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Breaking Bread with the Cuban People

November 2, 2011 by Brendan Miniter

Dallas – Authoritarian regimes always live in fear that their people are growing hungry for freedom.  So Normando Herández-González, a Cuban dissident who regularly published articles critical of his country’s government, knew what might happen to him when he started to speak out about the quality of bread on the island.  As he told the George W. Bush Institute yesterday in Dallas, he was arrested along with scores of other dissidents in 2003 and drew a 25-year prison sentence. ”VoicesThanks to international pressure, Herández-González and many others have been released from prison.  And many of them are speaking out.  Three dissidents released from Cuban jails came to Texas this week to meet with former President Bush, former Spanish President José María Aznar López, and Secretary General of the European People’s Party Antonio López-Istúriz White in private meetings and to speak on a panel moderated by Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady.  The dissidents are also being interviewed for the Bush Institute’s Freedom Collection, a new archive that documents freedom movements around the world and which will be launched next year. The Cuban dissidents — Herández-González, Regis Iglesias Ramírez and José Luís García Paneque — came to tell their stories as part of a larger effort by the Bush Institute to draw attention to human rights abuses in Cuba and elsewhere.  Focusing on the people who have the courage to speak out against tyranny reminds us that freedom is universal.  That reminder makes it hard for any government to turn a blind eye on the human rights abuses of authoritarian regimes. Fortunately, the world took notice of the crackdown in Cuba, and the dissidents themselves refused to fade away into the obscurity of confinement.  Some went on hunger strikes, and at least one died as a result.  Meanwhile, officials and advocates across the world condemned the Cuban regime, and the American government directed a spotlight onto the Castro brother’s brutal treatment of their people. Over the past year, the Cuban regime has tried to halt negative publicity by transferring more than 100 dissidents to Spain.  The official Cuban line is that these individuals are being liberated.  But as O’Grady noted in The Wall Street Journal over the summer, these dissidents have been quietly tucked away in Spain where they haven’t been afforded the rights of political exiles. Not all of the dissidents, however, are isolated in Spain.  José Luís García Paneque’s story reminds us not only of Cuban oppression, but of the power Americans have to help transform the lives of those who stand for freedom.  He nearly wasted away in prison, dropping to 90 lbs.  As a medical doctor, he knew he was close to death.  But while he was in prison, President Bush spoke out on his behalf and met with his wife Yamile and daughter in the Oval Office. The president also helped arrange for Yamile, who was then working as a night security guard in the Dallas area, to land a better job.  She used the opportunity to keep attention on her husband’s imprisonment.  Today, Paneque is reunited with his family and continuing to speak out for the Cuban people.


Author

Brendan Miniter
Brendan Miniter

Brendan Miniter is director of historical scholarship for the George W. Bush Institute.  Previously he was senior editorial director for the Bush Institute and served as President and Mrs. Bush’s liaison to the presidential museum design team.  Mr. Miniter is the co-author and editor of The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs, a book containing chapters from two dozen leading thinkers, including five Nobel Laureates, published in July 2012.

Before joining the Bush Institute, Mr. Miniter edited Mitch Daniels’ best-selling book, Keeping the Republic, and Karl Rove’s best-selling autobiography, Courage and Consequences.  Mr. Miniter also edited John Bridgeland’s book Heart of the Nation, and wrote the chapter on President Zachary Taylor for Presidential Leadership, a book published by Simon & Schuster and The Wall Street Journal.  For nearly 10 years, Mr. Miniter served as a writer and editor for The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.

Mr. Miniter has provided on-air commentary for Fox News, CNN, and CNBC as well as ABC’s The John Batchelor Show, Fox’s Brian Kilmeade & Friends and other national radio programs. He holds a bachelor of arts in history from George Mason University. 

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