Diario Las Americas, Leonel Luis Leon, 5 December 2015 — Rosa María Payá, daughter of the deceased Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá – who received the Andrei Sakharov Human Rights Prize from the European Parliament and founded the Varela Project for a citizen plebiscite in Cuba – received a major recognition of her civic activism on being elected as the new president of the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, whose congress was just held in Costa Rica.
In that Central American country, the young woman met with emigrating Cubans stranded there, and from there she went to Venezuela, two days before key parliamentary elections not only for Venezuela but also for Latin Americans. She spoke with Diario Las Americas about Cuba, Venezuela and the present and future of the region.
“I came to Venezuela as an independent Cuban citizen and to raise the voice of those in Cuba who also want to choose. I am also representing the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, whose most recent conference was just held in Costa Rica. The president of the Chilean Senate, Patricio Walker, honored me with a personal invitation to accompany him during his work in the Venezuelan parliamentary elections. I have dear friends here, many of them are young politicians and social activists working for the democratization of their country.
We have an event with Lilian Tintori, for the wrongful conviction against her husband Leopoldo Lopez and the right of our peoples to live in truth, without any government being able to hijack our freedoms with impunity. As my father said, ‘We can not, we do not know how and do not want to live without freedom.’ And young people in particular have to be supportive of this demand throughout the continent, or end up compromising our future under a sort of authoritarian alliance of the Americas,” said Payá.
This young Cuban woman is the main promoter of “Cuba Decides,” a citizen initiative for the holding of a binding plebiscite in favor of free, pluralistic and fair elections in Cuba. “Cuba Decides is not an organization, nor does it have a defined ideological perspective. For over half a century we Cubans, who are one people, have been excluded from the political, economic and social decisions made in our nation. After the violent takeover of 1 January 1959, authority in Cuba has never been legitimized by democratic elections.
“The Cuban people never chose to live without freedom. No people have ever chosen this, whenever they have been asked in a free, safe and competitive plebiscite, without state coercion or under a culture of fear imposed by the political police. Totalitarianism does not tolerate participation. The ability of such a caste to govern depends on repression at all levels against those whose opinions and initiatives differ from those of the official elite.
“Thus, the option of a referendum in Cuba that gives our voice back to Cubans – wherever we reside — is liberating, with due safeguards so that no fraud is committed: free access to debate in the national media, freedom of association, parallel counting of the vote, international observers throughout the preparatory process for the plebiscite,” she said.
Payá is convinced that only Cubans can rightfully decide on the changes needed in their society today: “And for them to be able to design a common future, they must first be guaranteed their rights by law, in an environment of trust, cordiality and inclusion respectful to all. The transition to democracy in Cuba will not start while Cubans continue to be excluded from the agenda agreed in secret between global powers, with or without the United States embargo, with or without the European Union Common Position.
“Yet to be put on the negotiating table is the key question of how we define ourselves, whether or not we are Cubans. And it is the question of showing ourselves in favor or against the right of Cubans to choose, which is the ‘right of rights’ of Cubans. ‘Changes are rights,’ my father said, ‘the people of Cuba never chose not to choose.’ Thus, it is time to ask the Cuban people, ‘Do you agree with convening free, fair and plural elections, organizing yourselves freely in political parties and social organizations with complete plurality, yes or no, at this key time?’”
The Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy is a space created by young political, social and student leaders who believe that the democratic situation in the region is so precarious that, “it requires organized action by the new generations to rescue the values of citizenship before the advance of totalitarianism, disgracefully, in most instances, instigated from Havana.
“The network has a president and now I have had the honor of being chosen, but there is also an Executive Committee and a culture of debate and participation of all members, far beyond hierarchies. From 2012 to date, the network has brought together some fifty organizations of Latin American civil society and includes young people from some twenty countries, all with the commitment to defend, strengthen and consolidate democratic institutions and the rule of law, promoting human rights and rejecting the distortion and subjugation to any group, whatever its ideological stripe.
“Being president is a commitment to all the democrats on the continent, and especially to so many generations of young Cubans who have suffered repression on the island or who have been forced into exile as a result of it.
“I think especially of my friend Harold Cepero, killed by the Cuban government when he was just 32, along with my father Oswaldo Payá, on Sunday July 22, 2012. To my dear Harold I dedicate this recognition, he could have played this role much better than I,” she said.
With regards to the evils that affect the societies of our hemisphere, Payá insisted that for many years there has been an exaggerated ‘presidentialism’, that recalls the call for ‘direct democracy’ initiated by the Castros, and this has produced an imbalance in the separation of powers appropriate to any modern democratic society. This, in turn, supports all kinds of abuses from the executive branch, such as the exceptional periods of government by decree and the lack of term limits in the top job. All this brings more corruption to the mismanagement of state resources and violations of all fundamental freedoms and human rights.
“In the Cuban case, the growing international acceptance of the norms of the repressive Cuban regime has not brought any significant change in the social and political conditions of our population. The tragedy of the Cuban people is not a problem between Cuba and the United States, and this is much more obvious since 17 December 2014, because Cubans continue in the same spiritual and material misery.
“The current immigration crisis of Cubans escaping through Central America sadly demonstrates that. Inside and outside the island we continue to be economic pariahs who are not invited to invest in and generate wealth in our own country, beyond the granting of some licenses to provide domestic services, which is the ‘consolation valve’ of ‘self-employment.’
“We lack a legal framework to behave as free and responsible citizens, and state paternalism persists unchanged, from decades back. Even those Cubans who live outside our country are subject to immigration blackmail, and those who have spent two or more consecutive years outside of Cuban have to comply with the humiliating paperwork of ‘repatriation,’ or they can never reside permanently in Cuba, something that is technically called apartheid.
“The cruelest embargo, and the one that depends only on Cubans to maintain or eliminate it, is the one maintained by the Havana regime against the rights of our citizens. Cuba has not opened in any way to its own citizens and there is no reason to trust that it will be the Cuban government that brings to pass such an opening.”