The Nobel Peace Prize winner speaks with several Cuban activists on the situation of the island and the possibilities for democratic change
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Warsaw, 21 October 2014 — Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa had an agreement that death annulled. The two would go to Havana when the democratic transition occurred to support the process of political and civic reconstruction in our country. The “Cuban change,” however, has been too long delayed and the Czech died before realizing his dream. The Solidarity leader, meanwhile, has only been able to have contact with the island through dissidents visiting Poland.
Yesterday, Monday, Walesa talked for more than two hours with a group of activists from diverse provinces and political leanings. It was if a piece of Cuba had arrived in the autumn cold of Wasaw. I share here with the readers of 14ymedio the first part of that conversation.
Lech Walesa: Tell me what can I do to help speed up the democratization process in your country. Am I likely to see a Free Cuba before I die?
Dagoberto Valdés. I have good news for you and a suggestion of how you can help. A significant and growing group within Cuban civil society has identified four points on which we agree and which are demands to the regime. It is a way of organizing ourselves, but not the only one. There are other agendas, but I will now read the four issues on which we converge: the release of political prisoners, the ending of political repression, ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights, and recognition of Cuban civil society as a legitimate interlocutor. You could collaborate with us to disseminate these and support them in international forums.
Lech Walesa: I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power,” because I think when the previous four are achieved it will be because the current system has been dismantled. If the rulers accept that agenda, that would mean that they would lose power immediately. So I think that they will never approve them, but in any event I support them.
I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power”
Yoani Sánchez: You wonder when you can visit a free Cuba, but for now what has happened is that a fragment of an already free Cuba has come here. A plural, diverse and growing group of Cubans, who behave as free beings, have come to Warsaw this week. Isn’t that hopeful?
Lech Walesa: Wherever there are two Poles there are three political parties and from what I see wherever there are two Cubans there are five political parties. You have to be very well prepared and organized, not only for what you are doing now but for what comes next.
Once democracy is achieved there are very important elements that have to be considered and one of them is creating laws that protect the rights of the people. However, if they already exist, than you have to ask yourself if people are using them to behave like citizens, if they are enjoying the legality they have and are organizing themselves in accordance with it. Another important part is economic resources. If people are afraid of showing their political differences because they will lose their jobs or resources, this greatly limits democratic activism.
While some help to create the laws, others have to teach people to use them and one part of that is that you must prepare financial proposals.
Yoani Sánchez: In the case of Cuba, recent years have also been characterized by a loss of the government’s monopoly on information. Numerous independent publications have emerged and new technologies help people to be better informed. Do you think this flow of information will help bring about change?
Lech Walesa: I am a big user of the new technologies, I always have a computer or tablet nearby. However, although technology and information are very helpful in any democratic process there is also information that can slow it down.
One day, after the transition, I was speaking with a Polish soldier who had had a high position in the Communist regime. I asked him why the military had not participated actively in the democratic struggle. His response was very interesting. He told me that in the barracks they that knew all the major Polish cities were targeted for a Soviet military attack. They had missiles pointed at those cities. Many people did not know, but the military itself was aware it. They feared that the USSR, with the push of a button, could erase a third of our country. Knowing too much paralyzed them, the responsibility this information brought them made them opt for passivity.
We were lucky that a Polish pope was appointed (…). He joined us… and the opposition learned to channel that feeling of unity
Dagoberto Valdés. With this control and all the threats of a foreign force how did Poland free itself? Did the spiritual power of the nation help?
Lech Walesa: For over twenty years I was looking for people to join me to overthrow communism, but very few wanted to join. We had a more difficult situation here because our country came to be occupied by more than two hundred thousand Soviet soldiers and people were enormously afraid. Our struggle was different, for too long we couldn’t organize because the government had a very simple formula against us: disperse, divide and dissolve the democratic forces. We were lucky that a Polish pope was appointed. He joined us first in prayer and faith, but afterwards the opposition also learned to channel that sense of unity brought to us by John Paul II.
Before the appointment of Karol Józef Wojtyla as Pope, I could not muster even ten people, and then ten million joined in. He awakened the nation and said “do not be afraid.”
Mario Felix Lleonart: I would like to say that even though you are not able to travel to the island, the government is very annoyed that you are receiving activists in Poland. The official press has published several articles against you. What message would you like to send to those who are in opposition in our country?
Lech Walesa: During the years of change in Eastern Europe, the Cuban opposition was not as organized and could not use that democratizing energy. Maybe that’s why you have had to wait so long. However, in the eighties when I was asking people whether they believed that Poland could democratize, everyone answered me no, we had no chance. The forecasts were very unfavorable.
You are in this situation now, because few believe you can change. Sure, they said the same thing to us, but you should wake up and find those values—which every nation has—and in these is the unifying force. If you find them and bring them together you can achieve it. You need a multitude of people who say, “Starting tomorrow we are going to change our country.” Who don’t just believe it but who take to the streets, who go into the factories to convince others. For this you have to have structures. You need responsible leaders.