August 14, 2000

What do Cubans want?

Sardiñas. Published Monday, August 14, 2000, in the Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Given there's so much doubt and speculation about what Cubans want, why not ask us?

Before asking about the U.S. embargo, however, ask us about the total embargo imposed by our totalitarian state. Cubans don't trade with anyone; only the government trades, and it's so repressive, it doesn't permit us to participate in the nation's economic life.

People who have become "the new entrepreneurs'' are leaders of Cuba's single party -- the Communist Party -- officials of the New Rich, facing an impoverished majority forbidden to own businesses. Free-lance workers are hounded. Police will mistreat a blind man selling trinkets. They'll stop and frisk someone carrying a bag with beans, fish, peanuts, bread -- anything that can be confiscated.

To the Cuban state, the economy is a mechanism for dominating families and society. That's why the highest political leaders insist that "there will be no changes, not even when the embargo is lifted.'' Lifting the embargo won't solve the problems of the Cuban people. Maintaining it, is no solution, either.

Last month I talked with U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., and told them:

"You can't reduce the Cuban reality to a binary code of zeros and ones, i.e. `Embargo Yes' and `Embargo No.' That's the wrong way to state the problem. Placing Cuba's problems at the heart of U.S. policy and attempting to link its solutions to changes is the Americanization of our reality. What's needed is the de-Americanization of the Cuban problem and its solution.

"It's not up to the United States to solve Cuba's problems, much less to design details of its transition in the manner of the Helms-Burton Act, which ought to be repealed.

"The embargo on medicine and food should be lifted at once. You can't justify the embargo by saying it promotes peaceful changes in Cuba, because it is incapable of doing so. On the other hand, those who say that investment, tourism and cultural exchanges are ways to promote democracy become participants in an unfair order, strengthening a regime that alienates its own people.

"You ask if the solution lies with or without Fidel Castro, and you wonder who will succeed him. This is what we call `Fidelization' of the problems. What's needed is to `de-Fidelize' your vision of the Cuban reality and to understand that the solution does not hinge on the will of one man. It will come through a peaceful civil movement that is already under way.

"We advocate the Varela Project, which calls for a referendum.''

I gave the senators a copy of the Varela Project, asking them to distribute it to the U.S. Congress.

Those who respect self-determination must support the Cuban people's right to be consulted via referendum on fundamental issues: changes in the law to guarantee unequivocally freedom of speech and the right to assemble, the right to own and run businesses, amnesty for political prisoners, and truly democratic elections. These rights belong to Cubans because we are human.


We shall go on with our struggle, whether or not Castro governs. We shall struggle whether the embargo remains or is lifted. We shall struggle until freedom and justice are brought to our homeland. That is the Christian Liberation Movement.

Cubans in the diaspora should realize that people here support the civil struggle for a referendum. The manifesto All United, signed by more than 60 opposition and human-right groups inside Cuba, states: "Many want to speak for all Cubans. It's time to consult the Cuban people at the polls, so they legally can decide what laws should rule their lives.''

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas is head of the dissident Christian Liberation Movement in Havana.

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald

Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación


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