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ICYMI: VIDEO: In Human Rights Speech, Rubio Calls for Release of Cuban Political Prisoner

Feb 1, 2017 | Comunicados de Prensa

Washington, D.C. – During a Senate floor speech last night, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) highlighted the plight of Cuban dissident Dr. Eduardo Cardet, who was beaten and imprisoned for opposing the Castro regime. Rubio’s remarks are part of his #expressionNOToppression initiative, which highlights human rights abuses around the world. 

Rubio also called on Rex Tillerson, who is expected to be confirmed as secretary of state later today, to be an advocate for Cardet and other dissidents around the world.

A full transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below. His full speech can be watched here, and a downloadable broadcast quality version is available for TV stations here.

U.S. Senate Floor
Washington, D.C.
January 31, 2017

Senator Rubio: Mr. President, we are here in the Senate debating tonight what I believe is the most important cabinet position that the president has to nominate, the secretary of state. It comes at an important moment in American foreign policy history. There’s so much uncertainty and debate about our role in the world these days. A lot of our allies have questions. Our adversaries are obviously watching very closely. I hope that all of us, and I mean from the executive branch to the Congress, recognize that as people around the world are watching what’s happening on television, they see an America that is deeply divided and fractured right now. I think this needs to be a moment of restraint, both in action and in word as we work through our differences. These vibrant debates are important to our system of government. 

It’s one of the reasons that led me to ultimately support the nomination of Mr. Tillerson. I believe that, despite some of the concerns that I had and have about his answers to some of my questions, it is vitally important for this country to have a secretary of state in place at this moment. I never had any doubts about Mr. Tillerson’s qualifications, his intellect, his background. I had some concerns about his answers to some very important questions, at least important questions to me and what I hope will be important questions for a lot of Americans. And that’s what I wanted to come to the floor and speak about in conjunction with his nomination and that’s the issue of human rights, because to me human rights is critical both to our national identity, but it’s also important to our national security. 

In America today, we have – as we’ve done now for the past two centuries – contentious debates all the time about policies and about what kind of country we want to be. And if you’re watching the proceedings on the Senate floor and committee over the last few years, you’ve seen a lot of that. Even as we debate these things among ourselves and even as the American political rhetoric has become so incredibly heated – and we’ll have more about to say about that in the weeks to come – I don’t know of any other time where we’ve now gotten to the point where we disagree with people, we just don’t disagree with them, we question their motives and their character. In fact, it’s almost automatic today in political discourse. You don’t just disagree with someone, you immediately jump to why they’re a bad person. In the weeks to come, I’ll have examples about why that’s a bad idea. As we’re having these contentious debates, I hope we never take for granted, sometimes as I think we do, that we live in a place where losing an election, losing an election, losing a vote, losing on an issue does not mean you end up in jail or disappeared or executed, because that’s the kind of stuff that happens in other places all over the world, even now in the 17th year of the 21st century.

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, this dissent, this political dissent is part of our way of life. It has come to define our country, we protect it in our Constitution, and it has made us an example to the rest of the world. I was reminded of this just a couple of months ago right here in Washington, D.C. After our most recent election, I had a chance to visit with my opponent, Congressman Patrick Murphy or former Congressman Patrick Murphy of Florida. When I was finished with that meeting, I walked into another meeting and that other meeting was with a Cuban dissident. He’s an opponent of the Castro regime, an individual who risks his life in the pursuit of freedom, an individual who doesn’t just get bad blog posts or a bad article or bad editorial or nasty campaign ad run against him. No, this is an individual who routinely gets thrown into jail, and he has the scars to prove the beatings he’s taken from the Cuban state police over the last few years.

I was a little bit late to this meeting, and I apologized to him and I explained that I had just been in a meeting with my opposing candidate, the man I had just ran against in the election. And I could see the look on his face. It kind of struck him. He immediately, I believe, appreciated what that represented. He said, and I’m paraphrasing but he said: that’s what we want for our country, too.

This is the essence of what has been America’s example to the world. The essence of how our principles and our values have inspired others to seek their own God-given rights and how we have a moral duty to support in our words, in our foreign policy and in our actions those aspirations of people all over the world.

In a way, dictators and tyrants never had it worse today because we live in this high-tech information age. We often get to see the images of oppression within minutes of it happening, if not in real time. We can monitor it, catalogue the status of human rights in every city, in every country on every continent. But as Americans we’re called to do much more than observe and record these atrocities for history.

With this knowledge it’s our duty to act and do what we can to support the people demanding their rights, and we must hold those who are violating their rights accountable. I believe this is more important than ever because of the totalitarian resurgence under way in many parts of the world as democracy in every continent is under attack. Even as I stand here now before you, there are political prisoners on this planet. They languish in Chinese prisons. Political dissidents and journalists are being silenced and targeted for murder in Russia. Those who seek democracy in Syria are being massacred. The United States has a unique responsibility to highlight, to expose and to combat these grave human rights abuses around the world.

Historically we’ve been a compassionate country that has welcomed people seeking refuge from oppression and atrocities. And that’s why I understand – I understand the concerns about refugees from certain failed states or governments that sponsor terror, places where very often it’s difficult, if not impossible, to verify the identities of people seeking to come to the United States.

I say this to people all the time: when you talk about changes in policy, there’s a legitimate argument and a credible argument to be made that there are people we cannot allow into the United States, not because we don’t have compassion for their plight but because we have no way of knowing who they are. You can’t just call “1-800 Syria” and get background information about the individuals that are trying to enter the United States. And we know for a fact that there are terrorist groups around the world that have commandeered passport-making machinery and are producing passports that are real in every way except the identity of the person in the picture. And so I do believe that we need to have very careful and rigorous screening more than ever before of all people entering the United States, but especially those who are coming from areas that we know do not have reliable background information available to us.

