Friday, July 12, 2019

Dr. Ricardo Bofill, founder of the Cuban human rights movement. Requiescat in Pace

"I can't understand the hatred towards me. Because, really in the only field I’ve done battle, is the field of ideas." - Dr. Ricardo Bofill, 1987 in "Nobody Listened" documentary
Dr. Ricardo Bofill in a PBS documentary in 2005
The founder of the human rights movement in Cuba just passed away in Miami. Ricardo Bofill co-founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in 1976, dedicated his entire life to and suffered years in Cuban prisons for defending human rights.

This blog has celebrated the work of Dr. Bofill over the years and will do so again today. His story and legacy changed the course of a nation, and the outcome is still playing out today. The 400th blog on this site was dedicated to him.

On December 10, 2014 Regis Regis Iglesias, spokesperson of the Christian Liberation Movement at 1:40pm posted a picture of Ricardo Bofill over twitter with the text: "Honoring honor. Ricardo Bofill, an essential reference in the defense of Human Rights of Cubans." He was and remains correct in his assessment of this man.

Ricardo Bofill, President of the organization that initiated the civic movement during 
the first exposition of dissident art, shortly before an assault by repressive forces
In the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened, directed by Néstor Almendros and Jorge Ulla the world was introduced to Ricardo Bofill and the nonviolent human rights movement on the big screen.  Dr. Bofill is interviewed and discusses his circumstances as a dissident in Cuba engaged in the battle of ideas:
"I can't understand the hatred towards me. Because, really in the only field I’ve done battle, is the field of ideas. In this field I’ve had no response just prison and the police. And I don’t know why because the revolution controls all mass media. They have editorials, journalists, even many writers in the world. I don’t know why the response, time and again, has been jail. The response should come in the field I fight in, with ideas. I was arrested again in 1983. On that occasion, I was sentenced to 17 years in jail accused of activities in the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and the last period of prison began. For reasons of health and others I know not of in 1985 I was placed in the status I’m now in which is “conditional liberty with restriction of movement.”
Fidel Castro was asked the name of the human rights defender in another interview. The Cuban dictator dismisses his importance, but it is obvious in the context of his answer that he knows very well who this lone activist is, and views him as a threat.

Dr. Ricardo Bofill in the documentary Nobody Listened in 1987
Why do they view Bofill's movement as an existential threat? The Castro dictatorship's ideology and revolution are based in violence and blood shed. The July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks is a failure not only in the short term defeat suffered by Castro's forces but in the long term degradation of Cuban society and the abandonment of dialogue, moral and ethical restraints in favor of a cult of violence nurtured by a dictatorship now in its 60th year in power. 

Even the men responsible for doing this now complain about the society their revolution has created.They blame Cubans for their poor behavior and customs. Of course men and women with sound moral groundings who speak clearly what they believe and defend human dignity and freedom have an unfortunate tendency to die under suspicious circumstances in Cuba.

There are two traditions battling for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for over half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas belong to the dictatorship. 

The second, an older tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using nonviolent means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi, that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 are still there in Cuba's nonviolent civic resistance movement.

This is the movement founded by Ricardo Bofill and a handful of activists on January 28, 1976 that today is  a nationwide movement of thousands who are nonviolently engaged in the battle of ideas and the defense of human rights. Today's repression across the island continues to demonstrate that the Castro regime is terrified of what Ricardo Bofill started.

In an open letter written in 1986 Dr. Bofill rejected regime slanders and staked out their position as a movment: "We have nothing to do with the CIA, we do not participate in violent acts, we have no other weapon than the word, and we are going to use it while we have a breath of life left."

In 1988 he was forced out of the country by the dictatorship, but continued his human rights work from exile in Miami, while Gustavo Arcos remained and continued to do the work in Cuba.

Dr. Bofill meets President Reagan in The White House in 1988
It is a long and frustrating struggle to achieve the freedom of a country in the grip of totalitarian rule. One must neither over estimate or underestimate what has been achieved and what remains to be done. This is a marathon, not a sprint that requires persistence and faith, not despair. Dr. Bofill told me that 28 years ago and it still holds true today.

This is what he did, and Dr. Ricardo Bofill's legacy will live on in Cuba and in the end will triumph over the forces of brute force and tyranny.

Requiescat in pace.

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