MARIETTA - In hopes of raising awareness about the ongoing human rights violations taking place in Cuba, Washington State Community College is hosting a trio of Cuban human rights activists for a series of discussions that start today and lead up to an open forum to be held at the college Saturday.
The three-day event is part of the Evergreen Arts and Humanities series.
"In our area, we don't hear a lot about human rights violations. We may hear something about China, or North Korea or Burma. But rarely is the issue addressed concerning Cuba, which is only 90 miles away from American soil," said Tanya Wilder, chair of the Evergreen Arts and Humanities series.
The event will feature John Suarez, the International Secretary for the Cuban Democratic Directorate, Anna Lee, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide Advocacy officer for Latin America and Laido Carro, president of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women and a Cuban exile.
Cuba has been under a totalitarian regime for 54 years, the longest running tyranny currently suffered by any country, said Carro, who fled the country at age 12 shortly after the Cuban Revolution began.
"The brutality of what is going on over there is not known because of the propaganda, because this is a police state that uses all its resources to make sure the world thinks otherwise," said Carro, who regularly communicates with activists still in Cuba.
If You Go
* What: "Cuba: A Forum on Human Rights" features three activists fighting for Cuban human rights, part of Washington State Community College's Evergreen Arts and Humanities Series.
* Events: Friday, Washington State Community College Graham Auditorium at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m.
* Friday: Marietta College's Thomas Hall, room 113, at 3 p.m.
* Saturday: Washington State Community College Graham Auditorium at 8 p.m.
The recent transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul in 2011 was followed by a loosening of restrictions for Cubans who wanted to travel outside of the country.
However, the move was purely tactical, said Carro.
The government routinely kills and tortures dissidents who speak out against the Communist regime, she said.
"When you talk to people in other counties they don't believe you. It is a priority to make sure everyone understands what is there 90 miles away," said Carro.
In addition, there have been talks in the news of loosening tourism restrictions that America has in place to prohibit Americans from traveling to Cuba without the proper licenses.
But foreign visitors are simply led from place to place by the government and shown only what the government wants them to see, according to Carro.
Florida Republican politicians recently criticized married musicians Jay-Z and Beyonce for their early April trip to Cuba.
"Despite the clear prohibition against tourism in Cuba, numerous press reports described the couple's trip as tourism, and the Castro regime touted it as such in its propaganda," wrote U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.
What is worse is the couple did nothing to meet with activists or raise awareness about the Cuban plight, said Carro.
"They just go around looking pretty and the government has more to write about in the one Cuban newspaper," she said.
The three days of discussions in Marietta will offer several opportunities for students and the community to meet with the three activists and discuss human rights issues in general and as they relate to the problems in Cuba, said Wilder.
Friday will offer four breakout sessions to take place in Washington State's Graham Auditorium at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
On Friday, a roundtable discussion with Carro, Suarez, and Lee will take place at 3 p.m. in Marietta College's Thomas Hall, room 113.
Saturday night's open forum will feature short topical discussions by each of the three speakers before transitioning into a question and answer session.
Suarez, who recently gave the closing remarks at the annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, will be talking about human rights and what is happening in Cuba.
Lee will be giving the latest report on religious persecution in the country, which has not fully rebounded from the three decades of state enforced atheism which ended in the early 1990s.
Carro will be talking about human rights violations directed at children, she said.
"This brutal police state uses their citizens from birth to death in order to make sure they stay in power and they've been very successful," she said.
Children of those who resist the regime are sometimes tortured in order to force their families to flee, said Carro.