Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Nonviolent Legacy of Payá: Demonstrating Love is Stronger than Hate

The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized. - Oswaldo Payá, December 17, 2002

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was right when he observed that the failure of global solidarity would endanger both human rights and the right to remain human.  At the same time he demonstrated throughout his life the power of nonviolence and prior to his untimely death provided Cubans a road map to peaceful change called "The Peoples Path" whether or not the dictatorship in Cuba wanted it or not.

It is best described in a hopeful vision of the future that Oswaldo outlined 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 2012 months prior to his untimely death Harold Cepero gave a clear assessment of the risk each individual takes when confronting a brutal dictatorship.
"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."
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."
In nonviolent expert Michael N. Nagler's book, "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action"  a passage that reflects both the struggle now taking place in Cuba and in Venezuela 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.
Both Cuba and Venezuela offer demonstrations of the consequences of the failure of global solidarity and the power of nonviolence to confront injustice despite great odds. Due to this failure dehumanization has proceeded to the point where many are required to make the ultimate sacrifice within a context of nonviolent resistance.

Both in Cuba and in Venezuela the democratic opposition in its vast majority have chosen to pursue a nonviolent strategy, but their respective starting points are radically different. In Cuba the regime arrived in power through a violent revolution replacing a dictator, while in Venezuela the regime took power through the ballot box. Both sought to install totalitarianism, but in the case of Venezuela the residue of democracy has made it more difficult. Another factor is that in Cuba the opposition to the regime during the first seven years was a violent resistance with guerillas in the Escambray region. Despite their courage they where either exterminated or imprisoned.

"Violent flanks" and the use of the so-called "diversity of tactics" reduces mobilization and decreases the probability of success for a resistance movement. Strategic thinker Gene Sharper put it succinctly when he said "using violence is a stupid decision."

This would explain why both the Castro and Maduro regimes manufacture evidence and constantly accuse nonviolent activists of being violent ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. First and most importantly if the charges are believed it helps to reduce popular mobilization against these regimes which is the greatest threat to their power. Secondly, it raises questions that can impact international solidarity and support. Third, it allows these regimes to infiltrate agents to carry out violent acts that delegitimize the movement placing it on the defensive in damage control mode.

The Christian Liberation Movement and the CubaDecide campaign have advocated for a plebiscite in Cuba to both mobilize and empower Cubans for a democratic change. On Sunday, July 16, 2017 the Venezuelan opposition conducted an unofficial plebiscite where more than seven million Venezuelans defying government threats went out to vote. This is not a magic bullet but it has mobilized millions of Venezuelans, attracted international attention, strengthened the opposition and placed the government in a difficult position. Cubans should be watching closely as events unfold in Venezuela. The People's Path called for by Oswaldo Payá prior to his extrajudicial killing on July 22, 2012 appears to be working in Venezuela. It is still not too late for Cubans to follow this effective and nonviolent path of liberation.

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