I will never forget my parents’ reaction the day the Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago today. Having lost their country to Fidel Castro’s Communism, they had spent 30 years divided from their homeland, friends, and relatives — just as the Wall had done to millions in Europe.
Although the Wall was an ocean away from my family’s native Cuba and their adopted country of America, its existence was the most concrete symbol of Communism’s presence in the world — a reminder of its ability to divide families, turn neighbor against neighbor, use censorship to impose intellectual darkness, cripple economies, and deprive humans of their basic dignity and freedoms.
Especially for my parents’ generation of Cuban exiles, whose hopes and dreams were shattered by Communism, the Wall’s fall was an historic event they questioned would ever come. It was a day of celebration and rekindled hope that all lands within Communism’s grip would soon be free as well.
Twenty years later, we know the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the dramatic advent of liberty in Europe. Today’s commemoration marks an opportunity to applaud all we have gained, while reminding us of what remains to be done to tear down other oppressive walls that still stand. America’s role in this effort cannot be underestimated.
Economically, we cannot allow Washington’s borrow-and-spend binges to make our commitment to freedom and human rights subservient to our debt holders. We must also make it a continued priority to strengthen our trade and commercial relationships with allies like Colombia that are surrounded by increasingly autocratic, repressive, and hostile neighbors.
Militarily, as Ronald Reagan said, “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.” A free and secure world requires a strong America led by our brave men and women in uniform. America’s commitment to the defense of our allies should never waver. Today, as we consider the future of Europe, I am particularly concerned about President Obama’s recent decision to scrap our commitment to a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Diplomatically, we must not confuse a desire for security and the promotion of democratic values as mutually exclusive goals. When freedom-loving Iranians peacefully took to the streets and Twitter to protest an illegitimate election, we should have been both defenders of the oppressed while continuing to insist on an end to Iran’s nuclear program.
In their time, Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were among the many world leaders who seized the opportunity to highlight Communism’s failures. In doing so, they helped make millions of oppressed people more self-aware of their intrinsic dignity, more confident that their pursuit of freedom was justified, and more hopeful that they were not alone in their struggles.
As the world celebrates today’s 20th anniversary, we must not forget to also stand in solidarity with those still laboring to bring about the fall of other oppressive walls that remain today in places like North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela, among many others.
— Marco Rubio is a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Florida.