Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)
Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 23 September 2016 — Tania de la Caridad Reyes and her husbandYosvany Alfonso were intercepted by police in Pinar del Río when they tried to reach the Coexistence Studies Center (CEC) to attend the course “My Neighborhood a Community.” Two police patrols forced them to return to Cienfuegos, where they reside. On Friday the organizers denounced the intervention by State Security, which prevented the realization of the planned activity with various groups of civil society to share ideas on “civic learning.”

“This last month we have had nine interrogations of team members. Finally we had to suspend the ‘My Neighborhood a Community’ program, which is part of the ethical and civic project for the safety of the participants,” Dagoerto Valdes, director of the CEC, explains to 14ymedio.

“Where in the world are people prevented from attending a course that the only thing it does is make them better and more responsible citizens in their community?” asks Valdes. Continue reading “Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Reyes and Alfonso are the ones responsible for “Project New Hope,” which operates in the South Caunao neighborhood, a recently completed residential area on the outskirts of the city of Cienfuegos. According to the couple, under the auspices of the Czech NGO People in Need they do training work with children and youth in the area, organize walks and create networks to promote work in the neighborhood.

“We chose this course because ours is community work and this meeting would allow us to obtain tools to improve our work in the neighborhood,” Reyes told 14ymedio.

According to the activist, when they arrived at the bus station in Pinar del Río Thursday night, three police officers in plainclothes stopped them and made them turn off their cellphones. After allowing them to make a call from a landline provided by the officers themselves, they were driven to the outskirts of the city to send them to Havana.

“They stopped two tractors that make the trip to Havana and sent us separately. They took down the license plates of the vehicles and told the drivers they were responsible for what happened to us,” says Reyes.

When they got to the capital they were left at a gas station from where they had to get to the bus station and get “overpriced” tickets to return to Cienfuegos. (The regular tickets are subsidized and cost about two CUC (about $2 US), but the huge waiting list forced them to buy the tickets under the table).

“When we learned what had happened with the group from Cienfuegos, we decided to suspend the meeting. We advised the ecological group Eco-Social Movement for the Protection of Nation and the Environment (PRONATON), which sent several delegates from Sancti Spiritus, and the Pinar del Rio group Independent and Democratic Cuba, which would also participate in the event,” explained Yoandy Izquierdo, member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence).

Izquierdo also denounced the presence of several people who were monitoring the place where the course would be held from early in the morning, and making it difficult for the organizers to communicate by phone and text message.

The Coexistence Studies Center organizes training courses for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. It has four main lines of action, ranging from the publication of the magazine Convivencia to the debate of ideas through reflection and study groups. It also has a comprehensive training program and so-called micro-projects. It is a project of the nascent Cuban civil society and its members are totally independent of the State, the Church and any political group.

Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio

Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)
Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 – Several dissidents who met with President Barack Obama in Havana this Tuesday, assessed the meeting as “positive” and “frank,” and one of them delivered a list of 89 political prisoners recorded by the group he leads.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), said Obama was “very clear” and reiterated to the participants at the meeting “his commitment to the cause of human rights and democratic freedoms.”

Sanchez explained that during the dialogue with the US president, he handed him a copy of the list of 89 political prisoners prepared by his group, Continue reading “Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio”

the only one that undertakes an ongoing documentation of these cases in Cuba.

For veteran government opponent, the balance of Obama’s visit to the island was “favorable to the cause of bilateral democracy” but he lamented that far from encouraging an “atmosphere of calm” the Cuban government unleashed “a wave of political repression” which, according to the records of his group translates to between 450 and 500 arrests across the island between Saturday and today.

For his part, the former political prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring “Group of 75,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of the thirteen government opponents invited to the meeting, described as “very positive” the meeting because “it was a show of solidarity with those of us who are fighting for the reconstruction of the nation.

“We talked about the process initiated with the Cuban government to normalize bilateral relations, also about his visit, and we also had the opportunity to make suggestions and give opinions on issues that we believe should continue to be pursued and what should not be done in this case,” said Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Miriam Leiva, also invited to the event, considered it “very open” because the president listened to the participants who “could express their views on the current situation of repression and human rights in Cuba” and also he made comments.

“There were some who raised positions contrary to the policies of President Obama, but in the end he expounded on his views about what he is doing and what he can do to benefit the Cuban people,” said the independent journalist.

