The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. Continue reading

“Paya Was An Example Of Dedication And Persistence” / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2015 — Three years after the death of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, 14ymedio has collected the opinions of some Cuban activists who knew the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. They is people who shared with him projects and risks, who admired or were inspired by his civic labor. Let these seven testimonies serve to approach the legacy of a man who devoted his best years to achieving greater rights and freedoms for the citizenry.

Father José Conrado

He has left us a testimony of life, a consistent life in service to his people, a courageous life that knew how to respond to the difficulties and the circumstances of the times. A life true to his convictions of faith and his love for his country until his last moment. It is a testimony that we will never forget and at the same time something to be deeply grateful for, because men like him are the ones who are needed, men like him are those who build a people from within.

Martha Beatriz Roque

It is very difficult to summarize in a few lines his life and the legacy he left us. First of all we have to note his actions as a father, a husband and a member of the Catholic Church. He knew how to pass on an excellent education for his children and to sow love in his family. Now we have Rosa María [his daughter], who is continuing his struggle and also persevering in seeing that justice is done for those who murdered him. His life’s companion, Ofelita, is doing the same thing.

Payá witnessed in favor of democracy and his legacy is reflected in the continuity of his work. These men who have acted with dignity in life, in times as difficult as those we Cubans have had to live through, one can say they have not died, they continue with us.

Jose Daniel Ferrer

I always had great respect and great affection for him, and joined in with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for many years, especially on Project Varela. I would like to highlight one way he is remembered in the eastern region, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The term that we are referred to by, whether we are members of UNPACU, of CID, of the Republican Party, the Citizens for Democracy, or any other organization, is “Varelistas” [“supporters of Project Varela”], and not because of a direct relation to Felix Verala, who well deserves it for his contribution to Cuban nationality, but precisely because of Project Varela, which not only collected thousands of signatures at that time, but also left a lasting impact.

So that is what people call us there and, on occasion, even our worst enemies do. So every time they call us Varelistas, they are remembering Payá.

Dagoberto Valdes

The first thing I want to point out about the legacy Oswaldo left us is the integrity of one person who throughout his life remained consistent with what he thought and believed. Secondly, he left us what in my view is the most important civic exercise of the last decades: the Varela Project. Third, he left us the perseverance of a man who believed in the cause of freedom and democracy for Cuba and who dedicated his entire life to it.

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart

His legacy goes far beyond even the Christian Liberation Movement he founded. His precious heritage belongs to Cuba and is found in the shared yearning for democracy and respect for human rights, for all individuals who think as he thought. For this he will always be respected. When Cuba can enjoy democracy, he will not be with is, but his teachings will be.

Felix Navarro Rodriguez

He was a great leader in the peaceful Cuban opposition because he accomplished what no one had been able to accomplish, which was to collect those thousands of signatures supporting Project Varela and doing it within the very laws of Cuba.

Still today I feel I see him, with the enthusiasm that characterized him, seeking unity among Cubans so that we can manage the change in a peaceful way, so that the people would be the owners of their own opinions and be able to put their rights into practice. It fills us with great satisfaction to have been able to be at the side of a man like him at those moments before the Black Spring of 2003, and to continue working with his daughter Rosa María today.

Miriam Leyva

He was a very self-sacrificing person who was characterized by believing in what he was doing. He was convinced that he could fight for a better life for Cubans to achieve progress and democracy for Cuba. He was a practicing Catholic and also a tireless worker. In his specialty, medical equipment repair, he was acknowledged and respected, not only in his workplace but in all public health facilities where he went to provide services.

Payá was an example of self-sacrifice and above all persistence, so his legacy extends beyond the MCL and Project Varela; an example as a human being, as a Cuban. That is what remains in my memory and I appreciate all the years I knew him in the midst of such difficult situations.

Roads to Democracy for Cuba / 14ymedio

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 June 2015 — The second edition of the event Roads for a Democratic Cuba is taking place in Mexico from 18 to 23 June 2015 under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA). Participating in this meeting are dozens of political activists and civil society leaders of the Island and the Diaspora. The event will continue through the weekend and until next Tuesday.

Among the topics discussed on the first day is the impact on the Island of everything related to the talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States for the purpose of restoring diplomatic relations. Other areas to be discussed are the options of the opposition, various proposals before a new Cuban Electoral Law and ways to strengthen Cuban civil society. Continue reading

“It is up to Cubans decide their future” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 24 January 2015 — In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio, in Havana.

Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of relations between both countries.

Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met with Jacobson on the 14th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.

Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background? Continue reading

Cubans Euphoric Over the New Regulations / 14ymedio

Counterclockwise from the top, Miriam Celaya, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Dagoberto Valdés share with us their reactions to the new US regulations.

Counterclockwise from the top, Miriam Celaya, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Dagoberto Valdés share with us their reactions to the new US regulations.

14ymedio, Havana, 15 January 2015 — The new regulations on travel, insurance, the import of goods, remittances and telecommunications that the United States will put into effect with respect to Cuba as of Friday, have already provoked the first reactions on the Island. Although the evening news barely mentioned it at the end of the show, the information passed mouth-to-mouth on the street.

Lilianne Ruiz, independent journalist, received the welcome news and noted, “This flow of people who are going to come, along with the increase in the remittances, means the country’s return to normalcy.” In the opinions of this reporter, “The Cuban government is going to weaken, the only thing left is the repression and the restrictions. This will make people more accurately identify the origin of our difficulties.”

Among the most attractive points of the new regulations is the authorization to establish “telecommunications installations within Cuba, as well as installations that connect third countries with Cuba.” Internet connectivity and cheaper mobile phones are demands that have gained strength in the last year, especially among the youngest.

Yantiel Garcia was outside the Telepoint Communications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) in Pinar del Rio. The teenager said that she hoped that her brother in Jacksonville, Florida, could now help her with a technological gadget to connect to the web. “If the American mobile phone cards can be used here, my brother will pay for a data package for me to navigate without restrictions.”

The “ball is now in the Cuban government’s court,” said an ETESCA official who preferred to remain anonymous. As he explains, “The number of visitors from the United States will grow and the country will have to offer them a solution to connecting while they’re here.” To which he added, “It’s a question of business, not of ideology.”

The families who receive remittances will also benefit from the increased dollar amount that can be sent each quarter. The prior figure was limited to 500 dollars every three months, while now they can send up to 2,000 dollars to relatives residing on the Island.

At the Metropolitan Bank branch on Galiano in Havana this morning, several old people hoped to complete bank transactions. Cristina Marrero was one of them and she explained that she has one son in New York and another in Atlanta. For this lady the most appreciated measure is the one related to the sending of parcels in large quantities. “My sons have furniture and appliances that they want to send me and this is an opportunity,” she said.

For his part, Julio Aleago, political analyst, said that “Since 1959 the Communist government has always tended to isolate the country from the rest of the world and these measures will increasingly integrate Cuban into Western free market values, democracy, participation, free exchange of people and goods between countries.” With regards to the American embargo, still in effect, he said, “In the same way the American government imposed sanctions on Venezuelan and Russian officials, that should serve as a paradigm, instead of establishing a general embargo over the whole country, punish those personalities of the military government who have something to do with violations of human rights.”

As of Friday, airlines will not need a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to fly to Cuba, and this has received a good reception on the Island. This afternoon at Jose Marti International Airport’s Terminals Two and Three, the news spread like wildfire.

Dayane Rios, who was waiting for her grandmother who had been visiting Washington for three months, commented, with the illusions of youth, “This time she had to travel through Mexico because there are no direct flights, but I hope that for the next trip she can do it more directly and cheaply.”

However, although there are no new regulations about a possible maritime connection, many Cubans also dream of the idea. “Pick a place on the Malecon, when the ferry comes all of Havana will be seated on the wall,” one bike-taxi driver joked to another, crossing near Maceo Park.

Manuel Cuesta Morua finds, “The direction this normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States is taking very positive. If we think about the phrase let Cuba open itself to the world and the world open itself to Cuba*, than what is happening is that the United States is opening itself to Cuba, it is like opening the world.” The opponent pointed out that “The impact on the social empowerment of the citizenry, on issues of information and on the possibilities to manage their own lives, is very positive, it’s going to help to ease the precarious situation of Cubans.”

Dagoberto Valdes says, “I am in favor of everything that benefits the ordinary Cuban citizen, the facilitation of travel, communication between civil society here and there, between one people and the other, I am in favor of everything that improves the quality of life.” The director of the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) also added that, “To those who say this is oxygen to the Cuban regime, I say that I am not a believer, I don’t think the Cuban model works and oxygen only works in live models, it doesn’t work in dead ones… what is the value of giving oxygen to this system if the structure of the cell doesn’t work.”

