Sunday, July 20, 2014

Oswaldo's and Harold's Nonviolent Legacy in Cuba: Demonstrating Love is Stronger than Hate

“The people will follow me in life, worship me in death but not make my cause their cause.” - Mohandas Gandhi, taken from Gandhi's poignant legacy
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante

Marking two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were physically taken from their families, friends and country presents an opportunity to reflect on their lives and the nonviolent example that they leave behind and the cause for which they gave their lives. Oswaldo's widow, Ofelia Acevedo on what would have been the Cuban opposition leader's 61st birthday addressed this legacy in an essay titled Fellowship of Truth:
"Oswaldo and Harold are no longer physically with us, and I remember now those words Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero prophetically uttered one day, knowing he was threatened with death: I will resurrect in the people. The same will happen here sooner rather than later. They and others who generously have lost their lives in this struggle for rights and democracy for Cuba, will be resurrected in her people. But his message of love is alive."
This nonviolent legacy continues on in Cuba and offers a hopeful vision of the future. Oswaldo outlined it in a 1990 Christmas Message from the Christian Liberation Movement:
"The rifles will be buried face down, the words of hatred will vanish in the heart without reaching the lips. We'll go out into the street and all of us will see in the other a brother, let us look to the future with the peace of he that knows that he forgave and he that has been forgiven. Let there be no blood to clean or dead to bury, the shadow of fear and of catastrophe will give way to the reconciliatory light, and Cuba will be reborn in every heart, in a miracle of love made by God and us." 
In January of 2014 following a brief interview Ofelia Acevedo pulled out a copy of this message and read it to me demonstrating its continued relevance to the Payá family. Both Oswaldo and Harold understood the risks and sacrifices in undertaking this struggle. Harold Cepero summed it up in concrete terms in 2012, the same year he was killed: 
"Christians and non-Christians who have the courage and the freedom to consider the peaceful political option for their lives, know they are exposing themselves to slightly less than absolute solitude, to work exclusion, to persecution, to prison or death." 
Presently in Cuba there are dueling legacies that run throughout Cuban history one is profoundly violent and embodied in the current political system and another one which is nonviolent and is a deep current that runs through the culture but not nearly as high profile. The nonviolent legacy that Harold and Oswaldo shared revolves around two key ideas:
• We are not against other people, only what they are doing. 
• Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence .
On December 17, 2002 in Strasbourg, France receiving the Sakharov Prize from the European Union Oswaldo explained what motivated the choice to embark on a nonviolent struggle:
"We have not chosen the path of peace as a tactic, but because it is inseparable from the goal for which our people are striving. Experience teaches us that violence begets more violence and that when political change is brought about by such means, new forms of oppression and injustice arise."
Currently, there is a debate underway both in Cuba and in the diaspora of how best to confront the dictatorship. There is a general consensus that the struggle must be nonviolent but on the issues of strategy there are differences, which within a democratic movement is only natural. 

 However, taking into consideration the history of the ongoing struggle in Cuba and the dynamics of nonviolent resistance a number of considerations should be taken into account when formulating a strategic vision.  While reading Michael N. Nagler's new book, "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action"  a passage that struck me with regards to the struggle now taking place in Cuba is critical to seeing where things stand: 

"Conflicts escalate when they are not resolved, and if they are left untended they can rapidly get out of control." From the nonviolence point of view, the intensity of a conflict is not necessarily a question of how many guns or how many people are involved (the same metric would work for a quarrel between lovers as between nations); it is primarily about how far dehumanization has proceeded. If someone no longer listens to you, is calling you names or is labeling you, it’s probably too late for petitions. In terms of knowing how to respond, we can conveniently think of this escalation in three stages that call for distinct sets of responses. Let’s call these three stages Conflict Resolution, Satyagraha (active nonviolent resistance), and—hopefully this is rare, but it helps to know it exists—Ultimate Sacrifice.
Conflict resolution works if when you register a complaint the other side listens to you and although not sympathetic to you, recognizes your shared humanity. The next stage, active nonviolent resistance, is necessary when one can not reach one's adversary through reason, and involves taking on suffering: civil disobedience, strikes, standing up to physical abuse, and the full gamut of nonviolent tactics.  Unfortunately, in the Cuban scenario the conflict has escalated to the level of "ultimate sacrifice." The Castro regime labels opponents as worms (gusanos) and mercenaries refusing to except the existence of opposition parties as a matter of law and fact.  

Both Oswaldo and Harold understood this and did not back down, because "if we cannot live with an injustice, we can risk our lives to correct it." The cause that both these men have laid out to followers and adversaries alike is that love is stronger than hate and in the end will triumph over violence and lies. It is a cause worth fighting for using the nonviolent tactics and moral principles they lived by.

No comments:

Post a Comment