Speaking to congressional representatives by telephone from Cuba on Thursday during a Washington D.C. briefing on human rights on the island, Rene Gomez Manzano, who was disbarred almost 20 years ago for his criticism of the Castro regime, said: “Lawyers like me are dedicated to the implementation of a democratic government in Cuba, an independent judiciary, and the establishment and respect for the rule of law.”
The briefing was hosted by members of the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA) in Washington, DC. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera, all Republicans from Florida, and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires, participated in the briefing. All four representatives are Cuban-American.
CABA officers said they wanted the briefing to raise awareness about human rights violations in Cuba.
“We hope to raise awareness, that there’s a place 90 miles away that doesn’t have the rule of law, the opportunity to go to court, or have issues adjudicated,” said Victoria Mendez, president of CABA.
Josefa Lopez Pena, founder of The Ladies in White, a group that formed in Havana in 2003 and consisted of wives and mothers of jailed dissidents, told those at the briefing that a changing mindset was taking hold in Cuba among the people.
“The Cuban people are waking up,” Lopez Pena said. “And it is important to continue to give the dissidents on the island a voice.”
Lopez Pena was forced to leave Cuba in 2006 with her husband, Miguel Sigler Amayo, a political prisoner who was released from jail after completing a 25-year sentence. Lopez Pena affirmed her conviction to continue supporting political dissidents in Cuba and the Ladies in White movement-- albeit from a distance.
“Those are the true heroes,” she said.
The group also spoke by phone with Laritza Diversent, another dissident lawyer who operates a legal clinic known as Cubalex.
“I am dedicated to informing and educating the average Cuban citizen about their legal rights, as well as answering their legal questions,” Diversent said. “The Cuban government will not authorize Cubalex's formal representation of Cuban citizens, as Cubalex is an independent organization.”
Ros-Lehtinen praised CABA and others who participated in the briefing. (In Miami, a group of about 20 CABA members gathered at the law firm of Broad and Cassel to watch the briefing via Skype.)
“It’s great to see a new generation of Cuban-Americans working for “La Causa,” bringing democracy, human rights and freedom of elections in Cuba,” said Ros-Lehtinen.
CABA did not reveal the names of their guests until yesterday for fear they would be persecuted in Cuba.
Cristina Puig is a freelance writer.