In her opinion, the fact that Barack Obama set aside a space in his busy schedule of about 48 hours in Havana for this meeting at the US embassy, ​​represented “recognition and support” for the Cuban opposition.

Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the Independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, said the meeting was “very frank” and led to a debate in which “everyone raised their point of view and President Obama heard the different positions.”

Rodiles, critical of the new US approach to Cuba, said he told Obama his doubts about the process of normalization of relations and the “enormous level of violence and repression” in recent times.

He also criticized that “we have not heard from their government a clear condemnation regarding these excessive violations against the dissidence.”

Also at the meeting dissidents and activists such as the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler; Guillermo Fariñas; Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc; and the critical intellectual Dagoberto Valdes.

In brief remarks to reporters about the meeting, Obama said that one of the objectives of the normalization begun with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries fifteen months ago.

Note: Cuban dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists present at the meeting were: Angel Yunier Remon, Antonio Rodiles, Juana Mora Cedeno, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent, Berta Soler, Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, Guillermo Fariñas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzales, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Elizardo Sanchez.

Obama Praises The Courage Of Dissidents In An Unprecedented Meeting / EFE, 14ymedio

US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)
US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 — The president of the United States, Barack Obama, praised the “courage” of the dissidents and representatives of independent civil society Cuba at the beginning of the meeting held with them at the headquarters of the United States Embassy in Havana this Tuesday.

In brief remarks, Obama stressed that one of the objectives of normalization with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and to ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries.

The meeting with president of the United States was attended by Berta Soler (Ladies in White), Miriam Celaya (activist and freelance journalist), Manuel Cuesta Morua (Progressive Arc), Miriam Leiva (freelance journalist), Guillermo Fariñas (former political prisoner and 2010 Sakharov Human Rights Prize recipient), Antonio G. Rodiles (State of SATS), Elizardo Sánchez (Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation), Nelson Matute (Afro-ACLU president, defense organization for black people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation), Laritza Diversent (Cubalex), Dagoberto Valdes (Coexistence ), Jose Daniel Ferrer (UNPACU), Yunier Angel Remon (rapper The Critic ) and Juana Mora Cedeño (Rainbow Project).

“It often requires great courage to be active in civil life here in Cuba,” Obama said, adding he said.

“There are people here who have been arrested. Some in the past and others very recently,” stressed the president.

On Monday, at least a dozen dissidents were arrested in Cuba, according to the dissident Cuban National Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which also counts nearly 90 political prisoners on the island.

Participating in the meeting with Obama were government opponents who support the new US policy toward the island, as is the case of Cuesta Morua, and others who criticize it, as is the case with Berta Soler of the Ladies in White.

The Independent Voices Obama Will Hear From / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Counterclockwise from top left: Jose Daniel Ferrer, Dagoberto Valdes and Miriam Celaya.
Counterclockwise from top left: Jose Daniel Ferrer, Dagoberto Valdes and Miriam Celaya.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 21 March 2016 — A group of government opponents and activists from independent Cuban civil society have scheduled a meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning. This newspaper has contacted three of them to ask them what they plan to say at that meeting.

Jose Daniel Ferrer is one of the eleven former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring who remains in Cuba and is also the leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), one of the opposition organizations with the most members and one that maintains permanent action in support of human rights. Every time he crosses the capital city he has to do so almost clandestinely because State Security pursues him to deport him to Continue reading “The Independent Voices Obama Will Hear From / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

the province of Santiago de Cuba where he has permanent residence.

“In UNPACU we greatly appreciate President Barack Obama’s gesture of inviting us to a formal meeting at the United States Embassy in Havana and we also appreciate the gesture of solidarity of having invited colleagues from diverse civil society organizations, the opposition and independent journalists who have as a common cause the fight for the respect for human rights and for a free, just, democratic and fraternal Cuba.”

Jose Daniel Ferrer brings a charge from his comrades in the struggle. “This time that we are with the distinguished visitor we will use first to congratulate him for his bold decision to start this process of normalization of relations that has led even to his visiting the island. We are going to also congratulate him for the incredibly novel initiative he took to talk with the Cuban humorist Pánfilo which has had a tremendous effect on the population.”

I will ask that this position of solidarity that he is taking with the Cuban people be maintained even beyond his term as president, because being a high-ranking figure in the world, and even a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he can continue to positively influence relations between the two nations and move others to support the suffering Cuban people who lack rights and freedoms and are living in deep misery.

