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Open Letter to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar

Open Letter to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar

Coco Fusco

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We write to you because of your interest in Cuba. We know that you were part of a Congressional delegation that travelled to Cuba last February and that you have advocated for an end to the US embargo of Cuba and for its removal from State Sponsors of Terrorism. We respect your right to your opinion about US policies toward Cuba.

We note your championing of the rights of student activists at Columbia to challenge US government policies and practices with regard to Israel, and your support for the rights of Palestinians.

We hope that in the same way that you criticize Israeli policies, you might also consider scrutinizing some of Cuba’s policies.

Given that the congressional delegation you traveled to Cuba with claims to have met with family members of a political prisoner, we assume you are aware that there are over 1000 political prisoners in Cuba who are serving extremely long sentences for having engaged in protests in 2021 against the policies and practices of their government. Most of them are young people of color who are members of the same generation as the students now protesting in the US. We hope that you will consider supporting Cuban citizens’ right to air their grievances and criticize their government and not presume that the protesters are common criminals, as Cuban officials characterize them.

We want to be sure that while you advocate for more positive engagement with Cuba, you are aware that the Cuban government just issued new sentences for fourteen Cubans who participated in protests in Nuevitas, Camaguey in August 2022 against continuous power outages. The protesters took their demands to their local Cuban Communist Party office, just as other Cubans in Santiago did in March 2024, calling for an end to food and electricity shortages. Because they drew attention to the failures of their leaders, and cried out for liberty, they were found guilty of sedition, enemy propaganda, sabotage, and actions against Cuban State Security, and they were sentenced to up to fifteen years imprisonment. They have been accused of being manipulated by external forces, which is to say by. Cuban exiles branded “media terrorists” by President Díaz-Canel because they send messages of support to their island-based compatriots via social media.

We hope that as you affirm the rights of students to protest in the US, that you might consider condemning the Cuban government’s repression of its protesters and agree to talk to the Cuban activists in the diaspora who strive every day to raise awareness of the injustices perpetrated against their fellow Cubans.

We want to be sure that while you rightly point out that Palestinians should enjoy the right of return to their land may you also take note that Cuban exiles are routinely denied the right to enter their country. You are no doubt critical of Israel’s refusal to allow foreign journalists into Gaza. We hope you will be equally critical of Cuba’s refusal to allow entry to foreign journalists that seek  to meet with Cuban dissidents, visit Cuban prisons, or access police records, and that you acknowledge that most Cuban independent journalists have been forced into exile by their government in the past three years.

You are clearly aware that for decades Palestinian homes have been razed to the ground to make way for Israeli settlements. We want you to be sure that you are aware that Cubans have had their property and businesses impounded by the Cuban state since the 1960s, that Cuban have their passports confiscated when they are on medical missions and their citizenship revoked for ideological reasons. Cuba has the lowest percentage of Communist Party members of any nominally Communist country and does not allow for the existence of other political parties, thus creating an ideological apartheid that marginalizes the majority of its citizens from official political life and criminalizes its opposition.

Although you were quoted in the press as stating that it is ridiculous to presume that you must consult Cuban-American members of Congress about Cuba before traveling there to meet with Cuban government officials, we hope that you recognize that we have the right to ask you as a member of Congress to pay attention to our concerns as people with deep knowledge and experience of the social, economic and political conditions in Cuba.

We hope your support for the right to protest state policies is not limited to the causes that you espouse personally or only to Americans. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Cuban government does not respect that right even though Cuba adopted the civil and political rights outlines in that declaration in 1948. We believe that you should take that into account as you formulate your policy position toward Cuba.


Coco Fusco (New York, 1960) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and professor at the Cooper Union School of Art. She has produced six films about the conflicts between artists and the Cuban state during the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. She is the author of Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba (2015).

Posted: May 7, 2024 at 11:00 am

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