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January 1, 2014 -- 55 years after Castro's reign of terror began, 3 brave dissidents give me hope

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    FILE -- Nov. 21, 2005: A taxi passes a sign with Cuban President Fidel Castro that reads: "We are doing well", in this file photo from , in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Jorge Rey)

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    Cuba's President Raul Castro speaks during celebrations marking Cubas Revolution Day in Guantanamo, Cuba, Thursday, July 26, 2012. Cuba marks the 59th anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack led by Fidel and Raul Castro on the Moncada military barracks. The attack is considered the beginning of the revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (AP2012)

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    Veterans of the Revolution wear their military medals and hold Cuban flags at an event marking Revolution Day in Guantanamo, Cuba, Thursday, July 26, 2012. Cuba marks the 59th anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack led by Fidel and Raul Castro on the Moncada military barracks. The attack is considered the beginning of the revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (AP2012)

January1, 2014 marks the 55th anniversary of Fidel Castro's reign of terror on the island of Cuba.

The country is so close that perhaps if you stand on your tippy toes in Key West, you can see Cuba.

On January 1,1959, I  was a little boy in Cuba. It was a great country. I was awakened by celebratory gun shots. I  knew they were not New Year's firecrackers. 

That day bearded men in green fatigues came to my home and acted like they were in charge. Ten days later they stripped the people of all weapons and ensured that control.

But today I have hope. 

This op-ed is about three brave Cubans: Berta Soler, Yoani Sanchez and Guillermo Fariñas.

They lead Cuba's growing but isolated dissident movement. I write about them because it is sadly clear that, after 55 years, our government (whether led by Republicans or Democrats) is going to continue to ignore the people of Cuba. 

Because of Berta, Yoani and Guillermo, 55 years later I have hope.

This op-ed is also not about Castro's 17,000 political assassinations, his legendary dungeon prisons,or his prolific torture methods. It is not about my uncle, who, deceived by Castro, first fought for him and then against him in the Bay of Pigs invasion. President Kennedy reneged on his promise to assist the invaders. 

After my uncle ran out of ammunition, he was captured and tortured.

I am not going to detail the story of the brave American, William Morgan, who rose to the rank of Commandante in Castro's army then turned against him. His executioners, ordered him to kneel. Morgan spat back "I kneel for no man". They blew off one knee but somehow the big American still struggled to stand. Then they blew off his other knee and massacred him. 

I am not going to explain why our State Department annually recognizes Cuba as a state  sponsor of terrorism. 

Nor will I address the fact that a few months ago a Cuban ship was detained in Panama carrying nuclear missile parts and weapons from Cuba to North Korea. Our media seemed to have glossed over that story.

I  am not too troubled because our president hopped two steps and cheerfully shook the Bloody hand of Fidel's brother, Raul. Raul has always been a bug in the shadow of his brother.

Moreover, I don't think our president recognized Raul because two weeks earlier he had met with Berta Soler and Guillermo Fariñas in Miami and cheered them on. 

So let's talk about hope. 

First, there is Berta Soler. This brave,black woman leads the ladies in white,the wives and mothers of Castro's political prisoners.  Every Sunday after mass Inst. Rita’s church,Berta parades the ladies in peaceful protest, wearing white and carrying flowers.

Every Sunday, Castro sends his thugs to beat them, stick them with needles and recently, strip them of their clothing. But every Sunday there are more ladies in white.

Yoani Sanchezis the famous blogger who, in a country that prohibits the Internet, reaches millions  throughout the world. She denounces Castroism. When I asked her, she told me she was very afraid of the violence against her and showed me a hole in her mouth where they had knocked out a tooth. She admitted that she was most afraid when Castro’s thugs threatened to hurt her only son. But Yoani blogs on. 

Guillermo Fariñas is tall, dark and bald. Because of 24 anti-Castro hunger strikes she has the countenance of a concentration camp prisoner. But he has the heart of a lion.

This November while in Miami, I noticed fresh scars on his bald head. I begged him not to go back. I reminded him that last year  Cuba's leading dissident, Oswaldo Paya had been publicly murdered by Castro's men.

Guillermo told me his group now numbers 7,000 and he was going back no matter the consequences. 

He is back in Cuba. 

So, because of Berta, Yoani and Guillermo, 55 years later I have hope. I would be even more hopeful if America decided to really support them. They are so close to us.

George J. Fowler is author of the recently published book, "My Cuba Libre: Bringing Fidel Castro to Justice." He is Vice President and General Counsel of the Cuban American National Foundation. He can be reached at fow@frfirm.com.

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