(CNN) — A group of Cuban dissidents broke the silence last night at a dinner hosted by the Cuban ambassador to the United States, Lianys Torres Rivera, with local political and business leaders at a French restaurant in Tampa, Florida.
Robert Pizano, 84, lived in exile in the United States for more than 40 years. He was a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years and was released in the late 1970s in an accord between Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro.
Pizano was in the restaurant with his son Rafael and two other Cubans with Ambassador Torres and the group that accompanied her. Rafael Pizano told CNN that he expected a high-level Cuban official group to dine at a fancy restaurant on Friday night, but said he did not know it would be Ambassador Torres.
“It was rude to walk there and notice that the face, the speaker, the representative of the ambassador of this communist regime is in our hometown of Tampa,” said Rafael Pizano. “Both Florida and the city of Tampa are home to one of the largest communities of Cuban exiles in the United States, if not the world.”
When they arrived, Rafael Pizano recorded the exchange on his cell phone, which lasted about 12 minutes. At the meeting, led by an anti-communist group, Torres questioned human rights abuses in Cuba and proposed a meeting with local officials more than 400 kilometers from the Cuban embassy in Washington.
“My family is working and starving in Cuba and they locked up all our youth in Cuba. That is what the communist government does. Here you bring the Communist ambassador a good dinner, a good dinner. Do you like dinner while my family in Cuba doesn’t have food?” Rafael Pizano is heard shouting in the video. “Environment, show your face for the camera, please. Show your face because our families are working hard. Show your face,” he said in Spanish.
Thousands of Cuban political prisoners in 1978. Roberto Pizano was one of them, still bearing the scars of his attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro and prevent Cuba from falling into communism. An exile, he traveled to Geneva to testify before the United Nations about human rights abuses on the island.
At 21, Pizano was serving in the Cuban army under President Fulgencio Batista. When Batista was overthrown, Pizano said he waged a clandestine war against Castro’s forces, but was eventually captured and sent to an island prison. For 18 years, he was tortured, starved and forced to work, Pizano said.
“I had to destroy the lie that these people told the United States of America and the world for more than 64 years. Cuba is a terrible country today,” Pizano told Rhode about the meeting.
The group’s towers did not respond and he kept his back during the incident, as the restaurant staff tried to lead the group out of the establishment.
Roncus reached out to the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC by phone and email for comment, but has not yet received a response.
Roncus also recognized three local elected officials in the video.
Guido Maniscalco, a Tampa city councilman, responded by denying that he was in attendance, but admitted that he had met with the group before. Two other elected officials did not respond.
US Senator Rick Scott from Florida wrote on Twitter: “I am outraged that the “ambassador” for the illegitimate communist government of Cuba is in Tampa. It means evil, it should never be welcomed in Florida.
The release comes as hundreds of Cubans are detained on the island, following nationwide protests on July 11, 2021. CNN previously reported that the protesters are demanding freedom and criticizing the government, led in the country by the Cuban Communist Party, which bans political opposition.
Rafael Pizano told CNN that Isabel Rosales shouted at the meeting: “You know what’s going on in Cuba, but you represent them and you came here to eat and our family doesn’t have to eat.”
He explained that eggs are still valued in Cuba, saying, “I think they give you half a dozen eggs a month on paper [de racionamiento]but here in Tampa he dines at the best meals. It’s an injury.”
“Who are the people who come to a free country where we practice democracy and believe in social justice and that we can’t say anything to them?” Rafael Pizano said. “This is a free country, it’s not a communist Cuba where they can hit us with a stick, put us in the back of a police car and take us to jail. Here we have the right to express our opinion and so we did.