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Remarks to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

June 11, 2015

It is an honor for me to be with you today. This room is full of men and women who have faced the evil of Communism directly, who have persevered in bleak times, and who understand that the triumph of liberty depends on the extraordinary bravery of ordinary people.

Looking back over the last century, we see this brand of bravery where dictators at the time thought least to look.

We saw it in a shipyard worker in Gdansk, who became a prisoner before he became a president.

We saw it in a stagehand and playwright in Prague, whose words inspired a nation and foreshadowed the soft downfall of a tyrannical regime.

We saw this bravery in a literature teacher - a lady clad in white - whose silent protests in Havana made a dictatorship shake.

We saw it in the form of a man whose name is lost to history, but whose lonely stand before the barrel of a tank has continued to speak a truth no military could ever crush.

We see this bravery here among us today, in Dr. Guillermo Farinas. To battle a brutal regime that deprives its people of so much, Dr. Farinas has harnessed the concept of deprivation and turned it into a powerful political statement.

We see it in Dr. Farinas's fellow Medal winner, Alexander Podrabinek. As a journalist, he commits what is the greatest crime in eyes of an oppressive regime, but what is also the greatest service to his people: telling the truth.

And we cannot forget the bravery of all who have suffered and died in resistance - both quiet and dramatic - against Communism and other ideologies that seek to crush human liberty.

Over 100 million have fallen victim to Communism's march. I commend the Victims of Communism of Memorial Foundation and everyone in this room for keeping their memory alive. It is a charge to our generations and future generations to take up their struggle and adopt their vigilance. 

 

***

 

Vigilance is important in these times. The Communism that posed such a threat in the last century is little more than a rusted relic today, with a handful of ideological 1 holdouts. But the free world faces new and evolving challenges that borrow from Communism's legacy, and echo the same disdain for human dignity that cast a shadow over half the world at the height of the Cold War.

We are dealing with regimes in Moscow and Beijing that are seeking to revise the way in which the post-Cold War world works. Vladimir Putin does not hide his nostalgia for the Soviet Empire, and he has adopted many of the tactics of his Communist predecessors. He is actively undermining the institutions of democracy at home, and crushing domestic opponents with a coldness and brazenness that reflect the KGB agent he used to be. He is forging partnerships around the globe with the world's worst actors. And he is attempting to push the boundaries of Russian influence westward through brute force.

And in Asia, it is no secret that Communist China seeks a dominant position in the region, one achieved not through persuasion and good will, but through coercion. It is a style that mirrors Beijing's treatment of dissidents and religious minorities within China, with its heavy emphasis on force and power and little in the way of due process, transparency, and respect for basic human rights.

And as Dr. Farinas knows dearly, the free world faces an ideological challenge within our own hemisphere. It was not long ago that the states of the Americas were united behind the movement toward constitutional democracy and the protection of fundamental rights. In 2001, the Organization of American States adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a landmark declaration that appeared to cement the victory over Communism in all its forms.

But since then, we've seen an erosion of the principles that animated the adoption of that charter. The Bolivarian Left has tempted many voters in Latin America with sweet, but empty, lies. Nations seduced by strongmen have faced economic hardship, increased corruption, and relentless attacks on the institutions of democracy. The United States and friends who share our values must not shrug off the plight of our natural allies struggling in these nations. We must shine a light on their plight, and demonstrate that while these leaders may offer a new spin on Marxism, it yields the same bitter fruit.

I want to take a moment to speak specifically about the situation in Cuba. Last week, I co-sponsored a sanctions bill to prevent the Castro regime's military and security services from reaping any economic rewards from President Obama's recent policy shifts toward Cuba. I did so because I believe the United States must oppose a regime that sponsors terrorism and harbors fugitives from American justice. I believe we must not abet a regime that undermines our efforts in the Americas to combat crime, drugs, and the destruction of whole communities. And I believe we must stand squarely on the side of the Cuban people. It is my duty as a Senator and as an American to take every possible action to weaken the brutal rule of the Castro regime and hold it accountable for its past crimes and misdeeds.

 

I will push for passage of the sanctions bill, but it will by no means be sufficient to repair the damage done by President Obama's push toward normalization of relations with the Castro brothers. I do not oppose normalization. I oppose normalization given in exchange for no improvement on democracy, no lasting change on the arrest of political dissidents, no turn away from partnerships with the world's worst actors, and no fundamental economic reforms that would pave the way for true free trade between our peoples. 

I believe the struggle against the Castro brothers has been made harder by President Obama's misguided policies. But those policies have not made the struggle impossible. It will continue in the brave activism of dissidents like  Dr. Farinas, and I and many other Americans will continue to support their efforts.

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The name of this luncheon calls attention to the "Triumph of Liberty." There have indeed been many triumphs of liberty in the past century, and it is right and good that we commemorate and celebrate them. Many in this room played chief roles in those triumphs. 

But we should not mistake these triumphs as evidence that the direction of the world is always forward. The progress and ultimate triumph of liberty are not foreordained, as relics of the past seek to resurrect themselves continually.

Human history has been marked by much suffering, by the expansion and contraction of feverish ideologies, and by our basest instincts overcoming compassion and reason. As a flawed race in a fallen world, we must continually recognize that liberty is just an experiment, one - as Ronald Reagan said - that is always but one generation away from failure.

We need men like Dr. Farinas and Mr. Podrabinek. We need organizations like the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. And we need a United States that stands on principle and links arms with our friends and allies around the world. 

Because the last century has taught us this truth: what maintains and expands the freedom we enjoy is the bravery and vigilance of those willing to defend it.