Dagoberto Valdes is an agronomist who likes to present himself as a “yagüero” for the years he was sentenced to perform the humble work of collecting the “yaguas” (fronds) that fell from the palms in his province of Pinar del Rio. He is the director of the Coexistence Project, and the magazine with the same name, and of a Study Center that professes to be an authentic group of thinkers on Cuban matters.

“In the first place, I believe that the meeting with President Obama puts things in their place. It opens a new stage in which the historic enemy, necessary for these totalitarian systems, is turned into a visiting friend and therefore attention begins to focus on the real problem which is nothing more than the normalizations of democratic relations between the Cuban people and their government,” he told 14ymedio by phone.

He says he does not intend to ask for anything at the meeting. “The time our meeting lasts, at least the part that involves me, I will use to tell the president of the United States about the possibilities, the abilities, the projects with which the Cuban people are capable of being the protagonists of their own history.”

Miriam Celaya worked for a long time as an anthropologist, but obviously was born to be a journalist. She moved into the profession by way of blogs and now her byline is solicited by diverse media who request her penetrating analysis of Cuban society.

She says that the fact of being invited to a meeting of this kind, at this level, is an exceptional opportunity: “In addition to being a historical event, it is an opportunity to share with very valuable people about paramount topics.”

Asked if she has already noted what she wants to say this Tuesday, she clarifies, “I know that others will focus on repression, and the general issue of human rights and many other problems, including mentioning the concern that many have about how this rapprochement has advanced on the American side without seeing advances on the Cuban side. But I would like to concentrate on something that seems fundamental in the work of re-weaving our civil society and that is the issue of freedom of expression.

“It is not about our going there to ask for funding, like the official propagandists believe, but helping us with the desire to raise awareness about the need to support independent Cuban journalism. To empower the people they have to empower themselves with information, to be well informed at this stage when the government has an almost absolute monopoly on the media. And for people to know in depth the real scope of the measures the United States government is taking now, it is essential that an independent press has the ability to reach the citizens.”

Cuba’s ‘Super Tuesday’: US Dollar ‘Freed’ and Havana Plants a Ceiba Tree / 14ymedio

An American flag flies on a pedicab Monday in Havana. (EFE)
An American flag flies on a pedicab Monday in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 March 2016 — It was an open secret that the United States would approve a new package of relaxations before Barack Obama’s official visit to Cuba. However, the new measures that widen Cubans’ access to the dollar and the ability of Americans to visit the island have taken some by surprise, among them the official press which, two hours after making the information public, still hasn’t reacted.

On the streets the rumor is just starting to get out that “the yumas (Americans) opened up the fulas (bucks),” a reference to the authorization to use the U.S. dollar from Cuba, and the new ability for residents of the island to maintain bank accounts in the United States. Amid the daily hardships, many cling to the hope that “Obama’s package-attack,” as it was baptized by a taxi driver this morning, will improve their lives.

Among the amendments that are beginning to spark the most excitement is the possibility that United States companies can engage in transactions “related to sponsorship or contracting with Cuban citizens to work or provide services in the United States,” a measure that benefits athletes, artists and other professional sectors.

Moises is 39 and drives a horse-drawn carriage for tourists around Havana’s Central Park. “I just heard about it because a customer heard it on TV in the hotel,” he told this newspaper. He has a degree in mechanical engineering, and hopes “to get a pinchita (visa) to come and go… I don’t want to stay permanently, but I would like to earn some money over there and live over here,” he explains.

Near the Plaza de Armas, the booksellers only have time to think about their own problems. The authorities in Old Havana have warned them they can’t set up there between 15 and 23 March. “It’s all about Obama’s visit,” complains one who sells books from the fifties and sixties. His daughter, who works in the food industry near the airport has also been told her workplace will be closed until after the visit of the US president.

Despite the inconvenience and the loss of money it means, the bookseller is happy with the new measures. “At last some good news, thank God, because the truth is we’ve had a tremendous bad patch of problems,” he says, cheerfully. Next to him is Osmel, another bookseller who has been selling there for more than a decade. “For my business this is very welcome because it means more trade and probably more tourists. Maybe now they’ll bring more greenbacks to the country,” he speculates.