But at the same time I can’t help – and I think we should not help but to be worried about the impact of a 120-day moratorium on every single refugee from anywhere on the planet. Refugees from places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Colombia, El Salvador, Vietnam, Burma and, of course, Cuba just to name a few places. These are among the most vulnerable people on the planet living often in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances imaginable. I remind everyone this is a moratorium. It is not a permanent policy. I understand that there are provisions available for waivers, and I find that to be promising. But I also want everyone to understand that 120 days for someone who is trying to get out of a place where they might be killed, may be one day too many for some of them. I hope that does not turn out to be the case. That’s why I urge the administration, that’s why I urge soon-to-be Secretary Tillerson to exercise great caution in making sure dissidents and others are not being turned away. By the way, I’m pleased to see that the administration is heeding some of these calls already early this week.

We must understand that when tyrants and dictators oppress their people, we are all paying a price. It’s happening all over the world. Vladimir Putin continues to institute draconian laws targeting the freedom of expression and assembly. Earlier this year my office and I highlighted the case of human rights activist IIdar Dadin, who was the first person imprisoned under Russia’s new criminal provision that bars any form of political dissent.

In China, rights lawyers are tortured, Labor activists are arrested. Tibetan Buddhist nuns are expelled from their homes and their churches are being demolished. Just earlier today I met the wives of two Chinese rights advocates who both pleaded for the United States to champion their husbands’ cases in the hopes that they can see their husbands again.

In Iran, dissent freedom of expression and freedom of press is nonexistent, heavily restricted. Many continue to be jailed for simply exercising their fundamental human rights. The government of Iran targets religious minorities, often jailing Christian pastors and those who gather to worship together in private homes.

In Syria, [we have] one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in modern history, the Assad regime, with the assistance of Vladimir Putin and the Iranian military and government, is committing crimes against innocent women, children, men, civilians, in Aleppo and beyond.

In Iraq, we’ve seen ancient Christian Yazidi communities on the verge of extinction all because of ISIS.

In Venezuela, the Maduro regime continues to imprison political opponents while the country descends further and further into economic chaos and what has now become on the verge of a total humanitarian catastrophe in the Western Hemisphere. In one of the richest countries on the planet, we are at the point of people literally starving to death.

Saudi Arabia – an ally of the United States on many key geo-political issues, and we’ll have to continue working with them on those shared causes – but they also remain one of the most censored countries in the world. And the government has intensified its repression of activists and journalists. Women in Saudi Arabia remain under the male guardianship system. They’re banned from even driving.

Globally, assaults against press freedom around the world are a major problem because ultimately the cause and champions of human rights, they need the information to expose abuses and call for reforms. Without independent journalists, without information, tyrants and dictatorships can get away with so much more. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2016, 48 journalists were killed and 259 journalists were jailed worldwide. In 2016, Turkey – a NATO member, again an important geo-political alliance of the United States – but sadly they became the leading jailer of journalists on the planet following a widespread crackdown on the press.

The abuses and threats to human rights around the world are many. We could be here all night trying to break Senator Strom Thurmond’s filibuster record going country by country, case by case, and it still wouldn’t be enough time to do justice to all the heroic figures around the world. But it is my hope that more of my colleagues will join me in doing so over time because it is important. Our voices here in the U.S. Senate give people all over the world confidence and motivation to stay the course.

As famed Soviet dissident Natan Sharasnsky had said of himself and fellow prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union, he said, “We never could survive even one day in the Soviet Union if our struggle was not the struggle of the free world.” In essence, what he’s saying is that these tyrants and these dictators when they jail these people, the first thing they tell them is no one even remembers you anymore. No one talks about you anymore. You’ve been abandoned.

Today I want to highlight one particular human rights case as part of the weekly social media campaign my office has been doing the last couple of years. It’s called #ExpressionNotOppression. Here you see a picture of a gentleman named Dr. Eduardo Cardet of Cuba. He’s a medical doctor and the National Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, a group which advocates for democracy and freedom. Cardet assumed the role of national coordinator after the suspicious death of Castro critic of Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas. After allegedly stating in an interview that Fidel Castro was hated by the Cuban people, that’s what he said, he was savagely beaten in front of us two young children and wife by Cuban state security on the 30th of November of last year and he’s been in jail ever since. He has been charged – get this – he has been charged with “challenging authority,” and he faces a three to five-year prison sentence.

Let me repeat that: he’s officially charged with “challenging authority.” That is a crime in Cuba.

His father has written to Pope Francis begging for his intervention. And, by the way this is a reminder just because Fidel Castro is dead, his authoritarian system still lives on. Dr. Cardet’s persecution and the overall increase and oppression in Cuba over the past two years is a reminder that the policy of rewarding the Castro regime under the guise of engagement with cash and concessions has not worked and must be strategically reversed here in the coming months. And so I come here today in the hope that our president and our State Department, and especially Mr. Tillerson in whom I am entrusting me vote for confirmation, and all Members of Congress for that matter will add their voices in solidarity with Dr. Cardet, with all the Cuban people yearning to be free, for those around the world who look to our nation, to America, for leadership and often for nothing more than for us to lend our voice to their cause.

As we move forward here with our nation’s work, we must continue to highlight these cases and raise awareness of them. We must never forget that there are people all over the world who are challenging authority because they want a better life for themselves and their families. They should be able to challenge authority peacefully and then go home to their families, not be thrown in jail or tortured or killed.

Today I ask all to pray for those who are victims of their own government. I pray for the release of prisoners of conscience and their families, and I pray that our own country, at this moment of extraordinary division on so many key issues, can reaffirm its founding principles in calling for the sacred right of every man and woman and child to be free.