Students Should Be Learning About the Real Cuba (Rep. Vito Fossella)

It was revealed last week that students of a New York City public school, the Beacon School, went on an unauthorized trip to Cuba. The trip was arranged by a teacher at the school, who apparently holds Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in high regard.

I have followed with great interest this story and am concerned that these young people are being offered a subjective and wholly inaccurate portrayal of Castro and his government. While I strongly support the idea of a thorough and objective debate on policy matters, it does not appear that the students of the Beacon School are being exposed to both sides of the story when it comes to the communist island and its leader.

For instance, the students should know that Cuba offers political asylum to convicted murders like copkiller Joanne Chesimard and FALN terrorist William Morales, is a state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for shooting down two American aircraft in international waters in recent years. At the same time, Cuba imprisons intellectuals, labor leaders and students just like those at the Beacon School for expressing the right of free thinking.

To understand the United States' policies toward Cuba, I believe the students deserve the truth about Castro and his dictatorial regime - not propaganda and side-shows arranged by the Cuban government.

In light of the fact that this matter has garnered so much attention and could result in federal fines or other actions against the teacher and students, I have taken the liberty of arranging for a Cuban political prisoner to visit the Beacon School, with the school's approval, to discuss with the students what life is really like under Castro.

Eleno Oviedo, a Cuban refugee who was born in Bacuranao, Habana, Cuba in 1936, has agreed to meet with the students to describe his decades of imprisonment at the hands of Castro. Mr. Oviedo left Cuba in 1959 and, after serving honorably in the United States Army, helped lead opposition to Castro from his home in Miami. During a trip to Elbow Key in the Bahamas, in 1963, Mr. Oviedo said he was abducted by the Cuban government and taken back to Cuba, where he was kept in solitary confinement and held almost 8 years without a trial.

Mr. Oviedo was eventually tried before a military tribunal, which lasted less than one hour. He was sentenced to 30 years based on false accusations. Mr. Oviedo spent an additional 18 years in the prison of Boniato in Santiago de Cuba. He was liberated in 1989 and he returned to the United States.

I believe Mr. Oviedo can provide insight to the students that they probably have not learned from their teacher. I sincerely hope the Beacon School accepts my offer to let Mr. Oviedo address the school so the students are able to form their own opinions about Cuba with accurate information.