Among members of the independent civil society, opinions have not been slow in coming. Dagoberto Valdes, director of the magazine Coexistence, believes the new relaxations are consistent “with the policy put in practice in Washington.” However, he demands that “in return, the Cuban government should now end the tax imposed on the dollar, which they justified by the difficulties that existed (in exchanging it) until today.”

Manuel Cuesta Morua, leader of the Progressive Arc, also applauded the gesture. “This is excellent news that indicates the acceleration of the normalization process and it will allow Cuba to better integrate itself into the global economy,” he says. A regime opponent and coordinator of initiatives such as the Otro18 (Another 2018) campaign, Cuesta Morua believes that “the world opening itself to Cuba implies the United States opening itself and that is what is happening.”

“The house of cards constructed by the government over the last fifty-some years to prevent Cubans from connecting to the world is falling down,” added Cuesta Morua.

Activist Miriam Leiva consider it “timely and positive” that Cubans can now use the dollar in banking transactions, because that opens the opportunity for American companies to buy in Cuba companies and also Cuban citizens can import or export goods, not just the self-employed. “What I think is important is that the Cuban government open the possibility to Cubans to enjoy the new measures, that is that it be not only useful for the state, but also for citizen transactions. In short, it is necessary that there be reciprocity with this measure,” she adds.

Satisfaction among the tourists was also evident this morning, as bit by bit they heard the news. Dominic, a German photographer who was waiting for the planting of the new ceiba tree at Havana’s El Templete, believes that news like today’s before the coming of Barack Obama is a hopeful sign. “I’m happy to be in Havana on a historic day, I hope that when I return the economic improvement resulting from a decision of this nature will be noticeable,” he adds.

An artisan on Obispo Street said he didn’t know if the news coming from Washington will be good or bad for Cuba. “To comment on that you have to be an economist, but for me it would be good if, in addition to the Americans ending the ban on using their currency, the government here allowed it to circulate freely and the currency exchanges gave you the real value for it.”

However, skepticism also abounds. “No one can fix this”, said a man who, broom in hand, was trying to remove fallen leaves around the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, in the center of the square. Near him some were throwing coins – Cuban pesos or Cuban convertible pesos – into the hole where the ceiba will be planted in Havana this Tuesday.

Cuba’s First Independent Think Tank Forms / 14ymedio

Opening day of the Meeting of Ideas in Cuba (Photo Miriam Celaya)
Opening day of the Meeting of Ideas in Cuba (Photo Miriam Celaya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pinar del Rio, 12 September 2015 – This weekend the first Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba is being held, sponsored by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies. This meeting is intended to “think about the national home that we desire, contribute to the reconstruction of the human person and the fabric of civil society,” Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, one of the event’s organizers, told this newspaper.

The program begins this Saturday with an opening panel that will address the topic, “The Cuban Economy in the Short, Medium and Long Term.” Among the guest panelists are María Caridad Gálvez, Pedro Campos, José A. Quintana and Dimas Castellanos. The discussion is divided into four subthemes: the economic model, property, work, and social security, according to the invitation to the participants. Continue reading “Cuba’s First Independent Think Tank Forms / 14ymedio”

The managers of the event also clarified that “in these laboratories of plural thinking it is not strictly necessary to reach consensus.” They added, “in the Cuba of ideas there will always be diversity and nuances,” while emphasizing that this will be “an academic workshop, that is, about studies. It will not be another political group.”

In welcoming remarks, Valdes Hernandez said, “our mission is to concentrate on a systematic workshop, coordinated with citizens, independent of ideologies and creeds, to support the fabric of a plural nation from a peaceful and inclusive vision.”

Founded in 2007, the Coexistence project is supported by its magazine of the same name, which has already published 45 editions, addressing issues ranging from culture to civics. For its part, the Center for Studies that has recently emerged considers itself to be “a continuation of the work started 22 years ago by the now defunct Center for Civic and Religious Training of the diocese of Pinar del Rio.”

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 “The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The celebration at the residence was attended by diplomats, representatives of civil society, clergy, intellectuals and Cuban artists along with the large delegation that accompanied John Kerry in his trip to Cuba, including the three Marines who, 54 years ago, lowered the flag when the countries broke off relations, who given the honor of participating in the raising. The US Army Brass Quintet played an international repertoire, with no shortage Cuban pieces such as Guantanamera and Manisero.

