As Sonia Alvarez Campillo was leaving Catholic Mass on July 14, 2013 with fellow members of Ladies in White, her pro-democracy organization, she was assaulted by Raul Castro's agents.
These "security" agents broke Alvarez Campillo's wrist as well as her husband's ribs in their attack on her and other members of her group.
Sunday after Sunday in Cuba, the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) -- members of a movement started in 2003 by wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents in Cuba -- have peacefully demonstrated for freedom and human rights in cities across Cuba. They have continually been harassed, beaten, and imprisoned in Raul Castro's Cuba.
In an attack just two months ago, Lady in White member Digna Rodriquez Ibañez was pelted with tar by agents of the regime.
The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation -- an organization of Cuban dissidents that the Castro regime claims is illegal -- reported that in 2014 alone, 1,810 members of the Ladies in White were detained. The detentions of these extraordinary women are among the total of 8,899 detentions evidently designed to crush political dissent. That figure represents a 27% rise from the previous year.
Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero were leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement, a political party opposed to Castro's Communist Party.
In July of 2012, Cuban state security agents allegedly murdered Paya and Cepero by ramming into their car and running them off the road, where they crashed and died.
The Cuban government officially claims the crash was an accident. But, as documented in the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report for 2013, when David Gonzalez Peres, another leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, was arrested, Cuban officials at the jail warned him about what happened to Paya.
Paya and Cepero were most likely murdered for trying to change a system in which all 612 candidates in a recent Cuban election were members of the Communist Party and ran unopposed, and in which all other candidates had been rejected by the regime.
Left: Panama Canal inspectors discovered an illegal arms shipmen being smuggled on a ship from Cuba to North Korea, hidden under thousands of tons of sugar, in July 2013. Right: Cuban dissident Digna Rodriquez Ibañez was pelted with tar by agents of the regime, in February 2015.
Cuba is still a brutal place, with Raul Castro -- who replaced his brother, Fidel, in 2006 -- as a dictator doing everything he can to hold onto power.
The White House has announced that President Obama plans to take Cuba off the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Congress has 45 days to review and reverse this decision.
Of tremendous concern is Cuba's relationship with Iran -- the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. The State Department's most recently available State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview for 2013 detailed Iran's vast support for terrorist activities -- including: funding Assad's brutal regime in Syria, where (by that point) 100,000 civilians had died in the ongoing civil war; supporting innumerable terrorists groups that continually attack Israel; supporting rebels trying to overthrow governments in Yemen (now done) and Bahrain; and increasing its presence in Africa.
Both Iran and Hezbollah, one of its prime terrorist proxies, were shockingly left off last month's annual terrorism threat assessment report to Congress from James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence.
Iran-Cuba relations are strong, including an annual Iran-Cuba economic summit. In 2008, former Iranian President Ahmadinejad approved 500 million euros for the Cuban regime and Cuba is training Iranian scientists and sending scientists and researchers to Iran. The stated purpose has been for medical biotechnologies. Are these Cuban scientists involved in Iran's biological or even nuclear weapons programs?
In 2003, Cuba gave Iran access to a location in Cuban territory it apparently needed to block U.S.-backed, uncensored Farsi-language broadcasting to Iran -- the equivalent of blocking Radio Free Europe during the Cold War.
Cuba also has a long-time alliance -- and shares intelligence capabilities -- with Venezuela, which, just last month, the U.S. government declared a national security threat, slapping sanctions on top Venezuelan officials.
There are reports that Tarcek Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, a man with strong ties to the Middle East who is now governor of the Venezuelan state of Aragua, may be at the center of this Iran-Cuba-Venezuela alliance and that he has built "a criminal-terrorist pipeline, bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds from Latin American to the Middle East."
Regional intelligence officials also believe Maddah's office has been using technology given to them by Cuba, to issue new Venezuelan identification documents to 173 Middle Easterners.
Castro and Cuba also continue to provide safe haven for the Colombian terrorist organization FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which has been at the center of a 50-year civil war that has cost over 220,000 lives and displaced 5.7 million people.
FARC, at the center of Colombian drug trafficking, has taken thousands of hostages -- including a Colombian presidential candidate and three Americans who were saved in a daring rescue mission in 2008 -- and has forcibly recruited child soldiers.
During the last 15 years, the U.S. has invested $9.3 billion in "Plan Colombia," to strengthen the Colombian government's counter-narcotics efforts and cripple FARC.
