The following is a response by opposition leader Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas to an Associated Press article that appeared on September 23, 2011 titled Cuba's opposition tries to plot fresh course. It coincides with a blog entry analyzing the same article by Cuban dissident blogger, Miriam Celaya, which is critical of the news bureaus based in Cuba. It appears that Paul Haven and Andrea Rodríguez hit a nerve. Oswaldo Paya's response is important and should be paid close attention because he is offering an overview of the situation in the island that is speaking truth to power. It is also implicitly and at times explicitly criticizing all who are too timid to speak out. Sadly, this appears to include some who should know better.
On September 20 the reporter, Andrea Rodriguez, of the Associated Press agency, visited me at my house for my opinion on the subject of the dissidence. During the conversation the journalist gave her own opinions and carried out five questions. Days later the AP published the information on the subject in which only appear a few references to sentences emitted by me in that conversation.
The conversation in my house was filmed with the consent of the visiting journalist with a camera of my family.
The subject is topical and important for the nonviolent opposition and for Cubans. I believe it is of interest to international public opinion. It is my right to publish my own opinions made on that occasion but the full extent to which the public can truly know and not just a micro sample as published by the Associated Press.
This written transcript and edited video made public only contains my words and not the questions and opinions of the journalist. Thank you very much. Speaking to you was Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas.Edited Transcript:
OSWALDO PAYÁ: What you just said is the description of the doctrine of disqualifying the dissidents based on those alleged changes, it is as if the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa continued today, but it seems that it makes no sense.
Anyway, in order to answer the question of what the situation of the dissident movement is we need to talk about what the people’s current situation is. There is a majority of poor people who are increasingly poor, a majority of exploited people in a country where the monthly salary only buys you three meals and there is no chance to improvement
A Cuban citizen cannot enter and leave the country, cannot express himself freely in the street. Why do you talk as if there was no communism or the CDR and the state security services did not monitor citizens, or there was no syndicated or communist party in each work center and academic institution in order to control and threaten people, or there was no discrimination in the access to power based on political and ideological grounds? Can the Cuban people finally freely choose their leaders in elections where there are several candidates for congress or the government?
What are we talking about? Is Cuba already a democracy? People have not heard about that.
Have economic changes already taken place in Cuba? Which ones?
While the poor sell discs or fried food, the heirs of the regime who own luxurious restaurants and live in beautiful palaces. There is a subclass generated by the oligarchy and its members have no future.
Let’s talk about the prospects for the people of Cuba, who do not know what is going to happen with their oil or with the development of the strip of the Mariel, and their growing distress because nobody can make life plans.
Therefore, the dissident community, although silenced, although victims of many maneuvers against it in which many sectors participate to silence it, and say “you´re not worthy anymore”. There are political prisoners in Cuba; the son of a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) was sentenced to 12 years in jail for the sole reason of being the son of a MCL member. His name is Yosvany Melchor Rodriguez and he was artificially condemned in Santiago de Cuba on November 30, 2010, after his mother was threatened by state security forces for not wanting to cooperate against us.
Therefore, the culture of fear has not disappeared, the order of the absence of civil and political rights. What is the change we are talking about? So far there is a promise that people are going to be able to buy and sell cars, but that is only a promise. Who is going to be able to buy and sell cars? Those in the upper class, not the majority of people. They are selling a virtual reality as if it was real change, and that is fraud. It is outrageous.
In Pinochet’s Chile, even in Batista’s times we could buy and sell cars, maybe even in South Africa during apartheid.
What do they mean? That we cubanitos just need the promise, not the fact, that one day we will be able to buy and sell cars, sell fried food or discs? And they say that change has already started in Cuba.
Look, that’s a source of tensions, that’s a joke, a mega-fraud for the Cuban people. We, Cubans, have the right to have rights. Our movement, along with many other dissidents, launched “The People’s Path,” where we say that changes are rights and not “maneuvers” and rights mean changes in the law in order to guarantee freedom of expression, the right to travel, to own companies, to freely express opinions in the media; those rights that are being claimed in many countries around the world by the people and by the new generations.
And the right to free elections. Why are there not free elections?
What do they mean? Were these people born to be ruled for 52 years by Fidel Castro and now 50 more years by Raúl Castro, the new oligarchy and their descendants? That’s the source of inequality, the poverty of the majority, the separation of families, the anxiety and fear that the Cuban people suffer.
