, and like Castro, they also tortured and assassinated opponents. They built concentration and extermination camps and eradicated all liberties, committing the worst crimes against humanity.”

Mr. President, this week we witnessed a powerful moment for people all across the country, and especially for Cuban Americans like myself.  Cuba’s longtime oppressive dictator Fidel Castro is dead.

Let me be absolutely clear: we’re not mourning the death of some romantic revolutionary or a distinguished statesman. We’re not grieving for the protector of peace or a judicious steward of his people. Today, we are thankful. We are thankful that a man who has imprisoned, and tortured, and degraded the lives of so many is no longer with us. He has departed for warmer climes. This brutal dictator is dead, and I would like to pay tribute to the millions who have suffered at the hand of the Castro regime. We remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the totalitarian Communist dictatorship imposed on Cuba.

And yet at the same time, the race is on to see which world leader can most fulsomely praise Fidel Castro’s legacy, while delicately averting their eyes from his less than savory characteristics. Two duly elected leaders of democracies who should know better, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and American president Barack Obama, have been leading the way. Mr. Trudeau praised Castro as a “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century” and a “legendary revolutionary orator” who “made significant improvements in the education and health care on his island nation.” Tell that to the people in the prisons. Tell that to the people who have been tortured and murdered by Fidel Castro. Mr. Obama likewise offered his “condolences” to the Cuban people, and blandly suggested that “history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure.” Now, he added, we can “look to the future.” What is it about young leftists, what is it about young socialists, that they idolize communist dictators that torture and murder people? Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and all of their goons are not these sexy unshaven revolutionaries in college dorm rooms on posters that make leftist go all tingly inside. They were brutal monsters, and we should always remember their victims.

Earlier this week, I publically called that no United States government official should attend Castro’s funeral unless and until Raul releases his political prisoners, first and foremost those who have been detained since Fidel’s death. Unfortunately, in this administration, my request went unheeded.

Two high-level U.S. government officials attended Fidel’s memorial service yesterday. This unofficial delegation includes Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a top U.S. diplomat, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba. 

Yesterday, when asked about a U.S. presence for the memorial service, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “We believe that this was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment to an ongoing future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people” and “this is an appropriate way to show respect, to participate in the events that are planned for this evening, while also acknowledging some of the differences that remain between our two countries.”

I’m afraid I must ask Mr. Earnest – were any of these “differences” publically acknowledged while Rhodes and DeLaurentis were commemorating the legacy of Fidel Castro? How exactly do you commemorate it, cheers to the tyrants? I suspect those “differences” were noted in the funeral pamphlet.

Mr. Earnest also claimed last night that “Certainly no one from the White House and no other delegations will be sent to Cuba to participate in any of the other events.” Mr. President, let’s hold him to these words. My hope and prayer is that these officials do not attend the funeral.

Although I must say that it’s quite convenient that Rhodes had a pre-planned trip to Cuba this week. Earnest remarked that “Mr. Rhodes has played a leading role in crafting the normalization policy that President Obama announced about two years ago” and that “he has been the principal interlocutor with the Cuban government from the White House in crafting this policy and implementing it successfully.”

Well, I suppose that it is appropriate that the federal government official who played an integral role in allowing billions of dollars to flow to Cuba, to flow directly to Raul and Fidel Castro, be there to commemorate Fidel’s death. Billions of dollars that have gone to strengthen the repressive machinery, to strengthen the regime. You know, if a United States company or European company wants to hire a Cuban worker, they can’t do it, it’s against the law. It’s unlike many other countries, it’s unlike China, other places where you can hire a local worker. Instead, you must hire the government. There is one and only one person you can hire – the foreign companies pay the Cuban government And the Cuban government, in its benevolence, keeps 93 cents of every dollar and pays the Cuban worker seven cents of every dollar. 93 cents of every dollar of the billions that Barrack Obama has funneled to Castro have gone to the government of Raul Castro and Fidel Castro, to fund the secret police, to fund the prisons, to fund the torture, while our diplomatic brigade pats themselves on the back for what enlightened diplomats they are.

The life and legacy of Fidel Castro is no cause for celebration or commemoration. His contributions consist of a ruined country and broken people. You know, Cuba is almost like the land that time forgot. You can go and see cars from the 1950s, meticulously maintained, held together almost with rubber bands and chewing gum. Now it’s not that the citizens there have a fondness for antiquities – it’s that the repressive communist economy has trapped them, has mired them in poverty where 1950s cars are all they’ve got, or the last 60 years didn’t happen, other than the jackboot of the oppressive police state. And I’ll point out, on this issue, I’m not a disinterest observer. 

