14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 10 October 2023 — When he was 26 years old, Eduardo Zayas-Bazán was rescued from Cuba by the US Government along with 59 other soldiers, imprisoned after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. A Camagüey native, lawyer, member of a famous criolla family – among his ancestors are José Martí’s wife, Carmen, and several notable politicians of the Republic – the young man left his country after long days in prison in Havana’s Castillo del Príncipe.
Like other Cubans of his generation who had recently arrived in exile, Zayas-Bazán put down roots and achieved a successful career as a university professor. He worked for 31 years at East Tennessee State University, teaching languages, while remaining in contact with great figures of the Cuban diaspora, such as Carlos Alberto Montaner.
It was Montaner who, along with other Cuban emigrants, founded the Cuban Liberal Union, a political party of which Zayas-Bazán has just been elected president. About the meaning of the word liberal, the present and future of the association, and the vision of the Island from the other shore, the author of the novel The Flying Fish talks with 14ymedio from his house in Miami.
14ymedio: What does it mean for you to preside over the Cuban Liberal Union at such a significant moment for that organization?
Zayas-Bazán: For me it is a great honor to be able to preside over a political party in which I have been a member for more than two decades.
14ymedio: What is the political role and current situation of the Party?
Zayas-Bazán: The Cuban Liberal Union in exile is really an embryo of a political party. Although in exile and in Cuba there are many people who sympathize with our political thinking, we are aware that, in reality, the party where we should proselytize is in a free Cuba. There we will organize ourselves, with Cubans who think like us, on a defined platform to participate in the first elections. For this, in exile we have a select group of liberals who are willing to return to Cuba and, with the experience acquired in all these years of exile, help rebuild the country.
14ymedio: What does it mean to be a liberal Cuban today?
Zayas-Bazán: The liberal Cuban cultivates and defends freedoms and human and civil rights. He believes in the right to own private property in real and personal property, in all types of businesses and other means of production. He believes it is up to civil society to create wealth. The State should only play a role when private enterprise is not capable of meeting the essential demands of society. He believes that democratically elected leaders must be public servants, who are subject to the law, who have limited powers, who act with transparency and who are periodically accountable for their actions.
He believes that the political organization of society must be plural, open, with periodic electoral consultations and rotation of governing groups through democratic methods that – although subordinated to majority rule – take into account and respect the rights of minorities. He believes in a rule of law without individual, group or class privileges, and that all people have the same rights and obligations.
And finally, he believes in peace, in consensual negotiation, in the search for solutions to conflicts, in respect for the dignity of the adversary, in civic cordiality as an attitude towards those who have ideas different from his.
14ymedio: How do you value the personality of Carlos Alberto Montaner, recently deceased and founder of ULC?
Zayas-Bazán: Montaner was an exceptional person. He had a charming personality and impressive analytical power. He could explain complex issues in a way that everyone understood. With his ease of expression he would have been the ideal person to be the first president in a free Cuba. Unfortunately, he died before that dream became a reality.
Not only was he the founder of ULC in 1989, but in 1990 he was also the one who devised the Cuban Democratic Platform, made up of the three internationals: the liberals, the Christian Democrats and the social democrats. Carlos Alberto, a convinced democrat, did not mind allying himself with organizations with different ideals. Montaner believed in the exchange of ideas, in the liberal democracy with multiple political parties that our Cuba needs so much.
Thanks to Montaner, since 1992, ULC has been a full member of the Liberal International and is also part of the Liberal Network of Latin America.
14ymedio: What is the legacy – and what have you learned – of your predecessors Antonio Guedes, Miguel Sales and Elías Amor?
Zayas-Bazán: We have been very lucky to have, in addition to Carlos Alberto Montaner, three excellent presidents: the doctor Antonio Guedes (who led ULC from 2010 to 2015), the writer Miguel Sales (2015-2020) and the economist Elías Amor Bravo (2020-2023). All of them have done a great job representing ULC at international conferences and congresses. Thanks to them, to the dissidents inside and outside of Cuba, and to other exile leaders, we know what is happening on our long-suffering island and because of them foreign leaders make statements urging respect for human rights in Cuba and asking that the country open itself to the world.
14ymedio: After several decades in exile, how do you see Cuba?
Zayas-Bazán: Very badly. The Government continues to be determined to remain in power at all costs, despite knowing perfectly well that these 64 years of communism have been disastrous for Cuba. I would tell the authorities not to be afraid of change, that only those who have committed crimes against the population will have to answer for their actions in a rule of law.
The exile wants to help build a new Cuba that will be an example not only for Latin America but for the rest of the world. The exile community, with the experience it has acquired in these 64 years, will be crucial for the future of Cuba. We have experts in all types of fields and Cuba will need this experience so that the changes are achieved correctly. A rule of law will make it possible for exile capital to be invested in Cuba. Exiles like me, although they have not returned, continue to love our country deeply.
14ymedio: What advice do you give to recently exiled young Cubans? Do you think that the future of the Island can be prepared by being outside of it?
Zayas-Bazán: It is sad how Cuba is running out of its youth. And worse is that the Government facilitates their departure because it counts on them so that, once in exile, they can send remittances to their relatives in Cuba. I advise young people not to abandon the Island. We need you to rebuild it when the change comes. If a change occurred in Spain after an atrocious civil war in which half a million people died, in Cuba it will be easier. May they have faith in the change that will come soon because the situation is unsustainable.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.