Mr. President, as you visit Cuba, remember Selma
In 2015, an alliance of Cuban groups opposing the Castro regime launched a campaign for rights and liberties spearheaded by peaceful marches identified as Todos Marchamos (We All March). Each Sunday, hundreds of Cuban citizens march peacefully demanding amnesty for political prisoners of the regime 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, the legislatures of Southern States had 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 7th, 1965, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” state troopers and deputized possemen 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 and her photograph, lying on the road unconscious, appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world.
Worldwide televised coverage of the violent repression of the marchers, and the resulting national outcry, 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, fifty one years after the Selma marches, the first African American President will visit Cuba where disenfranchised Cubans 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 exhibiting the intractability that white officials showed in the Alabama of the 1960’s, the Cuban government has repeatedly stated that it will not change its ways.
The Castro government will do all it can outside camera range to prevent the Todos Marchamos groups from carrying out their peaceful marches. It will arrest group leaders preventively, it will intimidate them, it will restrict their movement, and more. General Castro’s repression forces will be smarter than County officials in the Alabama of the 1960’s in keeping their abuses off camera; but repress they will.
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 that “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 is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book “Mañana in Cuba.”
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