The people of Cuba are entitled to live in dignity and to build their own projects.
What are they going to tell us now?
Why the dissidents?
For this, look at Cuba and tell me if the dissident movement is necessary or not. That’s why they want to silence it, because we are the only ones who are radically demanding rights, freedom and free elections, in a context where everything is set up to hand Cuba out as a cake; to give it away and auction it to the new oligarchy, who says that you have to give a vote of confidence to Raúl Castro. We say that what you have to do is give the vote to the Cuban people.
We had never faced such danger, such outrage and humiliation, and that’s why the dissident movement makes sense.
OSWALDO PAYÁ: That is a misconception, we do have a project. I think you can find the Varela Project in the AP files, and the Transitional Program must be in the AP files as well.
There is a plot to say that the opposition has no project. You received “the people’s path”. How can you say that we don’t have a project? We have a project, we have proposals, and we have proposed changes in the electoral law, in the law of associations. In “The people’s path” we proposed a national dialogue and a road map which signifies dialogue in a spirit of reconciliation and changes in the laws. For instance, the creation of an electoral commission constituted by representatives from the opposition, the government and the Church, and a similar commission to regulate and facilitate access to the media.
Yes, we do have a project, we do have proposals. You don’t see us more openly because they repress and persecute us. Give us 15 minutes on Mesa Redonda. Let’s have the foreign press in Cuba do this more often. Don't just take our opinion. Travel across Cuba and you will see how there are repressed activists, who are persecuted and beaten up. We are in the midst of fierce repression and it is very unfair to say that the dissident movement is invisible. The dissident movement is out there and people know it, they know it in every neighborhood, in every town, in the countryside.
There is tremendous interest in saying that there is no dissident movement, that it is fragmented, divided, that it has no program. But that is false.
That is what the government needs to sustain the idea of the conspiracy against the people of Cuba at this moment.
Now that the military oligarchy, with the complicity of most states—European, North American and from Latin America—decide to give a vote of confidence to Raúl Castro. That’s why the dissident movement is so bothered, because we are saying that which is radical, and that is: Cuba continues to be a state of “no rights”, a state where citizens’ dignity is not respected and where the poor have no voice even to say they are poor.
OSWALDO PAYÁ: Are you sure that during the Chilean military dictatorship the dissident movement did not have air time on the Catholic radio? I know they did. Besides, there was a time when international society pressured the regime and was supportive as it has never been with Cuba. In Cuba, they are looking for justifications to disqualify the dissident movement.
First of all, there are not three ways. There is only one way, and that’s how we have established it in “The people’s path.” Those who demonstrate in the streets signed the “The People’s Path,” the most important bloggers also signed it. There are different styles, different dimensions but you cannot say they have no project, no.
Talk to José Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who is encouraging demonstrations in Santiago de Cuba with great courage. He does have a project and I know it well.
It is easy to say that they are a trail of people. But no, they are people who have the courage and the dignity to take to the streets at the expense of much suffering for his family. That’s why they are persecuted.
What do we need to ask ourselves is why are they beaten up?
Where in the world does a woman dressed in white walking down the street constitute a provocation? Only in a fascist-communist regime like this.
Therefore the victim gets criticized because no one dares to criticize the executioner. There is a real “moral inversion,” in what the foreign media, intellectual circles, ecclesiastical circles, diplomats and politicians are doing against the people of Cuba and against the dissident right now. They judge the persecuted, the poor, those who are silenced, but they do not dare to judge the government. And what the government needs to be told is what we say in “the People’s Path”. Hold free elections; change the law so Cubans can express themselves, so they can choose. But what they want is to keep their privileges while they say that everything has been agreed upon. This joke will go very wrong because the people of Cuba are not stupid, and the majority are still poor and distressed.
But the worst is that the foreign media, intellectual circles, ecclesiastical circles, and entire states are accompanying the Cuban government in setting up this fraud, this joke that will bring only confrontation and pain to Cubans, and that is keeping the majority of the Cuban people silent and gagged while this virtual scenario for change is being created.
We are trying to draw attention to this but also demanding and saying that, after 52 years of totalitarianism, we want what all peoples want: freedom, rights, and free elections. The opposition is focusing on that direction: fundamental rights so citizens can organize and express themselves, and free elections.
They are telling us that we don’t connect with the people. Who does connect with them? Let’s ask the people in a referendum.