In a half-hour meeting, representatives of civil society shared with Kerry their concerns and expectations

In the official residence John Kerry held a half-hour meeting behind closed doors with representatives of civil society activists and independent journalists, including Dagoberto Valdes, Elsa Morejon, Hector Maseda, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Martha Beatriz Roque, Miriam Leiva, Oscar Elias Biscet, Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar. Those present shared with Kerry the concerns and expectations generated by the restoration of relations between the two countries and presented an overview of the different projects they are engaged in.

Although the official media did not mention this activity on the busy schedule of the Secretary of State, it was one of the moments that marked the character of the Kerry’s visit to Cuba because it was the only thing that could provoke, and in fact did provoke, friction and controversy.

The Cuban leaders were annoyed because they would have preferred a distancing between the highest US official to step on Cuban soil in half a century, and this part of the non-conforming Cuban citizenry, persecuted, slandered and discriminated against by the government.

Others who shared this annoyance were some opponents, such as the leader of the Ladies in White Berta Soler and activist Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, who declined the invitation they received because they believe that the US government has betrayed them “to establish relations with the dictatorship.”

If there is no progress on the issue of human rights in Cuba, there will be no lifting of the embargo, Kerry said plainly

At the meeting there was nothing that deserves to be classified as secret talks or as parallel agreements. The Cuban guests offered a general explanation of the four points of consensus from civil society, promoted by the Civil Society Open Forum, expressed the need for the United States to unblock all brakes it applies today on internet access for Cubans, and mentioned different initiatives such as developing proposals for a new Electoral Law, creating a “think tank” on Cuban affairs, and the civic actions of different political platforms.

Similarly, guests expressed the concern that main beneficiary of the restoration of relations is the Cuban government, and that the Cuban people will continue to suffer just as if nothing had occurred. Perhaps most important was the response of Kerry on this point. The Secretary of State committed to maintaining his government’s interest in advances on issues of human rights in Cuba. If no steps are taken in this direction there will be no lifting of the embargo, he said plainly.

“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 “Roads to Democracy for Cuba / 14ymedio”

Among the participants from the island are Dagoberto Valdes, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Vladimiro Roca, Laritza Diversent, Juan Antonio Madrazo, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, Wilfredo Vallin, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, Rosa Maria Rodriguez, Rafael León Rodríguez, Guillermo Fariñas and Boris Gonzalez Arenas.

The first meeting of the event was held last December 2014 in the Mexican capital. At that meeting they talked about the diversity of peaceful means to fight for democracy, the role of exile and the importance of identifying the minimum points of consensus to move forward, if not in the desired unity, at least in arranging purposes.

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)
Conference poster for this year’s meeting.

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

Jacobson: The goals of our policy are exactly the same as before. It focuses on achieving a free country, where Cubans have the right to decide their future. The most important thing is how to get to that point, and we are aware that we have not been successful with the previous strategy. So we’re trying to use a new policy of having diplomatic relations because we – and especially President Obama and Secretary Kerry – feel that it is important to have direct contact with the government.

The most important thing is how we can empower the Cuban people in a more effective way and offer you more telecommunications opportunities to modernize your computer systems, to have access to information and to be part of the connected “global village.” It is a complex process, that is going to take time, but we are not going to set aside the issue of human rights and of democracy because they are in the center of this new policy as well.

Reinaldo Escobar: The Cuban government has so far only put on the negotiating scale the release of 53 people – and I emphasis “release” because they are not liberations, because the majority have only been placed on parole. Can we expect new releases derived from these conversations?

Jacobson: That was part of the conversation where we showed an interest in several people in Cuba. What was agreed in this process was the exchange between intelligence agents, one who has traveled to the United States and three who have returned to Cuba. The rest have been policies of each side, gestures, of self interest. We are going to continue implementing policies according to these interests, which we believe support the Cuban people.

Reinaldo Escobar: We have learned that in Cuban prisons some of the prisoners who are on the list of political prisoners but who haven’t yet been released are promoting a hunger strike. Should they have any hope?

Jacobson: I want to say something more: In the discussions of recent days, we have agreed to hold dialogs of many kinds. About cooperation, about the environment, anti-narcotics, etcetera, including the issue of human rights which was proposed by Cuba last year and which has now been accepted by us.

We have different conceptions of this dialog and participating for us will be the experts on those issues, but we have said several times that we have never thought that after more than fifty years of this problem, it would be resolved overnight. We know that there are more people in the prisons and there are more elsewhere fighting for their rights.

