Since the end of the Cold War, peace, prosperity and progress have largely been the order of the day for hundreds of millions of people in the Americas, but not for the people of Cuba. Since he took power over half a century ago, Fidel Castro proved to be a brutal dictator who must always be remembered by his gross abuses of human rights, systemic exploitation of Cubans, unrelenting repression, and stifling censorship upon his own people.
Fidel’s oppressive legacy will haunt the Cuban regime and our hemisphere forever. Under the Castros’ reign, Cubans have not had one single free election. Not one Cuban has been allowed to fully own his or her own company. Not one legitimate trade union has been allowed to be organized. Not one peaceful protest has occurred without being brutally squashed by the regime. This was Cuba’s reality when the Berlin wall fell and it continues to be its reality in 2016.
Fidel Castro’s death represents an historic opportunity for the United States. Instead of condoning the continuation of repressive actions of a repressive regime simply because some believe it’s been long enough, the United States and the international community must stand up and support the Cuban people as they seek ways to implement changes that bring the fundamental principles of democracy, reinstate the freedoms that inform society and unleash the creative and inventive power-of-people to build a better life for themselves and their families.
Contrary to the romanticized idea being peddled by some, recent lopsided concessions in U.S. policy towards Cuba have not led to an iota of positive changes in the way the regime rules or the Cuban people live. We know that the Castro regime is still a brutal totalitarian dictatorship that continues to deprive the Cuban people of the basic human rights we so proudly proclaim to support around the world.
It is my sincere hope that we will use this moment to listen to the human rights activists, the Cubans who have sacrificed day and night in a peaceful struggle for freedom to reexamine and determine a new policy toward the Castro regime. We can never forget those who have suffered and died at the hands of Fidel and Raul Castro. And as long as I have a voice, I will continue to speak out against the Castro regime, against any effort to legitimize it or reward it, and for the thousands of men and women in Cuba who have been forced to live under the iron fist of their repressive dictatorship. Today, Cubans are one step closer to achieving freedom.
Bob Menendez is the senior senator from New Jersey.