HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 11 (IPS) – A moderate dissident group in Cuba that aspires to become a “political majority” in the future announced Thursday that it would hold a congress in 2010.
The social democratic group, Arco Progresista (AP), says 150 to 200 delegates from around the country will take part in the congress.
The aim is for 12 months of preparations to culminate in September 2010 in two days of “strategic” debates and the election of a board of AP leaders.
In the past, similar initiatives have been squelched by Cuba’s communist government, which considers all dissidents “mercenaries” in the service of the hostile U.S. policy towards Cuba. But the organizers of next year’s congress believe that conditions have improved.
“We are facing new circumstances, both within and outside the country, which create better conditions for a climate of tolerance, especially with regard to an approach like ours, which is progressive,” AP spokesman Manuel Cuesta Morúa told IPS, after making the announcement to the press.
AP, which started out as a coalition of social democratic groups, declared itself a political party in July 2008 as a result of the merging of the Corriente Socialista Democrática Cubana (Cuban Democratic Socialist Current), the Coordinadora Socialdemócrata de Cuba (Cuban Social Democratic Coordinator, in exile), the Partido del Pueblo (People’s Party), the Movimiento Juvenil Socialdemócrata (Social Democratic Youth Movement), the Proyecto de Estudios de la Mujer (Women’s Studies Project), Cambio Tranquilo (citizen network for peaceful change), and the “Diego Vicente Tejera” Centro de Estudios (Studies Centre).
“We represent an option and a voice a social minority that wants to become a political majority,” said Cuesta Morúa.
According to the documents handed out to the press, the “first AP congress” will focus on “the Cuban crisis with a strategic approach that is fundamental for the future: the social, cultural and political institutionalization of social democracy in Cuba.”
With that aim, the plan is to push, through the year-long preparations that began this week, for “social insertion” in municipalities and communities, to convene experts to “propose directions for the new country,” and to design “the necessary and possible options” for social democracy.
AP plans to “gradually open” offices at the municipal level for people who identify with the social democratic alternative to register as members.
“For a long time we have set forth an ideological position in the name of citizens who do not even know us, who do not know what possible identities they might have, politically speaking,” says the document, which introduces a series of questions to be included in a survey that the group hopes to carry out.
The questionnaire asks whether or not the respondent is familiar with the AP, and asks respondents to provide a three-word definition of “democratic socialism,” name one difference between “social democrat” and “communist,” and list three basic “political aspirations” for Cuba.
“We are launching a process that we call the Arco Progresista (Progressive Arc) in the streets, which means we will ask citizens to identify a direction and option for Cuba,” said Cuesta Morúa, who added that “a sound country cannot be built without its citizens.”
“Out there (on the streets) there is deep dissatisfaction. We want to offer an option to those who feel upset. We have the political capacity to do so,” said the dissident leader.
He also said that no fundamental changes are possible without the voice of a “critical citizen majority.”
Leonardo Calvo, one of the group’s vice presidents, clarified that the AP is not fighting for a change of government or to replace any specific individual, but for the creation of “a new kind of coexistence, and to restore the citizen’s voice, space and ability to determine their own fate.”
In its platform, the AP advocates the “recognition of all economic rights,” the free exercise of workers’ right to unionize, and a “comprehensive, in-depth” new agrarian reform effort that would put the land back in the hands of farmers.
With respect to relations with the international community, it calls for “critical, constructive dialogue, and non-isolation and cooperation as a means of modernizing Cuba,” and says that “a substantial change” in U.S. policy towards Cuba would contribute to that end.
In addition, the AP “reaffirms its opposition to the embargo and to meddling of any kind in Cuba’s internal affairs,” and “promotes recognition of the rights of all citizens and minorities without conditions or discrimination of any kind.”
The Cuban constitution only recognizes the Communist Party, which it defines as “Martiano (for independence hero José Martí) and Marxist-Leninist, the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation” and “the highest leading force of society and the state.”
Alternatives voiced by dissidents, who are fragmented in small groups of different political tendencies, generally go unnoticed by most people in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million.
The Proyecto Varela (Varela Project), an initiative presented in 2002 by dissident leader Oswaldo Payá of the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación (Christian Liberation Movement) to promote a referendum on several proposed constitutional changes, was pulled out of obscurity in this country by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).
On a visit to Cuba in May 2002, the former Democratic president mentioned the Varela Project in a speech at the University of Havana, which was broadcast live to the entire nation.
In June 2002, a month after the Varela Project delivered its petition, with just over 11,000 signatures, to parliament, some eight million Cubans approved a constitutional reform that declared socialism in Cuba “irrevocable.”