Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nonviolent activists writing Castro's final chapter

Originally published in The Miami Herald on Sat, July 26, 2003

Nonviolent activists writing Castro's final chapter
by John Suarez

Today, Fidel Castro will celebrate with rallies and speeches the 50th anniversary of the violent act that helped establish his dictatorship. In 1998 the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was observed by beating and arresting activists.

Fifty-five years ago, a Cuban delegation representing a constitutional republic wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration. It provided an eight-hour work day; the right to strike; university independence; and had large numbers of newspapers and radio stations with diverse political and ideological viewpoints.

After Fulgencio Batista destroyed the constitutional order with his dictatorship, the Cuban people fell for a charismatic young lawyer who promised the return of democracy through violence. On Jan. 1, 1959 Castro came to power and has remained there 44 years.

What of the values of the men who, in good faith, used violence to effect democratic change? They did not fare so well. Mario Chanes de Armas, for example, survived the Moncada barracks attack -- whose anniversary is today -- along with Fidel Castro. The two served in prison, trained in Mexico and returned to Cuba on the Granma yacht to defeat Batista.

Chanes could have had any position in the new regime, but opted to return to his brewery job. After two years of watching Castro betray their movement, Chanes spoke out against the communist influence. Chanes was tried as a counterrevolutionary and imprisoned for 30 years.

The men and women who battled Batista's dictatorship had hoped for the restoration of Cuba's Constitution of 1940 and its republic. They got a totalitarian dictatorship instead. They then fought Castro for six years in a civil war with casualties on both sides substantially higher than the struggle against Batista. This opposition ended up in exile, graves or imprisoned. Within those cells, Cuba's human-rights movement was forged.

A movement that saw the power of nonviolent resistance exercised by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. practiced it in Castro's dungeons and saw it as a means to mobilize the Cuban populace. It grew into a national civic movement challenging the dictatorship's monopoly of power.

Its means and ends are a civic, nonviolent struggle that educates citizens, rebuilds democratic culture, reclaims human rights, refuses to accept injustice and challenges repression. Members expose the dictatorship's internal contradictions by demanding that it respect the democratic provisions of its own constitution.

Oswaldo Payá, a movement leader, observes: "What we are seeing with this crackdown is the last chapter of this system."

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