U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and West New York Mayor Felix Roque held a press conference at the Association for Cuban Political Prisoners in Union City to react to the death of controversial Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
“To me it’s a sweet and sour event. Sweet because now hopefully we’re going to be able to see some reform in Cuba, opening it up to Democracy. But as our great Senator said, I don’t think with Raul [Castro] we’re gonna see any changes, but let’s pray that there will be a change,” Roque told Hudson County View.
A pain management specialist, Roque said that as a doctor the passing of anyone is always sad, but the Cuban people as a whole are still overjoyed as a result of the breaking news out of their homeland.
” .. I could tell you that the Cuban community is very happy and we’re gonna celebrate the day of today. Not the death of Castro, but hopefully the new beginning for the Cubans.”
Roque, who moved to New Jersey as an adolescent, recalled his father working seven days a week in Cuba: Monday through Friday as a surgeon and then cutting sugarcane on the weekend, to the point where sometimes the blisters on his hands would be so severe he’d be unable to operate on patients.
“It wasn’t easy being in Cuba, but I’m extremely grateful to be in this great country, to be able to be a physician, to have served my nation in the military and now as the mayor. So this is the best country in the world and we’ve got to keep fighting to protect it.”
Menendez, a former Union City mayor whose political career began as a trustee on the local school board, spoke with reporters outside of 508 42rd St., said Fidel Castro’s death does not make up for all the pain and suffering he caused the Cuban people.
“Today’s passing of Fidel Castro … I get no joy out of it because it doesn’t change the realities for the Cuban people. It doesn’t change the realities of thousands who’ve been tortured, jailed and who died. It doesn’t change the realities of hundreds of thousands of families who were and are divided,” stated Menendez.
“It doesn’t change the reality of the fact that the Cuban people have no freedom, whatsoever.”
The veteran Senator also called on President-Elect Donald Trump should follow President Barack Obama’s lead in Burma: to help human rights activists and political dissidents by insisting Cuba releases their political prisoners and promote independent elections.
Trump referred to Castro as “a brutal dictator” shortly after hearing of his passing, going on to say that “our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty (h/t The Washington Post).”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, who was 11 years old when his families moved to American from Cuba, said Castro “defiled Democracy” with his “totalitarian tactics” and that his death needs to serve “as a new dawn for the Cuban people who are yearning for freedom.”
“Fidel Castro defiled democracy, oppressed innocent people, and imprisoned a nation with his totalitarian tactics. His passing needs to serve as a new dawn for the Cuban people who are yearning for freedom. The international community should seize this moment and insist that the Cuban people deserve more,” Sires said.
“We must insist that all political prisoners are freed and that basic human rights are respected. The Cuban people deserve to live in a society where they have the freedom to access information, to organize, to worship, and to speak what is on their mind without fear of being thrown into the gulags.”
Menendez’s remarks from the presser can be seen below, while Roque’s speech from the presser was posted on our Facebook page.