And those 15 minutes on television or ten minutes on radio are indeed important, that’s why we don’t get them, because they are scared of the truth. And that’s not because we are ourselves the possessors of the truth, but the truth that the people want a different life and we want to tell everyone who has relations with Cuba (and I say this with great responsibility) that cooperating with this lie and fraud does not help Cubans, it just helps them sink.
Some people make comparisons with Libya and Egypt, and they wonder why Cubans do not go out on the streets. I will never call on Cubans to take to the streets because I am convinced that Cubans will never go out on the streets because someone tells them to do so, and I am convinced that the day they go out in the streets no one is going to put them back in their homes with fear or terror.
But while we are demanding people’s rights, we do not want intervention for Cuba; neither do we want to become a new Libya, nor allowing the slaughter of Cubans so they can then come and bomb and make a pact with a repressive general.
Look, we want this “people’s path,” which is peaceful, transparent, and addresses the root of the problem by providing the solution: let’s give Cubans rights and voice, let’s launch a national dialogue, let’s hold free elections. But let’s avoid the convergent roads that are communism, the mega-fraud, the lie and the outrage that the Cuban people are suffering while an oligarchy which are the new rich makes pacts with the rich of the world, and of the savage capitalism that will eventually lead to a confrontation because they are marginalizing and doing to the people of Cuba what they did in 1898. I am saying this passionately because that’s how I feel.
As a Cuban, I am not a tourist or someone who is living in a glass case, I eat in a workers’ canteen, I relate to doctors, nurses, patients. My coworkers, whom I love and I’m proud to work with, despite having the state security watching me. I walk down these streets with my colleagues and friends, my neighbors. I know how Cubans feel, and they want a new life, they want freedom, they want rights. Unfortunately, they can only think of getting out of Cuba, no matter how—as a missionary, collaborator, visitor, invitee or refugee. But why? Exile has always been a punishment to Cubans.
I am not going to make a speech, I’m just telling you that up until now we have suffered totalitarianism, but now we are suffering the biggest attempt of fraud in all this time, which is imposing an image of change without real rights. We will not allow it; we will continue to demand rights, even if they say that the dissident movement, the opposition, does not exist.
But we claim...
OSWALDO PAYÁ: In the first place, the state security is a machine of terror against the citizens, you know what Cubans commonly call state security – place your ear – here comes the Gestapo, and this is a popular word, they know that I did not invent it, but in something it seems. State security is a factory of lies and it is ridiculous and in addition rather mediocre professionally, lying, catch a crook or agent, infiltrate him in the opposition, in independent journalism to tell lies, to sabotage civic work, for bad information and then to say that this is what the dissidence does.
They did not have nor wanted the delicacy to do this well, that’s to say that the actual state security invents an independent journalist and he is a liar under the guise of an independent journalist, the liar is state security two times over, for inventing the fake independent journalist and for making that journalist tell lies, this is what they are used to and this is what they do.
OSWALDO PAYÁ: In the dissidence, a face, frankly none, not one because what they are saying is the weakness that the regime has, to be able to discredit us; they must invent figures, groups and situations that are not found naturally in the dissident movement.
It is a revelation of mediocrity, of falsehood and even more, immorality without shame. Why instead don’t we talk about the Varela Project and why not talk about the Heredia Project on television? Why do we not talk about the People’s Path? Why are we not permitted to explain to the citizens what we actually believe and want? I know, because the people when they read the Varela Project, when they read the Law of National Reconciliation and Against Discrimination, they will have the courage or not of signing it, additionally we respect them, but they say this is what should be, and until the revolutionaries say it, the soldiers say it, because the regime has trapped the whole country, they have trapped up to those who are ministers and generals and us with passion but with no class hatred and no hate of any class, with a very profound peace, we are saying to them, don’t act against history any longer, let the next generations have their own lives, have your own life, we forgive and look forward to build a new society, keeping that which is positive, but with free men and women.
They are infatuated arrogant people who in continuing to maintain the people as if they were their property, after having devoured the lives of three generations. Enough, enough, and I believe that this is a cry that is in the hearts of many Cubans, many Cubans that do not want Cuba to be a Libya, the majority, that don’t want an intervention, but that do not want to continue living like this, we want a new life, and listen to me, if we are looking for a word for this new life, I would say it is freedom!