Sunday, March 18, 2018

15 years after the "Black Spring" of Cuba

Remembering the Black Cuban Spring and the future

2003 - 2018 Spring will return
Fifteen years ago on March 18, 2003 a crackdown began in Cuba on the eve of the United States going to war in Iraq. Scores of Cuban dissidents were rounded up and subjected to political show trials. 75 were condemned to lengthy prison terms of up to 28 years in prison. This became known as the Black Cuban Spring. The majority of the imprisoned activist had participated in the Varela Project, a petition drive that called for a referendum under the terms of the Cuban Constitution on whether there should be more freedom of expression, an amnesty for political prisoners and a chance for ordinary citizens to own small businesses. 11,020 signatures had been turned 10 months earlier on May 10, 2002. The regime had responded with its own mandatory petition drive to make the Cuban Constitution unchangeable, and with this crackdown that included the firing execution of three young black men who had tried to hijack a vessel to Cuba. 

The Economist in its December 14, 2005 issue published a conversation with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas titled "An unsilenced voice for change" that outlined what had taken place:

Between 2001 and 2004, Mr Payá's movement gathered 25,000 signatures in a vain attempt to persuade Cuba's National Assembly to change the constitution to allow multi-party democracy. Activists of his Christian Liberation Movement made up more than two-thirds of the 75 dissidents and journalists rounded up and jailed for long terms in April 2003. [...] Spain is “complaisant” with Mr Castro's regime, Mr Payá says. “We need a campaign of support and solidarity with peaceful change in Cuba” of the kind that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa and to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
It took over eight years, but the last of the group of the 75 were eventually released. Oswaldo was murdered along with the Christian Liberation Movement's youth leader Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012. His successor Eduardo Cardet is a prisoner of conscience, brutally beaten, and repeatedly stabbed while under the Castro regime's custody. Nevertheless the legacy of the Varela Project continues in the campaign One Cuban, One Vote.
One Cuban, One Vote proposes to members of the National Assembly that at the time of drafting a new electoral law, the right to choose of all Cubans inside and outside Cuba, the right to return to their own country and be elected all must be recognized and guaranteed. The right of Cubans to vote directly and without the Candidacy Commissions, which are the anti-constitutional instrument of the regime to prevent it.
 Today, one of the Cuban dissidents arrested, tried and sentenced to 18 years in prison, Regis Iglesias Ramírez, wrote a reflection, in Spanish, on the 15th anniversary of the crackdown. Below is the translation.

11,020 Varela Project signatures turned in on May 20, 2002
15 years after the "Black Spring" of Cuba 
by Regis Iglesias Ramírez
There is no need for a pretext, the mere fact of dissent and work so that in Cuba the people take back the reins of their own destiny is enough for the gangster regime of Havana to repress with all the violent forces of power those that challenge it even by exercising the rights that a draconian Constitution in force recognizes.
On May 10, 2002, the world learned that Cubans not only expressed their disapproval with more than half a century of totalitarianism by setting up rustic and fragile boats or taking refuge in embassies to try to escape from the suffocating lack of freedom and economic hardship. On that day, the Varela Project initiative of law was presented to the National Assembly with the support of 11,020 citizen signatures as established in article 88, paragraph g of the Cuban Constitution.
The collection and revision of that vote was made by a handful of leaders and activists of the opposition, also citizens who without belonging to any organization joined and in the midst of persecution, without material resources, with betrayals, manipulations, repression, and violence crossed the whole country to find the Cubans who were tired of their own fatigue and wanted to tell the regime "we have the right to rights."
The Project had been announced to the public in January 1998, then, in 2000, more than 140 opposition and human rights groups, under the unifying initiative All United Todos Unidos, promoted, led by Oswaldo Payá, an appeal to the population to join the initiative. In 2001, when it was already evident that some from All United dedicated themselves to giving us false signatures, discouraging the liberating attempt and deceiving about the objectives and mobilizing methodology of the Varela Project, the Citizens' Committee were founded that saved and achieved the objective of collecting the signatures but also that of extending to every corner of the country the civic action and began to be the minimum social base capable of being the reference in the fight against totalitarianism.
This was what really triggered the alarms of the dictatorship, many Cubans inside the island began to organize themselves in a civic way to demand their rights. When the first 11,020 citizen signatures validating the bill demanding the referendum were presented to the National Assembly on May 10, 2002, the Spring of Cuba began.
Therefore, on March 18, 2003, the regime unleashed a repressive escalation that lasted several days and more than forty national managers of the referendum lawsuit, seventy-five opponents in all, were kidnapped and sentenced in summary trials to long prison sentences.
The 15th anniversary of those events that were known as "The Black Spring" has been celebrated, but the repressive vortex against those in Cuba or exile remains coherently committed to returning popular sovereignty to the Cubans.

In 2010 most of the managers of the Varela Project in prison were exiled to Spain, after the regime left to die in prison after a prolonged hunger strike in which potable water was removed during a critical time, to Orlando Zapata Tamayo. A few months later, the regime was in negotiated with Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the Spanish Socialist government of José Luis Zapatero for the exile of most of the prisoners of that Black Spring.
Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, the latter a young man who had been expelled from the University for collecting signatures backing Varela in 2003 and joined the Christian Liberation Movement, were murdered in 2012 while traveling to the east of the island to meet with activists and leaders of the Citizens Committee. Laura Pollán, leader of the Ladies in White, the group of mothers, wives, daughters and relatives of the opponents imprisoned in 2003, which was founded to demand the freedom of their own, had died due to medical complications still not fully clarified. We, the Referendum Managers on the Varela Project, banished, do not have the right to return to our own country.
The regime managed to get the democracies of the old continent to lift the Common European Position, which was an instrument in solidarity with the rights of the Cuban people. It restored its relations with the United States. But it continues to imprison opponents such as the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Dr. Eduardo Cardet. They also tried to murder him a few months ago in the prison where they keep him kidnapped. The regime maintains the segregation, the oppression, the Black Spring has not ended, the rights demanded in the Varela Project have not yet been recognized and guaranteed.
But no one can prevent spring from coming, that the Cuban people will be reborn after more than half a century of darkness and oppression. The spring that made possible 11,020 citizens who have been joined over these years with tens of thousands more in the demand for freedom

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