My own family’s experience has been acute. My father, born and raised in Cuba, fought in the revolution, initially believed in the principles of freedom that he thought the revolution was about, fought against Batista, a cruel dictator, and was tortured and imprisoned by Batista’s police state. And then my aunt, my Tia Sonia, younger than my father, stayed and was there after the revolution occurred, and suddenly discovered the revolution was based on a lie. The kids, who thought they were fighting for freedom, discovered instead an even worse tyrant than he who proceeded him – a communist dictator who would line up dissidents and shoot them. My Tia Sonia participated in the counter-revolution. She fought against the Castro tyranny. I’ll tell you – when she was a high school girl, she and her two best friends were arrested, were thrown in prison by the Castro regime, and, like her brother, she faced terrible treatment in a Cuban prison. What they did in Cuban prisons to teenage girls should not happen to anyone. This is the legendary figure that Trudeau and Obama celebrate. 

The night that the news broke that Castro had died, I received a text from my cousin Bibi, my Tia Sonia’s daughter and someone who I grew up with like a sister. And Bibi text me, she said, Fidel Castro is dead. I am glad that I was able to make that call to let my mother know. I imagine when Bibi called my Tia Sonia it was an extraordinary moment, my aunt was asleep at the time. And Bibi sent me a second text, I couldn’t help to think of all the conversations at the dinner table with abullo and abuela, my grandparents, about the day that Castro dies. You know, texts just like that, millions of people sent all over the world. Especially in the Cuban American community. People have dreamed for years, for decades, of the day that this tyrant would die and face eternal judgment.  

The betrayal, brutality, the violence experienced by my father, by my aunt were all too typical of the millions of Cubans who have suffered under the Castro regime over the last six decades. This is not the stuff of Cold War history that can be swept under the rug simply because Fidel is dead. Consider, for example, the dissidents Guillermo Fariñas and Elizardo Sanchez, who came to the United States. I had the opportunity to sit down wuth them both and interview them both. And they warned me in the summer of 2013 that the Castros, then on the ropes because of the reduction of Venezuelan patronage, were plotting to cement their hold on power by pretending to liberalize in order to get the American economic embargo lifted. Their model was Vladimir Putin’s model, his consolidation of power in Russia, indeed Sanchez called it “Putinismo,” and their plan was to get the United States to pay for it. Well, sadly, it worked. The year after I met with Fariñas and Sanchez, Mr. Obama announced his famous “thaw” with the Castros, and the American dollars started flowing. As we now know, there was no corresponding political liberalization. Simply American dollars funding a brutal dictatorship. Last September, Mr. Fariñas concluded his 25th hunger strike against the Castros’ oppression. 

Then there is the case of the prominent dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in 2012 in a car crash that is widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Castro regime. His daughter, Rosa Maria, has pressed relentlessly for answers on her father’s apparent murder, and thus has become a target herself. Just three years after her father’s death, the Obama administration honored the Castros with a new embassy in Washington, D.C. At the launch of that embassy, Rosa Maria tried to attend the State Department press conference as an accredited journalist. But she was spotted by the Cuban delegation, who demanded that she be removed if she dared ask any questions. The Americans complied, in an act of thuggery more typical of Havana than Washington. What does it say of John Kerry and the State Department, what does it say of the Obama administration that, when a communist tyrant, that when their police force says, “There is a dissident, a journalist, who might ask inconvenient questions, will you silence her and muzzle her?” the response from the Obama administration is “Only too happy to comply. No inconvenient questions about the apparent murder of your father. We’ve got different priorities.

Last summer, I had the honor last summer to meet with Dr. Oscar Biscet, an early truth-teller about the disgusting practice of post-birth abortions – I want you to think about that concept for a second, post-birth abortion, otherwise known as the murder of infants – that are far too widespread in Cuba. Dr. Biscet has been repeatedly jailed and tortured for his fearless opposition to the Castros. I asked him, as I had Mr. Farinas and Mr. Sanchez, whether his ability to travel signaled growing freedom on the island. He answered just as they had three years earlier: “No.” In fact, he said, the repression had grown worse since the so-called “thaw” with America. Didn’t we realize, he asked me, that all those American dollars were flowing into the Castros’ pockets, and funding the next generation of their police state?

That’s the true legacy of Fidel Castro — that he was able to institutionalize his dictatorship so that it would survive him.

Fidel Castro’s death cannot bring back his thousands of victims, nor can it bring lasting comfort to their families. For 60 years, Fidel Castro systematically exploited and oppressed the people of Cuba – and now that tyrannical reign has fallen to his brother, Raul, every bit as vicious as Fidel was.