Miriam Celaya said, “It seems positive to me that Americans can travel to Cuba, that it will widen contacts between the two countries, but I don’t know how this is going to empower Cubans as long as all these government controls exist here, as long as free enterprise continues to be demonized and there are so many prohibitions.” In the activist’s opinion, “These measures empower Americans, but in the short term they do not give Cubans back their rights.

*Translator’s note: A phrase uttered by Pope John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Cuba.

The opposition hopes that a dialogue will open between the Government and civil society / 14ymedio

Poster on a Cuban street demanding the release of "The Cuban Five"

Poster on a Cuban street about the release of “The Cuban Five”

14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 18 December 2014 — The news of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States has been embraced by opposition organizations in Cuba with optimism and hope that this agreement may facilitate the establishment of a dialogue between the Government and civil society on the island.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), in a statement issued on Thursday, stated that the Cuban government has lost its “great alibi” to justify repression and the lack of human rights in Cuba. “Any change, and especially the loss of an excuse for repression, can create a space for the people to reclaim their voice, lost for over half a century.” Continue reading

Poland’s Solidarity With Cuban Civil Society / Intramuros, Dagoberto Valdes

Former Polish President Lech Walesa and Dagoberto Valdés

 

by Dagoberto Valdés Hernández

A year ago I was able to realize one of my lifelong dreams: to visit Poland, a country that remained loyal to its faith and liberty. This past October 20, I had the honor and joy of my second encounter with President Lech Walesa. Just before midday, we arrived at the Warsaw Hotel following a fruitful and cordial meeting with Poland’s vice minister of foreign relations, Mr. Leszek Soczewica.  There we learned that solidarity does not necessarily have to be at odds with an ethical pragmatism.

President Walesa, energetic and affectionate in manner, arrived with quick greetings for everyone, then took his seat to address some urgent words of attention to Cuba and conveying a transcendent message of affection and exhortation toward courageous and responsible action.

Upon concluding his wise words, he expressed his desire to listen to us to better learn first-hand the actual reality of the Cuban people. Various of those present were able to express our concerns for Cuba and we asked him to support the four points of consensus identified and claimed by a growing and significant civil society group in Cuba. President Walesa expressed his support for the four points and encouraged us to strengthen the structure of civil society.

Others also presented their projects and agendas. The wife of Mr. Manuel Cuesta Morúa asked Walesa to support and request the total liberation and exoneration from charges of her husband. She received backing for her cause from the leader of Solidarity and his countrymen. Mr. Walesa expressed, with fervent devotion to Cuba, that he concurred with the four points and also that he desired to travel to Cuba when conditions were right for him to do so.

Each participant was able to have his or her picture taken with President Lech Walesa, grateful for his time and commitment to Cuba.

Director of Convivencia (Coexistence) Project and Magazine

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

30 October 2014

Lech Walesa: “Cubans need responsible leaders” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Lech Walesa during the conversation with Cuban activists, with his translator Tomasz Wodzyński

Lech Walesa during the conversation with Cuban activists, with his translator, with his translator Tomasz Wodzyński

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? Continue reading

Poland, Walesa, and a Journey to Freedom / Intramuros, Dagoberto Valdes

Dagoberto Valdes and Lech Walesa

By Dagoberto Valdés Hernández

For years I had a dream. Today it has been realized. Poland has always been part of my cultural, religious and freedom identity. Disappearing several times on the map of Europe, “semper fidelis” Poland maintained its nationality thanks to its rooted ancient culture. I learned from Poland, and its greatest son, Blessed Pope John Paul II, that culture is the soul of a people and the soul is immortal. Since then I have dedicated my entire life in Cuba to rescuing, promoting and cultivating the cultural identity of my Fatherland.

Later, I had the inexpressible honor to participate in the preparation for the Polish Pope’s visit to Cuba in 1998. And to be one of his colleagues at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Now I have arrived in twenty-first century Poland. I walk the path of his roots. The path of his history. I drink from the sources. Thanks to Lech Walesa Institute.

As luck would have it I arrived in this country on June 4, the anniversary of the elections won by the Solidarity Union. I’ve met its leaders. Heard their testimonies of their lives. Their love for Cuba. On Thursday June 6 I personally met the living legend of the last stage of Polish history, President Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize winner and and legendary leader of the Solidarity Trade Union.

Just after eleven o’clock he came hurrying to the headquarters of the Institute that bears his name and where he continues his work. He entered the meeting room and sat with confidence. He greeted us. He spoke briefly and quite frankly about his impressions of Poland and Cuba. Respectfully and cordially he gave us the floor to ask him questions or to give him news of the Nation  where he said he wanted to go one day when we have freedom and democracy. Each one expressed his thoughts and his admiration for his work and the history of his nation.

