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This post originally appeared on www.freedomcollection.org. Last week I attended an event at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, hosted by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, the Center for Freedom and Democracy and the International Republican Institute to honor Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died under still-unclear circumstances in a recent car crash, and other dissidents who continue to work for a free and democratic Cuba. One of the speakers was András Bácsi-Nagy, Chargé d'Affaires of the Embassy of Hungary. In his speech, Bácsi-Nagy described his own fight for freedom decades ago from Soviet oppression. In one amazing twist, he told the story of work done and support received from the Cuban Ambassador (before the arrival of Cuba’s communist government, of course) in their fight against the USSR. This reminded me once again that freedom cannot be taken for granted. As with everything worth having, it must be fought for energetically and defended vigorously; and, tragically, it is rarely permanent. Events like the one at the Capitol remind us of these facts and help place our support for freedom in context. In moments like these, as we commune with Syrians, Venezuelans, Cubans and Hungarians we reaffirm the principle that the fight for freedom is as universal as the freedoms we fight for. They also help us recognize that in this fight we have power and strength. We have strength first and foremost because we are on the side of truth, and sooner or later truth always triumphs. We have power because every time a dictatorship casts its ugly pall across a land we can rest assured that it is transient. We are also stronger because the community of dissidents like Berta Antunez, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Armando Valladares, featured here on the Bush Center’s Freedom Collection, emerge to personal freedom not only to help enshrine liberty at home but also to support others around the world who remain oppressed. For this reason, we take heart. We use these moments to grieve over those we have lost in this battle: courageous individuals like Oswaldo Paya; Harold Cepero, who had been expelled from college for opposing the regime and died in the crash with Paya; Wilman Villar Mendoza, who was arrested for peacefully demonstrating against human rights abuses and died this year in prison while on a hunger strike; Laura Pollan, founder of the Ladies in White; and unfortunately many others. We also use these events to tell the dictators that they will not find reprieve in their longevity. And finally, we use our communion to reinforce our commitment to each other and the cause, and to take energy from each other as we prepare to charge back into the fray. This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst
Before joining the George W. Bush Institute, Joel Hirst was a recipient of the prestigious International Affairs Fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he researched the Cuba/Venezuela-sponsored Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. He worked for six years with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives in Uganda, focusing on post-conflict transition in Lord’s Resistance Army–affected areas. In Venezuela, he worked for four years on democracy promotion, elections, civil society, and human rights. Prior to this, Hirst worked as a humanitarian relief worker with World Vision in countries such as Pakistan, Venezuela, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Honduras, and Nicaragua. He writes and appears frequently in the media.
To find out more about Joel, you can also visit his personal website.Full Bio
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