Tuesday, May 10, 2005
By MIGUEL PEREZ
North Jersey Media Group
At his home in Havana, Rene Gomez Manzano is getting ready to defy the Cuban government.
And at his home in West New York, Silvio Acosta is getting ready to support him.
Gomez Manzano is part of a group of Cuban dissidents organizing a forbidden meeting to promote democracy in Cuba, a two-day reunion of government opponents that they say could come at a high price - in harassment, beatings, humiliation or years of incarceration.
Acosta is the spokesman for more than 40 Cuban-American organizations celebrating New Jersey’s first Cuban Heritage Month in May with a series of events to raise funds and provide moral support for the dissidents, who are planning the May 20-21 Assembly to Promote a Civil Society in Cuba.
The two have never met. But when they speak on the telephone, they are like brothers united by a single cause - to hasten the end of the 46-year Fidel Castro dictatorship.
On the telephone from Havana, Gomez Manzano, a former political prisoner, said he and other dissident leaders know they could end up in jail even before May 20, the date chosen for the assembly because it marks Cuban Independence Day from Spain in 1902. He said the support they receive from abroad is the only thing that restrains the Cuban government from adopting even more repressive measures.
“The risks are always there, because this is a totalitarian regime,” he said.
“When you do any activity that is not devoted to applauding the regime, you run a great risk - because the regime tries to control everything.”
Efforts to speak to Cuban government officials in Havana and Washington were unsuccessful.
Inspired by Gomez Manzano and other dissidents, Acosta and the New Jersey exiles are hosting a month of lectures, conferences, concerts, movie screenings and other activities.
And they have enlisted many New Jersey politicians - from mayors to acting Governor Codey - to commend the “courageous” work of the dissidents in numerous resolutions, proclamations and flag-raising ceremonies.
At the urging of Albio Sires, a Cuban-American and the speaker of the state Assembly, the legislative body voiced its support, too.
But in Havana, Gomez Manzano, one of the key organizers of the dissidents, is not at all sure that the government will allow the meeting to take place. “You can’t anticipate what Castro will do,” he said.
In New Jersey, Acosta said that whether the meeting occurs or not, it is already a success, especially because human rights activists from all over the world are keeping a close eye on Cuba.
“If they put them all in jail, before the eyes of the world, they will be arresting people simply for trying to attend a public meeting,” Acosta said.
“And if they let them hold the meeting, they will be denounced for their atrocities. It’s a win-win situation.”
Nevertheless, Gomez Manzano said that in anticipation of the May 20 gathering, the Cuban government has launched “a whole gamut of repression” against likely delegates.
He said the government has mobilized its rapid response brigades - teams of civilians designed to squash, sometimes violently, any opposition - and that three assembly delegates have been sentenced to two to four years in prison.
“They were accused of being antisocial,” said Gomez Manzano, who is an attorney, “but we know it was because of their activism in favor of the assembly, for disagreeing with the regime.”
Acosta, a West New York housing inspector, said Cuban-Americans are encouraged by the Cuban people’s increasingly daring challenges to the Castro regime, “which is something we had not seen before.”
He said this is all happening thanks to the courage of a few leaders like Gomez Manzano, who are willing to submit themselves to terrible consequences in defense of freedom and democracy.
Although Gomez Manzano said he believes most of the Cuban people are overwhelmingly against the Castro government, he recognizes that the risk-takers are few.
“Unfortunately, the great majority of the Cuban people are not willing to confront the regime,” Gomez Manzano said.
“On the contrary, if they get the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, they often choose to leave. We are hoping to change that.”
And he is optimistic, because despite the harassment Cubans endure once they identify themselves as dissidents, “our numbers have kept growing, slowly but steadily.”
He said that although many of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents have been in prison since being rounded up two years ago, more than 300 organizations are ready to send delegates to the assembly.
In New Jersey, Acosta sees it the same way.
“Far from eliminating the dissidents, the people willing to be arrested are multiplying,” he said. “It means that the Cuban [people] are anxious for change and that we have to support them.”
Thursday, 7 p.m. - Lecture on the Cuban Constitution of 1940 by Dr. Antonio Acosta, at Union City Public Library, 43rd Street and New York Avenue.
Friday, 8 p.m. - Conference on the teachings of Cuban writer and patriot Jose MartÝ, at the Club Fomento, 522 38th St., Union City.
Sunday, 7 p.m. - Tribute to Cuban singers Celia Cruz |and Beny More at the Club Fomento, 522 38th St., Union City.
May 18, 11 a.m. - Proclamation ceremony, by invitation only, featuring acting Governor Codey and Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, in Trenton.
May 18, 7 p.m. - Conference on Jose MartÝ and Simon BolÝvar by Professor Alberto Yannuzzi, at the Club Fomento, 522 38th St., Union City.
May 19, 9 a.m. - Conference on Cuba’s war of independence from Spain by Josefina Carbonel, at Kean University.
May 19, 7 p.m. - Ceremony commemorating the anniversary |of Jose MartÝ‘s death in battle in 1895, at the new Jose MartÝ |Middle School in Union City.
May 20 - All-day session to monitor the developments at |the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society in Havana, at the |headquarters of the Association of Former Cuban Political |Prisoners, 505 43rd St., Union City.
May 22, 5 p.m. - Cuban Independence Day march, on |Bergenline Avenue from 59th Street in West New York |to 42nd Street in Union City.