Heredia Project: Choices as a Good Omen / Ernesto Morales Licea

I would dare to suggest that few initiatives in the history of the Cuban opposition have been as inspiring, thoughtful, and complicated for the government of the Island to avoid, as the new project that takes the name of Heredia; an area of civil society has been set in motion.

The Heredia Project — named as a way to honor our great and tortured poet José María Heredia, one of the most famous exiles in national history — arises again with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas at its head, exploding for the second time, after the beautiful but failed Varela Project, on the most complex and fruitful terrain for peaceful struggle: The law.

Payá Sardiñas — an opponent who with his austerity as proof against blackmail has never been deposed as they would desire — has become a learned scholar of the Constitution of the Republic, and as we say in “good Cuban”: He has chosen to “stew it in his salsa.” And he has done it well.

This time, his Titanic enterprise takes the name “Heredia Project: Law of National Reunification,” and in essence is focused on promulgating a law that guarantees rights recognized in our Constitution, but violated with impunity in practice by those who rule over us. Above all, one in particular: The sacred right of Cubans to enter and leave their country, with complete freedom.

The seven points set out at the beginning of the proposal, and that serve to justify it, are in many ways irrefutable. Among these, I’ll take two: 1. The clear prohibition in Article 42 of the Constitution of the Republic on discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religious belief or any other offense against human dignity, and 2. The resolution proposed by Cuba in 1998, sponsored and signed at the United Nations under the title “Respect for the right of universal freedom to travel and the importance of family reunification.

Henceforth, this legislative initiative fully develops its ideas, which can be summarized in a superficial way in four key areas, a portion of the many articles and paragraphs present:

1. Citizenship: All Cubans, wherever they live, and their natural children, should have the right to choose their citizenship and to enjoy the rights implied by it, without being denied because of the political interests of the country’s government.

Fundamental question: Unlike the rest of the world’s citizens who emigrate to another country, we Cubans are the only ones who suffer the total loss of our property and rights when we decide to reside elsewhere in the world. We are the only ones who must go through the humiliating process of giving the State an accounting of all our possessions, and in most cases, losing them all after choosing the category of “Final Exit,” a term that the Heredia Project specifically classifies as exclusive and ominous.

2. Equality: All Cubans, living in Cuba or abroad, enjoy all the rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution, so the practices of discriminating based on their condition as political dissidents or emigrants will cease.

Within these discriminatory practices, legislative initiatives have not forgotten the fundamental issue of equality of Cubans and foreigners in terms of Internet access, cable television and similar amenities.

3. Mobility: All Cubans can move freely within their country and have the right to travel abroad. End the requirement to submit a Letter of Invitation to visit another country, require only submission of an updated passport. In addition, eliminate the Exit Permit, and the Letter of Release required by immigration authorities from one’s workplace, and end the requirement for Cubans living abroad to present a visa to enter their own country.

This being the essential chapter of the Act, it is not surprising that it covers a remarkably rich range of violations and practices that Cubans suffer today under the theme of emigration and international visitors, from the need to be able to pay for the cumbersome procedures in Cuban pesos, the currency in which wages are paid on the island, to the habit of punishing certain professionals who apply to leave the country (mostly doctors), by sending them to work in the most complex and difficult locations in the country.

4. Property: All Cubans have a legitimate right to continue to live in their homes without anyone depriving them of their property.

And here the “National Reunification Law” plays one of its most serious cards, astute and, in my estimation, the boldest of the whole proposal: If it were to be approved, Cubans living outside the country would have no right to reclaim their properties that were expropriated before the law went into effect.

Why is this section fundamental, even vital, to achieve mass support in Cuba? Very simple: Because the first thing that would make Cubans on the Island oppose a deal would be allowing the exiles to return to their land, which would mean that displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who today live in homes formerly belonging to other owners.

And not just homes: The Law of National Reconciliation understands the impossibility of returning to those previous owners properties that are today, in Cuba, schools, daycare centers, hospitals, and an endless list of other uses.

The importance of this aspect is absolutely fundamental: One of the fears that the government of the Island has intentionally spread among nationals, regarding the possible return of the exiles, is that they would lose their homes: “If those who left return, the first thing they will do is take your house where you have lived for 30 years, because in the 1960s it was their property.” A brilliant manipulation to short-circuit the momentum of popular justice.

Thus, Project Heredia begins the year going from door to door, circulating from hand to hand, quietly and fearfully, in the hopes of another 10 thousand signatures to enable them to present it to the National Assembly as a popular initiative, which they would then be obligated to pay attention to.

Without any kind of ingenuousness: Whether this bovine Parliament, unanimous to the point of absurdity, will reject the project with the same shameful attitude with which they dismissed the earlier Varela Project, time will tell. In fact, this same Law of National Reconciliation was presented to the National Assembly in 2007 by two citizens, and they are still waiting for a response from the members of parliament.

But I think the context in which this initiative arises, the spread of technology in Cuban society, and the growing popular discontent that will undoubtedly begin to develop as half a million people lose their jobs, will, this time, be the principal partners of a project in which, I confess, I have limited faith, but faith nonetheless.

According to the wise words of a lawyer and friend — who, precisely because he is a friend, I protect with anonymity — “This Law project is impeccably constructed, and begins to resolve one of the outstanding issues of the Cuban legal system: Implementing a Citizenship Law that up until now does not exist.”

One can only endure, and sharpen the perception: The Heredia Project, with tens of thousands of signatures one can almost guarantee they will obtain, will be the perfect gauge to test how much truth and how much magician’s illusion are contained in the official words, when they speak today of redirecting the destiny of a nation.

January 6 2011