By Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas | Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement
I live in Havana , Cuba , in a modest neighborhood called Cerro. When the first democratically-elected government was installed in Chile , the first Chilean Christian Democrats visited our country. They dared to contact us, we who from the inside were, and still are, engaged in the peaceful struggle for democracy and freedom in Cuba.
They brought us a message of hope. After living for 17 years under military rule, the Chilean people began to walk peacefully down the path of democracy and respect for human rights. As we shared our experiences under dictatorial regimes, we learned that there is no distinguishing between good or better dictatorships; between left-wing or right-wing dictatorships; they are simply dictatorships. It was extraordinary to us that people who had suffered under a dictatorship, even one that was ideologically different from the one established in Cuba, had the honesty to acknowledge that on our island there was, and still is, a dictatorship. This is how many Chileans have shown their solidarity with us for years. Sadly, I must say that this is not the attitude held by the current Chilean government. It seems that they have lost their memory, and are guided by a one-sided morality that tells them that dictatorships—so long as they are not right-wing—can be good or even desired by the people.
I say this because I am writing about Cuba ’s human rights situation after 50 years under the Castro regime. We now stand alone, because all Latin American countries have left us behind, all the way from Mexico to Chile and Argentina . No nation, including the Cuban nation, would choose not to have the right to choose ever again. Cuban citizens did not choose to relinquish their right to travel, their right to freedom of expression, or their right to move freely at home, at school or at work. Nor did we choose to allow a Chilean or a Russian citizen to own a business and relinquish our own right. Much less did we choose the existence of only one political party to deny to us citizens the right to form other political parties, free labor unions, and—in practice—our sovereign right to reform the laws and Constitution of our country. This totalitarian regime has been imposed on us; we did not choose it.
Many have asked for an assessment of Cuba , but one cannot reduce half a century of our history into mere political evaluations. We have experienced much love and hatred, much generosity, and good and bad deeds. We have also seen a massive exodus of people to other countries in search of freedom. But much greater has been the support given to the Cuban government. At times this support has been very sincere, but no one can say how much is feigned because we live in a culture of fear. In short, we have experienced everything except freedom.
The lack of freedom and civic and political rights has facilitated the perpetuation of this government for 50 years, under the veil of social justice and sovereignty. Cuba is a country where power and money are concentrated in the minority, while the majority remains poor and without a voice.
Nonetheless, we do have an alternative. It is the Varela Project, which proposes a referendum to initiate change by giving the people a voice to reclaim their rights. We have been harassed and persecuted while we demand these rights for all.
This alternative is based on national reconciliation and seeks to safeguard the good changes while opening the future to men and women of a new generation to be free. Many have been imprisoned under inhumane conditions, alongside regular prisoners, for being part of our peaceful initiative. When there is no freedom, no one can speak on behalf of the people. Thus, as an indisputable starting point, we can say: we Cubans want freedom.
Letter from Senator Mariano Ruiz Esquide
The government of Chile has announced that, due to matters of state, our Madam President will not meet with Mr. Oswaldo Payá from the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba . I absolutely respect her decision, which is supported by the Chilean Constitution.
Nevertheless, another way to view international relations is the globalization of human rights, which as has been written, “Everything that affects my brother, affects me.”
We have pursued this for 17 years, and this is the view we should defend. All countries should acknowledge and promise to respect liberty and human dignity, when it is convenient and when it is not, as Saint Paul said.
I have been received by the Cuban government, which has allowed me to meet with Payá. I do not see any reason why our Madam President cannot do so upon request. I have a deep respect for the Cuban people, perhaps because my father was once about to emigrate there, perhaps because of the strength of their identity, or perhaps because of their late independence from Spain and then from the United States.
Or perhaps it is because no Latin American youth during the late fifties stopped dreaming and hoping for the happiness of its people. This is not interfering with internal politics; it is giving testimony to freedom.
The Christian Democrats celebrated Batista’s fall on January 2, 1959. For this reason I spoke before the Chamber of Deputies, defending the liberating essence of the Castro revolution as the hope of many Latin Americans.
This is why I rejected Pinochet’s coup from the beginning, and the reason why I ask Chile not to overlook this side of Cuba . Oswaldo Payá is not a traitor or a worm; he embodies the exact nature of the opening of Fidel’s Cuba – Cuban’s right to think and defend the identity of their nation.
Cuba is not only about politics and business; it is also about every Cuban and his hopes. When I said goodbye to Payá at his modest house in Havana , as he tried to get his old Citroen started, he said to me, “When you see me again, the avenues in my country will have opened again, like Allende said”. That is why I write this.