The State Department's annual report on State Sponsors of Terrorism references Cuba's safe haven for FARC every single year. The report for 2011 speaks specifically of "medical and political assistance" for FARC.
Sympathizers of Cuba claim that there is no reported evidence of financial resources or military supplies in recent years, and that Cuba should be given credit for hosting peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government.
However the State Department's Report on Terrorism 2008 states that Cuba has "one of the world's most secretive and non-transparent national banking systems," which makes monitoring the flow of resources to FARC or other terrorist organizations difficult.
Amazingly, it was only in January of 2014 that Castro announced Cuba would freeze bank assets connected to Al-Qaeda. Might this indicate that Castro knew assets linked to Al-Qaeda were flowing through his country? Who else is receiving money through Cuba's "secretive banking system"?
In 2013, an illegal Cuban arms shipment was stopped from going to North Korea. Early this year, a Chinese ship with massive amounts of explosives destined for Cuba was stopped in Panama. Also early this year, a shipment of Russian anti-aircraft weapons going to FARC, through Cuba-friendly Ecuador, was stopped by the Colombian military. These incidents all raise the possibility that Cuban weapons are going to terrorist groups.
Cuba has hosted past peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC, all of which have failed to produce progress. The current peace talks have dragged on for more than three years, and leaders of FARC are refusing to surrender weapons or face prison.
Even though peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC are ongoing, Colombia continues military operations against FARC -- which has used past ceasefires to rebuild. FARC also kidnapped a Colombian General in November 2014 (later releasing him).
On April 15, FARC brutally executed 11 Colombian soldiers -- in the middle of the Cuba-hosted peace talks, which supposedly represent a "better" FARC.
The U.S. government has automatic warrants for all senior FARC leaders to be arrested and tried on charges of drug trafficking.
Castro wants Cuba taken off the Terrorism List so that certain sanctions, including limits on World Bank loans and development aid, will be lifted from his nation. This would also mark the beginning of normalized relations with the U.S., and Castro is no doubt hoping for more sanctions relief from the U.S. trade and travel embargoes.
U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, has said that lessening sanctions would, "only secure more funds for the Cuban Government, leaving the average Cuban citizen with very little economic improvements."
Castro's communist regime controls the Cuban economy, and virtually all businesses and means of production belong to the government. This means that Cuban citizens will only benefit from sanctions relief to the extent Castro decides.
Terrorizing the Ladies in White and the abuse of many other Cuban dissidents are apparently not officially considered when making the decision regarding Cuba and the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism -- just as human rights in Iran, or the four Americans being held and tortured in Iranian prisons were, according to the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, deliberately not linked to any nuclear negotiations with Iran. The decision of who is on the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism is apparently only based on support for members of officially designated terrorist organizations.
At the recent Summit of the Americas, Raul Castro actually justified his support for terrorism. "Yes," he said, "we have conducted solidarity with other peoples that could be considered terrorism."
Was Castro justifying Cuba's long years of support for brutal communist revolutionaries around the globe in the past, or was he trying to justify his current support for FARC and others linked to terrorist organizations?
Does Castro still justify his support of Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted of killing a New Jersey State Trooper in 1973, but escaped prison and has long been given a safe haven in Cuba? Chesimard is still on the FBI's Most Wanted List of terrorists.
Does Castro also still justify his support for William Morales, who escaped to Cuba as he was facing charges for a 1975 bombing in New York City that killed four people as part of FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist group?
Will Castro justify his continued protection of Basque ETA terrorists, whose organization has killed over 800 people in Spain through bombings and attacks? Spain is asking for assistance from the U.S. government, to pressure Cuba to return two Basque terrorists Cuba is currently hosting.
The Ladies in White show us the brutality of the Castro regime. They are the ones we should be reaching out to, engaging with, and promoting -- not Raul Castro.
Normalizing relations at this time with Cuba will only enable the Castro dictatorship to continue impoverishing and brutalizing its people. To enrich and solidify this dictatorship at this time only prevents the Cuban people from being able to forge a better life through elections in a few years, now that they are finally "on the one-yard line," when the Castro brothers, now in their eighties, could simply be left to their natural, un-bankrolled, ends. In a dictatorship such as this, only the dictators benefit.
Let us stand with the Ladies in White and the families of the victims of the Chesimard, Morales, ETA and FARC murders.
Let us not give Castro the resources he needs from sanctions relief to continue his regime's 56-year reign of terror on his own people, and his continued support for terrorists and terrorist states. Keep Cuba on the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
George Phillips served as an aide to Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, working on human rights issues.