14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Havana, July 13, 2022 — The protests of July 11th and 12th, 2021, or the ’July Days’, defined some “firsts” in Cuba. It doesn’t matter how far back in history we search, we will not find protests of such magnitude.
For the first time, strictly spontaneous demands were made, but with a conscience; and,
- for the first time they occurred and spread throughout the whole country;
- for the first time in a public space, people of all social circles, of all generations and identities joined together;
- for the first time social action against a militarized regime was fundamentally civic;
- for the first time foreign influence or actors did not appear in the relaying of demands;
- for the first time the idea and the reality of the people were genuinely in contrast with the regime’s narrative about the people;
- for the first time the legitimacy of civil society was validated under totalitarian pressure itself;
- for the first time the official discourse about the crisis was overtaken by the clear social conscience of those authentically responsible for it;
- for the first time the identity between Cuba and Revolution, in capital letters, was massively refuted;
- for the first time the demand was not only a substitution of power, but rather a change in its rules;
- for the first time a visible social minority, expressing to the still silent majority, exposed — with clarity and through overwhelmingly peaceful means — a minority regime in power; and…
For the first time we demonstrated that Cuba is an exception in the Americas, this one will not pass for the tacit “pact of political non-participation” that many media outlets and political sectors believed had been signed between Cubans and the government.
Harshly repressed as it was, especially the disproportionately long sentences of the protesters and by the political orchestrations of the judicial system in punishment mode, as opposed to any minimal notion of rule of law, this deep citizen revolution which was not prepared in Mexico and did not land in Las Coloradas, emptied the contents of the totalitarian state’s political hegemony to conclude the slow process of the Cuban revolution’s ideological erosion, very visible since the 1990’s.
It was a political revolution from the bottom, aborted in its demands, which dislodged, above, a barracks revolution with tired offerings. Although they are reinstated on the surface, nearly a year after those events, a type of loud calm in society alongside a mass exodus of Cubans — a result of the deterrent power of the police and the Criminal Code — the political dimension of 11J (July 11th) summarizes the rupture between a self democratized society and an ever increasingly autocratic regime.
Civil society’s response to 11J have been diverse. However, all converge on demanding freedom for political prisoners, most of them young, sentenced to between 4 and 25 years for exercising their constitutional rights and their recognized universal human rights, in essence, freedom of expression, association, assembly and protest.
But, following 11J, does it have to do only with freedom for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience? I believe not. The demands of freedom for all those who have been jailed for political reasons and for conscience requires first establishing and laying down the pillars and creating the climate to exercise these and other rights, but in liberty.
This time, what is under discussion is the possible and necessary release from prison resulting in the closure of Cuban political prison. This, unlike in times past, during which more than 3,000 political prisoners were released in 1977 and in 2011 those 75 prisoners of the ill-named Black Spring of 2003, only to reproduce and increase political prison.
The probable success of the political demands and strategies to establish democracy and respect for human rights is a path to close this loop, one that is not very short.
I participate, along with those who believe that these are times for amnesty for liberty. The amnesty, in a vision shared by organizations such as the Council for a Democratic Transition in Cuba and by independent attorneys in Cuba and abroad encapsulates in a single process, here and now, seven essential cumulative claims of Cuban society:
- The release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, a matter of highest human sensitivity which touches thousands of families;
- The end of political prison itself;
- An official acknowledgement of dissent;
- The prevalence of human and constitutional rights;
- The institutional opening of a democratization process with an emphasis on the preeminence of the law;
- The establishment of a climate of national reconciliation for an inclusive democratization, in a venue beneficial for all parties where justice, rather than a rematch, will prevail and political realism;
- All in a context where the conversation about freedoms extends beyond elite circles.
This is how the Draft Law of Amnesty and Decriminalization of Dissent, shared by the CTDC on March 30, 2022, is described and, for what can be referred to as the closure of political prison, involves the modernization of a new Criminal Code related to colonial times, which decriminalizes, once and for all, ideas and their civic consequences.
This draft is backed by the Constitution and the law. If 10,000 citizens sign the draft, the proposal will have the required citizen legitimacy, allowing it to be presented to the National Assembly for legislative procedures.
Is the government obligated to consider this or other citizen proposals? Morally yes, politically no. For this reason it would be necessary for us to establish a political benchmark: the number of signatures necessary of Cubans and friends of democracy on the island, within Cuba and abroad, to achieve restorative justice. Faced with a government that does not listen, the legal benchmark is not enough to get it to act rationally, with a concept of justice and a focus on rights. In this sense, the gathering of signatures becomes a citizen platform for excellence, in the midst of state criminalization of the right to protest, for the legitimate expression of the civic will of Cubans and the support of those in the international community that wish to accompany us.
With four additional values: the strengthening of citizen networks; the creation of a framework of solidarity and social indebtedness to Cuban political prisoners; the creation of a proactive climate against the social and political violence engulfing society — we refer to this climate as the Orange Country; and re-legitimizing the civic demands expressed publicly during the July Days.
The support of the international community will be decisive. Globalization of rights is the only answer to the globalization of autocracies. As confirmed by the brutality of Russia’s illegitimate invasion of Ukraine, the doctrine of international realism without moral idealism is an assault against realism itself. The liberal order, which is the order of rights, is the only one in which the stated goal of the states — good governance for wellbeing — coincides with the means to achieve them: the exercise of freedoms within the rule of law.
Democratic governments and civil society could renew their urgent and mature commitment to freedom in this hemisphere, definitively supporting the peaceful demands of freedom for political prisoners, along with those in their countries: Cuba, historically one of the chronic sources of migration issues in the region. Human rights, migration, political prison all form a critical vortex the solution to which requires a systematic and global effort. Support for amnesty is an excellent political expression of that dual commitment: to democracy and to human rights.
Translated by: Silvia Suárez
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