GOP Pols Seek Wider Condemnation of Castro's Crackdown

By Steve Brown | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - Two Republican U.S. House members Wednesday demanded that the Bush administration be more aggressive in condemning human rights abuses in Cuba and that it provide information on prisoners to any delegation traveling to the communist nation.

The hearing follows the recent convictions of 75 Cuban dissidents, who had been rounded up by Fidel Castro's government, given one-day trials and sentenced anywhere from six to 28 years for treason.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque recently alleged that the U.S. had paid the dissidents to create unrest.

''These people receive money and live off it while in the service of a power that harms their people,'' Roque said in defending the crackdown.

During a House International Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, Vice Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) told a panel of State Department officials that information, including the names of prisoners held in violation of the international human rights code, needed to be placed on a website and given to all members of the international media.

"I would suggest that any congressional delegation, or any delegation -- governors or others on trade missions -- be given a list of all of the prisoners, what prisons they're in, the locations, and the families and who they can contact before they are able to visit (Cuba)," Wolf said.

He suggested that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce be included as well, saying "I'm always hearing from them about trade and I think they ought to know about the persecution that goes with it." Smith said all who visit Cuba should be urged to visit the prisoners and their families to get a better knowledge of Castro's human rights abuses.

J. Curtis Struble, acting assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, confirmed that Smith and Wolf were the only two lawmakers who sought to visit Cuba on a "truly independent" fact-finding trip. Typically, those wishing to visit must first be invited by the Cuban government before they can go, a protocol Smith and Wolf refused to oblige.

Smith and Wolf were also the only lawmakers present at Wednesday's hearing.

Struble added that recent press coverage of the Cuban dissident trials and the executions of three men who had attempted to hijack a ferry to escape from Cuba to the U.S. has spurred condemnation among human rights groups in both Europe and Latin America.

"I've personally never witnessed any action in this hemisphere that has provoked such an outcry from such groups," Struble said, adding that the Latino press, which usually excuses Castro's atrocities, "is increasingly not doing so in this instance."

Castro's recent crackdown is "an outrage," said Karen Harbert-Mitchell, an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development. She pledged to double the agency's efforts to increase the flow of accurate information about the regime's brutality along with other food and material aid to families of prisoners.

The hearing came as the Costa Rican delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights introduced an amended resolution in Geneva, Switzerland demanding that Cuba release the jailed dissidents.

Costa Rican envoy Manuel Gonzalez Sanz called Castro's recent actions, "serious events ... which oblige us to make a more vehement appeal to Cuba with a view to achieving greater respect to human rights."

Lorne Craner, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the congressmen that U.S. delegates to the U.N. commission would be pushing for a unanimous vote on the resolution.

HBO Pulls Castro Film from its May Lineup

Home Box Office will remove Oliver Stone's "Comandante," a documentary on Cuba's Castro, from its May schedule. The film had been criticized for allowing Castro a showcase of his regime without context or dissenting views.

"I think that it was an appropriate action on (HBO's) part at a time when Castro is executing people for trying to flee his tyranny and arresting basically the entire peaceful opposition," said Dennis Hays, a former U.S. ambassador to Suriname and the current executive vice president for the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).

"To have put on an, 'I love me' documentary would have been not just in bad taste, but verging on immoral," Hays said.

An HBO representative, who refused to be identified, said the network was considering having Stone, who completed the movie in February 2002, go back and re-interview the communist dictator in light of recent events.

CANF Chairman Jorge Mas Santos said HBO was "well known for its professional integrity," and that "allowing an aging dictator to distort the truth and go unchallenged would not have been keeping with that tradition."

Yet Stone's film may not be permanently shelved. The HBO spokesperson said its future was unclear and that another factor impacting on the decision to pull it from HBO's May lineup was the cable network's June 5 debut of another Stone film, "Persona Non Grata," about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Telephone calls to the talent agency representing Stone, seeking comment on HBO's decision to pull his film, were not returned.

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