Rodiles and former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) and former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric Affairs Roger Noriega discussed the reality of government corruption and human rights abuses in Cuba at the American Enterprise Institute.
Government corruption and human rights abuses in Cuba are first-hand experiences for Rodiles. While peacefully advocating human rights, Rodiles has been arbitrarily arrested and beaten. He is the founder of the independent forum Estado de SATS (State of SATS) and a founding member of the peaceful campaign #TodosMarchamos (We All March). He believes that the Cuban people need to speak out for change.
Noriega asked Rodiles a series of questions referencing President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba. Rodiles optimistically believed that the trip overall had a positive impact.
Before the president arrived on March 21, Cuban dissidents rallied in the streets to bring awareness about the opposition movement against the Castro regime.
“Many journalists were surprised because they saw police beating protestors and then people dancing in the streets afterwards,” Rodiles said. “But this showed the people in opposition being beaten, especially female protestors.” Rodiles referred to the women-led opposition group The Ladies in White, a group of women who wear white and peacefully walk through the streets every Sunday calling for the release of their sons, husbands, and fathers who are political prisoners.
“The idea of the campaign is to take back the public space because in Cuba, ‘esta calle es de Fidel (this street is Fidel’s),’” Rodiles said.
Noriega further asked Rodiles the reality of Cuba under Raul Castro’s regime. Rodiles described it as a police state in which the police are violence and don’t want people to move in opposition. He also said that Raul Castro is trying transfer to the power to his son who will then transfer that power to his grandson in order to preserve a Communistic dynasty.
Despite Cuba’s vicious cycle of corruption and oppression, Noriega asked if President Obama’s engagement made a difference and if the Cuban people seemed open.
“Obama’s visit provoked a positive change in Cuba, but the law doesn’t allow the steps for change. Human rights violations are a part of the structure of the law in Cuba,” Rodiles said. “The government is taking advantage of the military and the police and are creating a special society.”
“The visit had a good result because there was a lot of push from the opposition movement The movement in front of the world press created an environment for the president’s visit,” Rodiles said.
Rodiles saw the President Obama’s chance as an opportunity to tell the world the situation the Cuban citizens live under. He said that the president and the U.S. must decide who to befriend, the corrupt government or the opposition movement.
“The people in opposition are friends of the U.S. and need U.S. support,” Rodiles said.
Despite fighting and living as a victim of oppression, Rodiles still looks at the Communistic government with an optimistic mindset. He sees it as more leverage for the opposition movement because it provides a stark contrast between the regime and the protestors. He saw events such as Chanel’s Fashion Week in Havana at the beginning of May as an opportunity for the opposition movement to show the toxicity of the Castro dictatorship. He believes that change won’t happen as long as the Castros stay in power.
Noriega also addressed the Cuban embargo and the tourism restriction to Cuba.
“The Cuban military owns more hotel rooms than Disney,” Noriega said in addressing the regime-controlled industry. Rodiles said that while the U.S. has opened up tourism to specific groups with specific purposes, he said that it lacks real people-to-people contact.
“After the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s, there was no control over tourism. People stayed in homes and restaurants. Tourists now arrive and buy tourism packages, which are controlled by companies owned by the military so there’s no real contact with real people in tourism groups,” said Rodiles.
After the open question and answer session, Rodiles concluded with a call to action for Cubans to take back their country and for the world to help.
“We need support from the international community. While change comes from the inside, we need international support,” Rodiles said.