I was with my father shortly after he found out the news that Fidel Castro was dead. I asked my dad, ‘‘What do you think happens now?’ And my father shrugged and said sadly, “Not much of anything. Raul has been in power for years now. The system’s only gotten stronger.” What Obama has done, in funneled billions of dollars to the Castros, is strengthened tyranny just 90 miles from our shores. And those billions, those American dollars, are being used to oppress dissidents. In 2016, roughly 10,000 political arrests occurred in Cuba – that is five times as many as occurred in 2010. What does it say about President Obama’s foreign policy that under him, political arrests have increased to 500 percent what they were just five years ago. This tyrannical regime has gotten stronger because of a weak president and weak foreign policy. 

And there is a real danger that we will now fall into the trap of thinking Fidel’s death represents material change in Cuba. It does not. The moment to exert maximum pressure would have been eight years ago, when his failing health forced him to pass control to Raul. But, rather than leverage the transition in our favor, the Obama administration decided to start negotiations with Raul in the mistaken belief that he would prove more reasonable than his brother, an unfortunate pattern this administration has repeated with Kim Jong-un, with Hassan Rouhani, and Nicolas Maduro. They don’t seem to learn the lesson about the brutality of tyrants. The administration lifted the embargo that had been exerting economic pressure and having real, meaningful effect.

Efforts to be diplomatically polite about Fidel’s death suggest the administration still hopes Raul can be brought round. 

All historical evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Raul is not a “different” Castro. He is his brother’s chosen successor who has spent the last eight years implementing his dynastic plan. Unlike Cuba, however, the United States has an actual democracy, and our recent elections suggest there is significant resistance among the American people to the Obama administration’s pattern of appeasement and weakness towards hostile dictators. We can, we should, and we are sending clear signals that that policy of weakness and appeasement is at an end. Among other things, we should halt the dangerous “security cooperation” we have begun with the Castro regime, which extends to military exercises, counter-narcotics efforts, communications, and navigation — all of which places our sensitive information in the hands of a hostile government that would not hesitate to share it with other enemies from Iran to North Korea. I hope all my colleagues will join me in calling for these alterations. The communist dictator Raul Castro is not our friend, and we should not be sharing military secrets in military cooperation with his military, only to have those used against us.

A dictator is dead. But his dark, repressive legacy will not automatically follow him to the grave. Change can come to Cuba, but only if America learns from history and prevents Fidel’s successor from playing the same old tricks. 

It is very much my hope and belief that with a new president coming into office in January, President Trump and a new administration, that U.S. foreign policy, not just to Cuba but towards our enemies, whether they be Iran or ISIS or North Korea, will no longer be a policy of weakness and appeasement, but instead using U.S. strength to defend this nation and to press for change. 

This ought to be a moment where Cubans are dancing in the street because they are being liberated, but instead, if you dance in the street right now, you’re going to be thrown in jail. Obama is sending his condolences to the Cuban people on the passing of a dictator who’s imprisoned and tortured and oppressed them for sixty years. You know, those are condolences they can do without. Cuba is not a free society. You aren’t allowed to speak or worship freely. They tear down churches, they repress basic liberty to worship God. We need leadership to prompt real and meaningful change in Cuba. 

Valladares wrote in his memoir, “The mass execution was ordered by Raúl Castro and attended by him personally. Nor was it an isolated instance; other officers in Castro’s guerrilla forces shot ex-soldiers en masse without a trial, without any charges of any kind lodged against them, simply as an act of reprisal against the defeated army.” 

Mr. President, I’ve never been to my father’s homeland. I’ve never been to Cuba. My father has not returned to Cuba in sixty years, in over sixty years. I look forward to one day visiting Cuba, hopefully with my dad, my Tia Sonia, by cousin Bibi, and seeing a free Cuba, where people can live according to their beliefs without fear of imprisonment, violence, or oppression.  But Mr. President, under the dictator Raul Castro, today is not that day.  The people of Cuba need to know there are still those in America who understand that and stand with them, not the corrupt and vicious crime family that has oppressed them for so long. That has enriched themselves, accumulating millions and millions of dollars in personal wealth, living like emperors and kings, while they’ve oppressed the people of Cuba.

You know, those in Hollywood, those in the academy, those in the Obama administration, they think that communism is about equality. There is nothing equal about Cuban communism, other than equality of suffering, other than equality of misery, other than equality of hopelessness. The Cuban communist regime, the army acts as the enforcers for the dictators who live opulent lifestyles while oppressing the masses. There’s a word for that, it’s called evil. It’s not simply an interesting way to govern a society, it is the face of oppression, the face of dictatorship, the face of evil.

Let there be no mistake, Fidel Castro was evil. Anyone who systematically murders and tortures and oppresses people for over six decades embodies evil. And I have no doubt that, right now today, Fidel Castro is facing the ultimate judgment. That is cause for celebration, but I look forward to celebrating the end of his dictatorship and his repressive regime. Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.