Personally, I enjoyed the meeting. I looked at the lapel of his suit and found there, as always, the blessed image of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Queen and Patroness of Poland. I heard him mention with deep devotion the name of Blessed John Paul II, his role on the long road to freedom in Europe and in his homeland. The support the Polish Pope always gave to Solidarity and its leader. His visits before and after the change. Continue reading

Reasoning with Antonio Rodiles / Reinaldo Escobar


Translator’s note: Our apologies for not having a subtitled version…

As of this afternoon the latest chapter of Citizens’ Reasons will be available, dedicated to discussing a topic that is abstract but essential: Legitimacy. Participating on this occasion are Dagoberto Valdés, Miriam Celaya, Antonio Rodiles and, as moderator, this humble servant who is pleased to announce the program.

Of particular interest is the presence of the animator of the space Estado de Sats — Antonio Rodiles — who was arrested just as we were finishing editing the chapter.

As its title indicates, this edition of Citizens’ Reasons tries to respond to the question of to what extent we citizens should recognize the legitimacy of the “current” Cuban government and what we must do from civil society to achieve our own legitimacy.

The arbitrary arrest of Antonio Rodiles occurred confronting a department of State Security while participating in a civic and peaceful action to inquire about the situation of the attorney Yaremis Flores. There he was brutally beaten, but it was not his attackers who had to answer to the law, but rather the victim, accused of “resisting arrest.” At the time of this writing the courts have not ruled on the matter.

This has been the reality that gives the context to what is discussed in the most recent chapter of Citizens’ Reasons. I recommend that you watch it.

16 November 2012

Oswaldo Pay: Example and Legacy / IntraMuros, Dagoberto Valdes

From blogs.fco.gov.uk

By Dagoberto Valdés

On the afternoon of Sunday, 22 July 2012, we were surprised by unexpected and terrible news: Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, founder and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), had tragically died near the city of Bayama, seeking the roots of our Cubanness to say goodbye to the land he loved so much and for which he fought so peacefully.

Today Oswaldo’s life appears more transparent and coherent than ever. Death is, for everyone, a summary, a transition, and a lesson.

His history is not yet written. But his accomplishments are. And it is not good to wait too long to put everything in its property place when there is, starting now, an example and legacy to gather, apprehend, and continue. I try, although still moved by the immediacy, to outline what this loss and this gain has meant to Cuba, its present and its future.

Loss, because each person is unique and irreplaceable. Gain, because nothing is lost and everything is gained and the depths of the earth when a good seed falls in the furrow of life, to bring forth more fruits.

I met Payá when he was young, almost a teenager, in one of the halls of the Cerro Parish, where Father Petit was then his pastor and mentor, in a meeting of the few young people who professed the Catholic faith in the hard years of the ’70s. Those were the days when we were discriminated against just for going to Church and declaring in our school records whether or not we were believers.

Oswaldo’s entire life, like that of so many Cuban men and women faithful to Christ and to Cuba, is a daily offering of civil martyrdom of all those who are treated as second class citizens, as “unreliables” for living in what became to be called “a fantastic reflection of reality” for having religious beliefs.

At that time, neither he nor I yet had our own and various projects for Cuba and its freedom and prosperity. But we trained in the bosom of a poor Church, persecuted, committed and faithful to the gospel of its Founder. We received, through the Church, that we must recognize and thank forever, an ethical, civic, religious, and very Cuban education, that followed the saga of Varela, Luz, Mendive, Marti and many others. That is the origin, the cause and the root of our lives and the soul of our Christian commitment. That is its deep motivation, its essence, inspiration, style, methods, criteria of judgment, determination of values, ways of thinking, examples of life.

Each who has lived in his way, as it should be, diverse in the Christian social commitment, but united in the bowels of the Gospel, the Church and Cuba. From this fraternal and daily fellowship where a life is over too quickly was forged, I give testimony to what I think is the legacy of Oswaldo to Cuba and his Church.

His person and his path

For all of Cuba, Payá leaves the trajectory of a coherent life. Of a whole man, of one piece, true to what was, what is and what will be: a human being who does not want to us to deify him, who doesn’t need it, who already has and believes in one true God. He was a human being, on earth, with his faults and virtues. But most important is that in his existence there was no contradiction between who he was, what he though, what he said and what he did. Cuba needs men and women with this morality, the “sun of the moral world.”

