Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Cuban Democratic Directorate 25 years later: A look back to the midpoint

The Pedro Luis Boitel Freedom Prize, Human Rights and Directorio meets with opposition in Cuba

Between 2001 and 2003 the Cuban Democratic Directorate began a new decade of activism shifting gears, taking risks and raising the challenge to the Castro dictatorship. As Directorio marks 25 years of defending human rights in Cuba and supporting the opposition in the island's efforts to transition to a free and democratic society it is worthwhile to reflect on the midpoint of the organization's history between 2001 and 2003 when new traditions were established and courageous actions and positions taken in the continuing nonviolent struggle for liberation.

In 2001, the first Pedro Luis Boitel Freedom Prize was awarded to Juan Carlos González Leiva for his work as a human rights defender and began a tradition that would continue for the next 15 years and that will be observed this Thursday at 6:30pm at Bacardi House.

Juan Carlos González Leiva, 2001 Boitel Freedom Laureate
Without seeking permission from the Cuban government, Javier de Céspedes, President of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, traveled to Cuba in May of 2001 and met with democratic opposition leaders. There, he signed the Varela Project in Oswaldo Payá’s home in Havana. Javier also signed the Agreement for Democracy at the Cuban capitol building in a show of defiance to the island’s illegitimate government.

In August of 2002 in Havana, Cuba Lorenzo De Toro III, Vice-president of the Cuban Democratic Directorate entered Cuba to hand over humanitarian assistance to opposition activists on the island. In Miami a video is made known where Lorenzo appears with Bertha Antúnez Pernet, president in Cuba at the time of the Pedro Luis Boitel National Civic Resistance Movement.

In January of 2003 the Cuban Democratic Directorate hosted the visit of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas to Miami, Florida while demonstrating their continuing support for the Varela Project. A month later, on February 11, 2003 journalist Hank Tester in a NBC6 story titled " Big Trouble In Little Havana : Raw Emotion Is At Heart Of Discussion, wrote about the Directorate's support for the Christian Liberation Movement leader at a time when such a position was considered controversial in some quarters.
"Groups with memberships that skew a younger population of Cubans, such as the Directorio Democratico Cubano run by Orlando Gutierrez, have made numerous people-to-people contacts on the island and with political prisoners. They have also closely aligned themselves with dissidents who have formed independent libraries and Gutierrez' organization has been funneling hundreds of books to them from the US. Gutierrez has avoided the spotlight and the wrath of the hard-liners by keeping his organization low profile until recently when the Directorio hosted Oswaldo Paya's visit in Miami."
 It was also during this period of time that the Cuban Democratic Directorate began a systematic effort to get the voice of victims of repression heard at the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Adjunct National Secretary, Janisset Rivero was the pioneer in this action, training other activists at Directorio who would continue this work in later years and would be present in Geneva during the 2003 Black Cuban Spring.

On Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 6:30pm the 2015 Boitel Freedom Laureates will be announced at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at Casa Bacardi in the University of Miami located at 1531 Brescia Avenue in Coral Gables. Entrance is free.

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