Two leading Cuban dissidents, in a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson here today, invited the Florida Democrat and outspoken opponent of the Castro regime to come to Cuba to see first-hand that the people there continue to be denied human rights and personal freedoms by a Communist regime bent on maintaining power.
Nelson, who remains one of the strongest supporters of the decades-old U.S. economic embargo against the tiny island nation, said for the first time that he would in fact consider such a visit – if it was focused mainly on helping to free a U.S. aid worker who was arrested and imprisoned there more than three years ago as well as directly visiting with courageous dissidents on the island.
“If I were to go to Cuba, I would want to see Alan Gross and do what I can to get him home,” Nelson told the anti-Castro dissidents, adding, “it would be on a humanitarian mission to visit with pro-democracy groups and opposition figures.”
Nelson’s newfound openness to a Cuba visit comes after several congressional delegation trips there in recent years.
Nelson has joined other lawmakers seeking the release of the American aid contractor, Gross, at the request of a family member who resides in Florida. The senator is well-known for his advocacy on behalf of Americans who have run into trouble while traveling in foreign countries.
Recently, he was instrumental in getting criminal charges dropped against two American tourists who were held in the Turks and Caicos after authorities at the airport there claimed in separate incidents they found a single bullet in their luggage and arrested them as they were leaving the island. Both tourists, including one who was from Florida, were forced to spend days in jail and pay thousands of dollars in bail before being allowed to return to the U.S.
Nelson was also credited with helping to get Jon Hammar, a 27-year-old former Marine from Florida, released from a prison in Matamoros, Mexico prison after he had been detained there for months without even a hearing on a disputed weapons charge.
The Florida lawmaker has taken an increasingly active role with Cuba’s leading opposition figures lately, including meeting with famed-Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez, and the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, Rosa Maria Paya, and the two dissidents he met with today, Guillermo “Coco” Farinas and Elizardo Sanchez.
In March, Yoani Sanchez accepted Nelson’s invitation to meet with members of Congress to discuss life under the Communist regime today. Nelson has also called for an independent investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding an unusual car crash that killed Oswaldo Paya, the organizer of a famous petition drive for freedom of speech in Cuba.
Earlier this month, Nelson met with Judy Gross, the wife of Alan Gross, to draw additional attention to ongoing efforts to bring the American home.
On Wednesday, Nelson told the two dissidents – Farinas and Elizardo Sanchez – that if he goes to Cuba in the near future, he would like to meet with both of them and a number of other opposition leaders, in addition to meeting with Gross.