EspañolEver since the United States and Cuba began to normalize relations, the world has only had eyes for the governments of Barack Obama and Raúl Castro: their speeches, photos, diplomats, embassies, and laws.
Meanwhile, the ones who these states claim to represent have been largely ignored, and absent from the debate: the Cuban and US people. Pundits have wasted much ink and airtime arguing whether the United States should keep or lift the five-decade embargo, overlooking the basic right of both Cubans and US residents to trade and travel freely.
Very few have deemed it necessary to consider how Cubans are to recover their liberties. Barack Obama, the United Nations, and even Pope Francis have emerged as their supposed saviors. This geopolitical drama of summits and forums, where rights and political prisoners are just bargaining chips, has set aside ordinary Cubans as mere supporting actors.
Rosa María Payá wants to change all this. The young Cuban dissident claims that Raúl Castro’s reforms are a fraud, and will only serve to strengthen the family dynasty.
“There is no economic opening in Cuba,” Payá told the PanAm Post on October 27, during a conference in Asunción, Paraguay. “Cubans have a little more access to perform some jobs or micro-entrepreneurship, but those are not rights — they are privileges. The government can revoke your license when you start disagreeing with the regime. They are not creating free entrepreneurs or free citizens, only hostages who are allowed to survive,” she explained.
Payá has a plan that puts the rights of the Cubans in the spotlight: Cuba Decides. “There is a tool to promote real change in Cuba,” she said about the citizen movement she leads to demand the Cuban government call a referendum on holding free elections on the island.
“In my country, we haven’t had free, plural elections for the last 67 years,” Payá told some 70 people at the Catholic University of Asunción. “On the local and national levels, there is only one candidate for each position. Once the candidates gets the nomination, he automatically becomes a member of the Provincial or National Assembly, who are supposedly the nation’s legislative bodies,” she explained.
Right to Choose
Cuba Decides is an attempt to continue with the Varela Project, a series of political reforms pushed in 2002 and 2003 by Rosa María’s father, opposition leader of the Christian Liberation Movement Oswaldo Payá.
“The Varela Project was a legal initiative that, based on an article of the Constitution, collected thousands of signatures, more than necessary to ask the National Assembly to discuss and carry out a referendum,” Payá said during her talk.
“The government’s answer was repression: prison for 75 leaders of the Varela Project, and death for Oswaldo Payá,” the dissident said. Rosa María remains adamant that the Castro regime killed her father.
When asked what guarantees Castro could provide to carry out a fair referendum, Payá explained that Cuba Decides aims to “avoid the Cuban electoral system” altogether. Instead, she proposes the country use “a clear protocol designed by the United Nations, with the necessary conditions to have clean process: a parallel system of vote counting, international observation, and free access to the media.”
Rosa María has been touring the region to promote the referendum, which she compares to the one Chile held in 1988 that ended with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The international community owes Cubans at least the same consideration it gave Chileans.
The Cuban people never really elected Fidel or Raúl Castro, so the current negotiations between Washington and Havana are more akin to those between a government and a kidnapper. Instead of legitimizing a dictatorship, the world should see in Cuba Decides a real chance to empower Cubans.
The embargo may or may not come to an end, but that is less important than reestablishing the individual liberties of Cubans. “We cannot place conditions on freedom for Cubans,” Rosa María says. “The rights of Cubans must come before any talk of the embargo or anything else, and that’s what we should be discussing.”