HAVANA TIMES — For more than a half a century, we Cubans have suffered from apprehension, as we have gone through an adverse social juncture in which our civil rights have been constantly vetoed by the government.
Beyond the prohibitions themselves, the cardinal problem lies in that most Cubans do not know (and seemingly don’t care) whether they have any legal standing. Constitutional rights (and the constitution itself in fact) are things that the masses usually don’t involve themselves.
This is because the discourse and government will are imposed. Here the government is not a body subject to the population, rather the population has been (and will continue to be, if there is no collective consciousness) subjected entirely to the government.
Over the past period, a number of citizen initiatives have been circulating online. These are letters concerning a variety of demands and specific proposals directed to the government. These made me review our history in this regard, since attempts like these have always been made on the island.
The most well-known was the “Proyecto Varela” (Varela Project), which was devised by government opponents in 1998. This was led by the late Oswaldo Paya, who named the initiative in honor of Father Felix Varela.
This movement undoubtedly achieved international impact between 2002 and 2003. It was based on Article 88 of the 1976 Cuban Constitution, which permits citizens to propose laws if at least 10,000 registered voters sign a petition in favor of a proposal.
In 2002 the National Assembly rejected the request, although the organization reported having obtained 11,200 signatures (more than the number required to be considered). In 2004, Paya personally presented 14,000 additional signatures without the demand being acted upon.
By contrast, the reaction was swift as the Cuban government responded through the Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly of Popular Power in Cuba. It proposed an amendment to the Cuban Constitution to make the socialist character of Cuban state permanent.
That referendum was approved by 98.97 percent of the voters, which as everyone knows was the result of pressure applied on citizens and most people’s unfamiliarity with the real reason for the amendment.
Law No. 88 on the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba (better known as the “Gag Law”) was passed to justify a series of arrests and convictions against government critics, which occurred in April 2003 in what came to be known as the “Primavera Negra de Cuba” (Cuba’s Black Spring).
The initiative concluded that way — the perfect ending — with the government’s response to the proposed political reforms. Seventy-five prisoners of conscience were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 10 to 20 years after their having been subjected to summary trials.
The document, called the Demanda ciudadana por otra Cuba (Citizen’s Call for Another Cuba), is nothing more than another invention to promote a project for advocating political reforms on the island in favor of greater individual freedoms. They have also collected a good number of signatures.
But more recently, there appeared another manifesto called the Llamamiento urgente por una Cuba mejor y posible (Urgent Appeal for a Better and Possible Cuba) organized by Ariel Hidalgo. The letter, in my opinion, was ambitious and accurate. In it, according to colleague Armando Chaguaceda: (link…) they combined principles and urgencies, visions focused on the nation and on the people who live here, a denunciation of violence and an uncompromising defense of a future without exclusion or injustice (…)
The two latter documents have some things in common:
1 – they encouraged cyber-debate.
2 – they collected signatures from an ideologically wide range of people.
3 – they used certain terms too much (“we call for” and “we demand that the Cuban government to immediately implement…”)
4 – and the majority of signatures they collected were from Cubans in the diaspora, with very low representation by residents on the island (which was unfortunate).
I’m ready to sign any of those manifestos, or even all of them. However, and though they seem on target to me, an aura of skepticism surrounds me with respect to them.
Apprehensions and other causes
Could my skepticism come from the methods that we Cubans are using to achieve change in Cuba?
1 – In none of these efforts are there signatures of even a quarter of the Cuban population (those people both on and outside the country).
2 – The Cuban people have been programmed to only understand that any display of disaffection with the political system can lead to them being questioned, even to the point of experiencing serious problems – such as seeing themselves at any time being accused of involvement in a crime and subsequently jailed.
3 – These letters are circulated on the Internet, which is practically inaccessible here in the country.
4 – Although a radical change is imminent in the country’s politics, people limit themselves to comments on corners and in hallways, but no consciousness is being created about how they need to be advancing real transformations in all spheres of the nation.
5 – The Machiavellian strategy of divide and conquer, implemented by the government and its security agencies, has proven itself effective and continues to sow paranoia and betrayal among the citizenry.
6 – While each and every one of these initiatives have been designed to demand reforms and alternatives peacefully, calling for dialogue and understanding with the country’s leadership, it’s clear that the other side does not accept such dialogue. Their responses will be placid (this is evidenced by the wave of repression unleashed on the island with all opposition groups and the so-called cyber dissident movement).
What are we to do?
I don’t know. I confess, right now I don’t have the answer, not even a proposal. I join with all efforts that are proposing change. I am (and I want to make this clear) not calling for the use of violent methods.
But I remember my history classes, when studying the causes of the outbreak of the War of Independence and the reasons given by Fidel himself for starting the revolution. In both cases there was an impossibility of dialogue and understanding with the ruling classes.
And I repeat, I am not calling for the use of force, but time will have the last word – assuming this article doesn’t cost me an accident with some tree in my path.