For all of Cuba, Payá is also a citizen who freely chose to stay in his country, despite the constant threats and dangers. A citizen who did not remain in internal exile or the alienation of an ivory tower, or who “took refuge” in an opiate-religion, but who learned from his Master Jesus that true religion is the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection.

The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) was an expression of this active and systematic engagement. The Varela Project is another example of his faith in action, being the most important civic exercise in the last half century, that managed to transcend the boundaries of the MCL, to be and exist with “All Together”. Cuba needs citizens to stay here, who are one nation with those who work hard to find peaceful solutions.

For the Church, Oswaldo is a paradigm of vocation and mission of lay Christians. He did not abandon the Church in spite of the sorrows and misunderstandings. he did not use it for political purposes but demanded the same thing it taught: consistency and faithfulness to the Gospel of Christ.

The Church needs lay people involved in the world of politics, civil society, culture, economy … and the laity need not be excluded, nor seen as rare, both Tyrians and Trojans, because of their commitments, be they political or civic. They need to be considered and followed, without taking its own political choices, both in life and in death, as do our parish communities, priests, religious and bishops. Just as with other, laypeople who are caregivers, teach the catechism, work in Caritas, pray the Rosary, or animate a mission house. This is what we see and thank Paya’s funeral.

For the Church, Payá is also an example of Christian prophecy. He was the voice many who did not have a voice, but he did not disqualify or exclude his brethren who thought differently. To disagree and debate, is not to exclude. To exclude is to segregate the family of those who are considered “dissidents” or “dangerous” or “troublesome”, or not accepted by the powers of this world. Oswaldo suffered this and much more. But his prophecy did not rest, nor was it exhausted. He denounced the ills suffered by the people and the Church that formed a part of him. He announced the Christian liberation and he created, proposed projects, thinking, laws, new roads, in an absolutely peaceful and proactive way.

Cuba and its Church need this kind of prophet who not only denounces but also proposes solutions and puts them into practice, patiently and bravely.

The immediate fruits of the death of Payá

Here, in the Cerro Parish, with the body still present, we can observe various immediate fruits of the sacrifice of Oswaldo Payá. I will mention a few:

The physical family of the deceased gave testimony of spiritual strength, serenity and faithfulness to the work of Oswaldo. Mired in unspeakable pain they did not lose the integrity or peace of knowing that their husband and father has given his life to a worthy cause and died in the fulfillment of Christian and civic duty.

The Church, Payá’s religious family, offered during his burial an example of communion without exclusion, solidarity in pain and coherence with what it preaches. It has been truly organic and sacramental from the Good Shepherd, from the Pope’s condolences to the last parishioner of the parish who offered water or consolation, through various religious congregations, the pastor, other priests and monks, evangelical pastors, bishops and their bishop the Cardinal, whose homily must be studied and lived. All united by faith in Christ and love for Cuba. Despite the normal and even desirable differences, in the healthy pluralism of the People of God. As the fruit of a Church united in diversity, embodied, prophetic and reconciliatory dialogue, beginning with itself.

Civil society, the citizen family that shares the same history, nation and destination, has also, on the occasion of the death of Payá, shown a clear and unequivocal gesture of unity in diversity, respect for differences without disqualification, excluding hatred, confrontation and other human miseries that we all have and must overcome, to put above all ideological and political differences, which in themselves are not bad … to put above all Cuba, our homeland, the common home, its freedom and prosperity. What I saw there, that mature civic spirit and weaver of coexistence, is the Cuba that we dream of are building together.

The diplomatic corps, represented there as well as the press,accredited or independent, also show respect and the normality with which observers, international and our own, consider Cuban society as a pluralistic body in a process of maturation and serious and peaceful commitment with the changes and democracy.

These gestures have also been made possible by the good will and civic and political maturity of civil society. Other immediate fruits might be mentioned as an example and comforting encouragement to family members of his movement and friends. In the future to come in the medium and long term, surely we will see more that one seed is capable of producing, a symbol, a paradigm, a flag of peace brought by love. No one can calculate.

I want to end by saying that at Oswaldo Payá’s funeral I noted that pluralism and respect for the unity in diversity have come gradually, first to the life of civil society and, in some ways, to the life of the Church, the people of God. May God grant that will also reach the State that it will move them, so that Cuba will be a home where “we all fit.”

