The Unstoppable Cuban Spring

By Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas
Saturday, July 1, 2006

HAVANA -- In March 2003 dozens of leaders of Cuba's Varela Project and other human rights defenders were detained, subjected to summary trials, condemned to many years in prison, and confined in the most inhumane and cruel conditions. They were treated like -- and held in cells with -- dangerous common criminals. In this way the regime attempted to suppress the rebirth of the Cuban Spring initiated by thousands of Cubans who overcame a debilitating culture of fear by including their names, addresses and identification numbers in the text of the Varela Project, a document later presented to the National Assembly asking for a referendum on its human rights principles. Despite inhuman treatment and illegal detention, the regime could not stop the rebirth of the Cuban Spring: Many Cubans continue to support the Varela Project even amid repression that includes death threats and physical assault.

Later in 2003 we announced that we had developed a working document of about 50 pages that would serve as a guide for a National Dialogue (a discussion in which all Cubans could freely express their thoughts, desires and goals for Cuba). At the same time, state security forces persecuted us throughout the country. Moreover, individuals inside and outside Cuba used whatever means were at their disposal to attack and discourage us from bringing this dialogue to fruition. Once again Cubans persevered, and thousands of them, in Cuba and in exile, participated in the National Dialogue.

In doing so, despite the repression, the Cubans involved in this democratic dialogue developed a program for change. We worked to take control of our future. Cubans, as individuals and as teams, wrote their opinions and contributed to enriching this process. Some 12,000 participated, and many more read the working document. We created eight committees that worked together to synthesize our citizens' contributions in such areas as social security, health, the economy and property rights, reconciliation and amnesty, and institutional changes. In this way, Cubans pointed out their goals for improving Cuba and suggested paths for accomplishing these goals.

On May 10 this year we publicly presented the Program for All Cubans (Programa Todos Cubanos). It is the product of the National Dialogue and contains proposals for a number of endeavors, including modification of the constitution, a new electoral law, a new law of associations and a plan for changes (titled "Cuba First"). The editing of this document was done by Cubans, completely within Cuba.

The Program for All Cubans is more than a document; it is an expression of the will of Cubans to achieve changes peacefully and by our own hand -- changes that involve and include all Cubans. In this National Dialogue, Cubans have demonstrated that we know where we want to go and how to get there.

We want to preserve the right to free health care and education, and to expand our rights to include freedom of religious education and freedom of expression. We do not want change if it comes at the cost of paying a ransom to those in power, allowing them to take control of the country's resources, to define its values, to become millionaires and to leave the people of the country in distress.

In Cuba, there will be no lynchings, no revenge, no exclusions. Those now in power will have the same rights as all citizens. There will be no uncontrolled privatizations, but there will be a guarantee for the right of all Cubans to a free economy, the right to have private enterprise and to trade freely. No one will be forced out of his home; the law will prohibit evictions. All Cubans in exile will regain their rights as Cuban citizens.

This program is and will remain a proposal until Cubans approve it in a referendum; in the meantime, it is open for dialogue and for further development.

The Cuban Spring has been reborn; hope has been reborn. Through this "dialogue without borders," Cubans themselves have built and continue building our path toward democracy, toward a free society that is more just and humane. What Cuba needs is many voices around the world that demand the freedom of political prisoners and support this path for Cuba.

The writer is a leader of the human rights movement in Cuba.


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