(CNSNews.com) - The vice chairman of the House International Relations Committee Wednesday accused Cuban leader Fidel Castro of being a racist, for jailing blacks without cause, and said some members of Congress are ignoring that reality.
"Many people are unaware of the extent and the brutality. Castro isn't just a torturer and a terrorist, he is also a racist," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) at a Capitol Hill news conference. "People of color are picked out, selected for mistreatment. People just don't want to believe it, so they put it out of their minds and that includes members of Congress."
Smith said his allegations are based on his research and the stories recounted by former Cuban prisoners Maritza Lugo Fernandez and Dr. Ramon Colas, a black Cuban, both of whom also attended the news conference.
Lugo-Fernandez was arrested and detained more than 30 times for opposing the Castro regime before she was freed and allowed to emigrate to the United States. She is married to Rafael Ibarra Roque, who is serving the eighth year of a 20-year prison sentence in Cuba for opposing the regime.
According to Ibarra Roque, Castro's secret police raided her home, robbed it and took her husband away on charges of opposing the government.
Colas, a former prisoner, founded the opposition "Independent Libraries Movement" in Cuba.
Smith and several other members of Congress announced Wednesday they are "adopting" one Cuban prisoner a month for a one-year period in order to get their congressional colleagues and the American people to pay more attention to the plight of those behind bars in Cuba.
"This initiative is so important. It's a wake-up call," said Smith.
Smith and many other members of Congress from both parties want former President Jimmy Carter to discuss the topic of Cuban political prisoners when he meets with Castro next week.
"Hopefully President Carter, when he journeys down to Cuba, will not buy into the Potemkin village that he will be presented with. He will have his eyes wide open and will ask the tough questions. Hopefully, he will visit prisons and prisoners and demand and not request but demand their release," Smith said.
"Otherwise, it's a public relations coup for the Castro regime," Smith concluded.
Carter begins a weeklong visit to the communist-run island on Sunday.
Smith also criticized his congressional colleagues from both parties who want the Cuban
economic embargo lifted.
"It is a false hope to think that just by trading with the Cuban dictatorship that will ameliorate their behavior with regards to human rights. The European Union has been trading for decades and there has been no cessation or even mitigation of the (human rights) abuse," said Smith.
"Until members of Congress in the House and Senate and the American people realize this (Cuba) is one of the last remaining torture cells in the world, this won't change," Smith said.
However, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told a recent meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva that Cuba has a clean human rights record.
"Can anybody mention a single case of torture, murder or disappearance in Cuba?'' he asked. "Does anyone know of a single case of journalists assassinated in Cuba, or of the kidnapping of children, the sale of children or child slavery? Has anyone ever heard of a death squad in Cuba?"
Perez Roque demanded to know why the United States pursues allegations against Cuba
while it refused to condemn what he called "the flagrant, large-scale human rights violations committed by the Israeli army against the Palestinian people.''
But his argument didn't impress the U.N. commission, which approved a resolution calling on Cuba to improve its human rights record, specifically urging Castro to grant Cuban citizens freedom of speech, press, association and the right to assemble.
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