I pray to God, for the intercession of Oswaldo Payá, of Harold Cepero, of Laura Pollán, of Wilman Villar, Wilfredo Soto, Orlando Zapata, Pedro Luis Boitel, and many others, who were faithful to their faith and their ideals in this life, that comes to an end, fully, for all in Cuba, with respect for pluralism, unity in diversity, ethical, civic and religious coherence, that we have received as the raised and hopeful fruit of the living cross, the cross accepted by these our brothers.

They were able. We follow his example and legacy.

So be it. Amen.

August 9 2012

The Death of Oswaldo Payá and the Opposition in Cuba / Yoani Sánchez

In less than a year the Cuban opposition has lost two of its most important leaders. On October 14 of last year life of Laura Pollán, the principal coordinator of the Ladies in White and the key figure in the release of the Black Spring prisoners, was cut short. A week ago a car crash, yet to be fully explained, claimed the life of Oswaldo Payá, founder of the Christian Liberation Movement.

These activists had great national and international recognition and their physical absence comes at a time when the dissidence is seeking new horizons. Hence, the need to analyze the scenario in which these deaths have occurred, and their potential impact on the immediate future.

On thing about which there is no doubt, is that the Cuban opposition on the Island is characterized by its peaceful nature and its renunciation of armed violence.  It prefers to base its actions in political programs, documents demanding respect for Human Rights, street demonstrations, signs painted on facades, or simply open door meetings.

It behaves and manifests a much more democratic behavior than the government installed in the Plaza of the Revolution. Within the ranks of the dissidence there is a great variety of opinions with respect to possible paths and outcomes of the transition. Although some of these routes diverge, there are numerous points on which all converge. The urgent need for political, social and economic changes is the common thread that runs through civil society.

Calls to end the harassment of dissidents, arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prison sentences, form a part of this common agenda. In addition, everyone agrees that Raúl Castro’s government has exhausted its solutions to pressing national problems.

To talk or to overthrow

Although many schemes have been offered to classify the Cuban opposition, most of the studies have focused on the political leanings of the groups within it. Some analysts have established generational breaks, between the historical opposition and much younger actors. In practice, however, it is not political colors or age that differentiate most markedly the dissimilarities between dissident organizations. A key point is the legitimacy they assign to Raúl Castro’s government in their agendas and their proposals for change.

Some maintain that dialog with the authorities could possibly lead to a non-violent transition. Within this line of thinking are distinguished figures such as José Daniel Ferrer, president of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, who believes that “dialog is possible, but from a position of strength within civil society.”

Others dismiss any attempt to deal with the regime, basing their posture on the fact that it was not chosen by a vote of the people in free and direct elections. They see the Communist Party as a kidnapper of hostages with whom there should be no negotiations under any circumstances. To negotiate or to overthrow seem to be the two poles around which current opposition forces are defined.

The United States embargo also constitutes a parting of the ways that defines postures and platforms. Within the Island, many dissidents argue that economic restrictions must be maintained to strangle the government. They believe that allowing fluid trade with the United States or allowing Americans to travel to Cuba would be a source of fresh air that would strengthen the General-President. José Luis García (known as Antúnez), an opposition leader from the center of the Island is one of the main champions of this position.

The great challenge of the people

The Cuban dissidence is denied any opportunity to access the mass media. This significantly limits its ability to broadcast its proposals and political programs. Instead of allowing them even one minute in front of the microphone, Raúl Castro’s government uses television and the official press to accuse them of being “mercenaries in the pay of the Empire,” or “tiny groups of no importance.”

Human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, opposition leader Martha Beatriz Roque, Catholic layperson Dagoberto Valdés, and the Ladies in White group have all been frequent targets of these media stonings. From different perspectives, these social actors could be key in the years to come, along with several socio-cultural projects such as Estado de Sats, directed by Antonio Rodiles, which even attracts people involved in State institutions. To support these activities with a constant dissemination of information becomes vital, hence the importance of independent journalists and alternative bloggers.

In the current scenario, Oswaldo Payá’s death raises the question of the future of the Christian Liberation Movement, which has many members throughout the Island. That this political force manages to survive the death of its founder will demonstrate the maturity of the entire Cuban opposition.

On the other hand, Raúl Castro has co-opted some of the points that made up the agenda of his political opponents. The aperture for small private businesses, the ability to buy and sell houses and cars, and the leasing of vacant land in usufruct, are all part of the measures implemented by the government in the last four years. Such a scenario obliges the opposition groups to chart new horizons and to redefine their proposals.

30 July 2012