Eliezer Ávila: Some media have shown that in these conversations the formula is human rights versus economics. However, I understand politics as the mechanism for people to live more freely and to live well, so I see no conflict between one subject and another. Do you share that view?

Jacobson: We totally agree that they are, not only complementary, but are essentially linked. We have talked, and we have heard the president, Secretary of State Kerry and Vice President Biden talk, about reaching a democratic, free, secure and prosperous hemisphere.

Those are things that are all linked. How can we talk of a hemisphere that is prosperous, but does not have freedom? Or that has freedom but has nothing to eat? Or where there is plenty to eat and freedom but you can’t walk the streets because of insecurity and other dangers? These are things that are linked, but some are the responsibility of the governments to protect their citizens and to guarantee their fundamental rights, and others have to be met by the citizens themselves, but in a civilized society we have to talk about all these things.

Eliezer Ávila: Hence also the importance of access to telecommunications and information…

Jacobson: Yes, citizens must have access to information not only on issues of freedom and rights, they need access to information for their economic life. It is very important and this is one way in which they can have greater prosperity. So we are in total agreement that the economy and human rights are closely linked. There is no contradiction between them, none at all.

Dagoberto Valdés: From January 21-25, 1998 we had the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba. For Cubans it was a visit of expectations and yours now is also. What do you think is the role of the Catholic Church as a mediator in the dialogue not only between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but the important dialogue that must take place ​​between civil society and government of Cuba?

Jacobson: First I want to say that the role of Pope Francis and the Vatican was instrumental in our process with the Cuban Government. We know that the Vatican is always important in a process like this, but I would add that this pope is special to this region… “We are all Argentines at this moment…” So we appreciate the role of the Church.

In the future, I think the role of the Church in Rome as well as the Church in Cuba will be very important. I had a conversation with the Cardinal and there are several initiatives by the Cuban Church in several areas, aimed at changes in economic, educational and other areas. In the Church, as in the field and the media, it is for Cubans to decide, not Americans.

Yoani Sánchez: Thank you for your visit to our editorial offices. We deliver a printed version of 14ymedio with a weekly selection, which we do to circumvent censorship. We hope that one day our newspaper will be on newsstands nationwide.

Roberta Jacobson: Thank you, I have felt very comfortable here, like with family.

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

The organization welcomes the commercial opening that can result from negotiations with the European Union and the United States, and states as long as it is accompanied by a change with regards to the rights of Cubans, it could be positive “for post-Castro democratization.”

“Although the increase in funds for a totalitarian State will make repression more effective, UNPACU accepts the challenge of confronting it, if, over the long term, the Cuban people benefit from an increase in economic and material well-being,” the organization said.

The statement concludes by noting that repression has continued in recent days on the island and that the Government has continued to detain opponents, and it calls on all democrats to ensure that “current reality is not subjugated to the latest news.”

The Pinar del Rio magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) founded by Dagoberto Valdés, has also issued a statement through which it welcomes the resumption of diplomatic relations between both countries, and hopes that the climate of dialogue is extended to independent civil society “based on respect for unity” and “the exercise of sovereignty”.

The release of the political prisoners gives joy to the magazine’s Editorial Board, which reminds us that the Cuban Government should ratify the United Nations covenants on Human Rights.

Convivencia places special emphasis on the intervention of Pope Francisco as a mediator in the dialogue between the two countries and hopes that the Church continues to intervene between the opposition and the authorities.

In addition, the Editorial Board said that the agreement between Obama and Castro will show that the fundamental conflict “is between the Cuban government and its citizens, not between Cuba and the United States.”

Convivencia hopes that this historic event and the lifting of all blockades, especially the one the Cuban government sustains over the initiative and entrepreneurship of its own citizens, allows the creation of the conditions necessary for the Cuban people to be the protagonists of their own history,” the statement concludes.

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

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.

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

I asked for the floor to express my respect and before it was turned over to me I heard an unmerited presentation about me and my work from my friend and interpreter Tomasz. I thanked him for the opportunity to meet him and told him I wanted to convey good news about Cuba.

I said that ordinary Cubans had become less fearful and the fabric of Cuban civil society had grown and strengthened and is poised for greater coordination for unity in diversity. He listened to me intently, nodding his head, staring at me. At the end of my speech that lasted less than three minutes, I got up from my seat and offered him a symbol of the workers and peasants of Pinar del Rio: a box of Cohiba cigars.

