The seventh summit showed that we are not alone / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

President Obama speaking at the Civil Society Forum at the Summit of the Americas in Panama
President Obama speaking at the Civil Society Forum at the Summit of the Americas in Panama

The Summit of the Americas legitimized our right to exist as civil society and as an alternative to dictatorial power. It was a victory of democracy over the empire of totalitarianism.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Panama, 13 April 2015 – With smiles, handshakes and the usual “family photo” of all the presidents, the Summit of the Americas ended in Panama. This time the hemispheric event had the distinction of hosting, after a half century of absence, the visit of the prodigal son: the representative of the longest dictatorship of the continent, as well as a varied delegation from the Island’s civil society.

Apart from the numerous irregularities, related to the organization of the event, and the almost obvious complicity of local authorities with the obstacles that tried to sabotage the participation of alternative civil society representatives in the various forums of the summit — including power cuts, credential problems, and the well-known repudiation rallies orchestrated by the delegates of the Castro regime’s “civil society” and its continental acolytes — one could conclude that the balance of the conclave was positive for Cuban democrats.

Needless to say, the vociferous covens starring “revolutionary” wildlife had the opposite effect to that intended: far from demonizing opponents and members of independent civil society, they demonstrated to the rest of the delegations the intolerant nature of the regime and the veracity of the testimonies that have denounced the repression against every different alternative on the island, as well as the disrespect of the Cuban authorities towards the hosts and the other countries of the region.

Not only did the delegates from many social organizations openly express their support for the exercise of the rights of expression of Cuban democrats, but many representatives of the continental Left expressed disgust with the intransigence and violent methods used by pro-Castro attendees, a posture that in their opinion sullies the image of the Left and contaminates its projects in the region.

However, with the morbid interest aroused by the spectacle of violence, the tabloid press has given these repudiation rallies greater prominence than they deserve, and has emphasized the imprint of their protagonists on the Summit, as if that was the highlight of the agenda.

However, for independent civil society the true importance of the Panamanian meeting consists in the fact that its voices have finally been recognized at a major regional event, as well as the joint and harmonious participation of Cubans living within and outside the island, welcoming plural and diverse ideas and positions, capable of mutual respect, and finding commonalities among all of them. In fact, those voices – and not those of the “repudiators” of the Castro regime’s supporters – were the ones that ended up represented in official documents of the Summit, with several opponents to the regime participating in their drafting.

Equally important was the meeting between US President Barack Obama and well-known Cuban dissidents, undoubtedly a gesture of support for the struggle for human rights within Cuba and a clear message that that government will continue to support pro-democracy activists, regardless of the negotiations being conducted with the Cuban authorities at the highest level.

Overall, the exchange between political leaders and leaders of social networks around the hemisphere was of great importance, making independent Cuban civil society visible at the regional level, attesting to the existence of an alternative discourse to that allowed by the regime, a discourse that claims spaces and demands rights, and that made clear the variety of proposals that exist within Cuban society.

It was also an opportunity to participate in debates which included deep analysis about the danger of the spread of totalitarian regimes in Latin America, and the risk this poses to democracy and peace in the region; debates where the continued and increasing violations of human rights and encroachments on freedom of the press and expression in several of our nations was denounced; debates that strongly questioned the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) as a body that is obliged to ensure democracy and enforce the Inter-American Charter, which are the founding objectives of the organization and which have been set aside with the permissibility, indifference and complicity, both of the leadership of the OAS as well as the region’s democratic leaders.

For those of us who had the privilege of participating in this Summit it was an invaluable experience that showed how it is possible to discuss in a civilized manner, beyond politics and ideology, and the certainty that we are not alone in our struggle for the democratization of Cuba.

The Summit of the Americas, as I have argued in all spaces in which we participated, was not a goal, but an important step in legitimizing our right to exist as civil society and as an alternative to dictatorial power. It was undoubtedly a victory for democracy over the empire of totalitarianism: an unpublished chapter after the long history of exclusions that we Cubans have experienced in our hemisphere. Hopefully now that the doors, despite many adversities, have been opened, we are at the beginning of a process of regional integration that promotes democratic openings within Cuba.