At the end we quickly took informal photos. He had spent more time than planned with the Cubans. He signed some books and reiterated his love for Cuba and wished us the best for the future. He left as fast as he had come. After the applause was a feeling of hope and confidence in ourselves, that “there is no freedom without solidarity” in which the peaceful path to democracy is not just an option but the only ethically acceptable option.

Over the long weekend, from 8 to 10 June, we went to the places where it all started: Gdanz, an ancient and beautiful city on the Baltic Sea. We visited Westerplate, where World War II began that September 1, 1939. We offered honor and prayers for all those who died in this horror of the twentieth century. On Sunday at early Mass at the Parish of Santa Barbara the Eucharist was offered for them all and for the conscience of mankind with that gigantic phrase on the memorial for the fallen: “No more war”. We could feel the terrible cross of a Poland invaded and bloody.

But there is no cross without resurrection. On Monday, we visited Gdanz Shipyard, door of life, a sanctuary for the rights of workers, temple of nonviolent struggle. Tabernacle of peace with justice, freedom and solidarity. So I wanted to express the famous Polish poet who was asked to write a verse to place forever in the back wall of the monument, but he refused humbly expressing that none of his poems could express what had happened and chose Psalm 29 verse 11 which proclaims: “The Lord gives strength to his people. The Lord will bless his people with peace.” In fact, in this sacred place, the Polish people received “the power of the powerless” and not to use it for war and violence but for freedom and solidarity by way of peace is the gift and task.

We began what was for me a pilgrimage and a school, by the monument to the fallen workers in these yards. Over the intense and luminous blue of Gdanz, rise, solemn and serene, the three crosses with three crucified anchors. This symbol of hope and of the deep sea. This symbol of the Passion of Christ in his people. But it does not give the impression of a tragic monument. It looks like a giant flower of life that comes from the assumed cross and redemption. It looks like a lighthouse in the sea of oppression and injustice, that the eventful life of those who row tirelessly toward freedom loses neither its direction nor its way. I got the impression of an immeasurable arm of warning. A warning signal, a prayer which rises for all who decide to fight for their freedom, we take the paths of solidarity and peace.

I could not stop the tears as I joined this silent prayer and looked down to pay tribute to all crucified in their body or in their soul, I realized that the blood and tears of so many men and women had been marked by the artist’s hand, concentric circles on the pavement, widening from the center of the monument, it seemed to reach to each pacifist fighter and every crucified village. I wanted to kneel there and stay awhile open to expansive mysticism. But Magdalena’s voice dissuaded me, the passionate guide who told us that there was a wide balcony reserved for the contemplation of this triple cross, in the huge cultural center and museum that  Solidarity built just below the monument and in line with the famous Door 2 which we approached reverently.

There it remains close to three decades later, the picture of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the portrait of Pope John Paul II that the shipyard workers had placed as shields during strikes where it all started. Then we passed through the vast hall of the Directorate of Health and Safety at Work, where the rounds of dialogue and negotiation were held over the 21 demands that the Solidarity Union demanded from the government that said it had been “the dictatorship of the proletariat” to guarantee the rights of workers.

In the end, we were cordially invited to the opening of Museum-Center of European Solidarity, which will be June 4, 2014.

Our friend David, mystic and musician from the Omni-Zona Franca project of Alamar, gave me a huge red pen with the image of Pope John Paul II, a true copy of the one Lech Walesa used to sign Gdanz Agreements. With it I wrote in the guestbook the incredible religious experience of having stepped on ground sacred to the history of mankind.

I did think of my suffering mother, of the example that my father left me on leaving this world too early, of my three children, my granddaughter who was born on May 20, the day of the independence of Cuba, of my family, of close friends and collaborators from the Civic Center, of that magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), and the current magazine Coexistence. And also forgiving all and each of those who have considered themselves my enemies or opponents with a prayer for the reconciliation of all Cubans.

This land has been inscribed with the letters of Solidarity the eternal message that full and true freedom can only be achieved through the paths of justice and peace.

I left with the deep conviction that it is worth spending a lifetime to inscribe, educate, empower, ethically and civilly, this message in the soul of the people, in the language and the circumstances in which each nation embarks on his own journey toward the civilization of love.

20 June 2013