Monday, April 11, 2022

Bishop Agustín Román on the Cuban Resistance: Celebrating life and lessons of a good Priest.

Ten years ago tonight Cubans lost the physical presence of one of the great leaders of the Cuban exile community who passed away at the age of 83 but his spirit and his writings live on. Bishop Agustín Román wrote and spoke about the challenges facing the Cuban people and in this December 16, 2006 reflection offered an analysis of the state of the Cuban dissident movement that remains extremely relevant a decade after his death. This is an English translation. The original Spanish text is available here.


The importance of the current internal dissident movement in Cuba
by Bishop Agustín Román


Less than a week ago we celebrated the date of December 10, the anniversary of the proclamation by the Organization of the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that is growing in importance over the years, because in it achieved capturing a strong recognition of the dignity of the individual without limitations of race, nationality or belief and without limitations of time and place either, as the same is true for all times and all peoples.

Clearly this being the statement of a secular and supra-confessional organization, there is no religious reference in that statement whatsoever. However, the men of faith and even those without being religious who have followed the development of the human race from its beginnings to the present, it is not difficult to find the source of the underlying principles of human belief about their own dignity and inherent rights in their relationship with God, a god who in almost all major religions demonstrates providence, attentive to the needs of his creatures and possessor of a clear sense of the just.

On the other hand, the important role the delegation of the Republic of Cuba to the United Nations in 1948 in the drafting and promulgation of the Universal Charter, particularly by Drs. Dihigo Ernesto, Guillermo Belt, and Guy Perez Cisneros is a historical fact.

So for me, being Cuban and Catholic, it is an enormous privilege that our beloved and respected Father Felix Varela Foundation, invited me to share with its members and friends some thoughts on the importance of current dissident movement in Cuba, as this issue cannot be properly addressed without relating it directly to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's good, then, do so now, as part of the celebrations for the 58th anniversary of the proclamation and it is urgent to do so also by the special circumstances faced by the Cuban nation in these moments.

Thanks, then, to the Father Felix Varela Foundation to create a favorable atmosphere for this opportunity to carefully and sensibly that we must seize to look carefully at the past and present of our people to learn and understand what is necessary in order that each of us can be a facilitator of a future in which that document becomes an invaluable guide of coexistence among Cubans. If we achieve that, we will be implementing in the field of civic, what the Lord previously synthesized in his new command as a compendium of his doctrine: "Love one another as I have loved you."


The dissident movement inside Cuba is something new in its methods, but is part of a tradition as old as the recorded history of the island following the discovery: the search for justice, which is equivalent to what we now define as respect for human rights. Colonization had barely started under the command of Diego de Velasquez, when he encountered the determined resistance of indigenous groups, that if we take into account their peaceful nature, and lack of coordination between different tribes in remote villages separated from each other, we have be described as remarkable, though doomed from the outset by superior numbers and armaments of the colonizers. Those Tainos were guided by the natural light that makes man differentiate between right and wrong.

Since then and even before it was surfacing the idea of the ​​Cuban as something other than Spanish, a strong sense of justice was taking over increasingly growing segments among the inhabitants of the "ever faithful Isle of Cuba", subjected to the arbitrariness of the representatives of the Crown, to the point that all students of this subject agree that that was precisely what eventually shaped the "criollo" as being different from the "peninsular."

The early rebellions of the miners of El Cobre and the planters of Jesus on the Mount in the first half of the eighteenth century, the preaching of learned men who today identify as founders of our nationality such as Father Varela, Luz y Caballero, Saco, etc.., and the first separatist conspiracies and attempts, often encouraged by Creoles of high economic status, we further indicate that the aspiration to justice was shared by men and women of all races and social strata. All this crystallizes in the Ten Years War, at whose beginning Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, after appealing to the "God of our consciousness with his hand over his heart," declared, "we believe that all men are equal, we love tolerance, order and justice ... "and later consolidated in the War of Independence, when José Martí summarizes the purpose of it saying that he wanted that "the fundamental law of the Republic be the respect of each Cuban for the full dignity of man. "

Later, over the 56 years since the establishment of the Republic until 1 January 1959, we see that the desire for justice is growing and it is the engine of social progress in Cuba. Under its influence popular laws arise, powerful labor movements, political groups, educational institutions, and social work. Early on it achieved the recognition of the right of women to vote, the eight-hour workday, the concept of equal pay for equal work, etc.. Persistent evils such as public corruption, racial discrimination and the marked economic differences between rural and urban areas, always found it rejected by citizens. The Constitution of 1940 and its complementary laws, not always obeyed, are on the path of achieving justice. The political-philosophical debate between liberals, conservatives, marxists, social democrats, etc... is a debate designed to show which proposal is closer to what is right. Cuban Catholic Action in the mid-1950s, an emerging force that proposes the Social Doctrine of the Church as an ideal vehicle for those aspirations.

These aspirations centered on demands such as the restoration of constitutional order, the cleaning up of public administration, etc.., are what were moving the large Cuban majorities support of the revolution that came to power on the first day of 1959. These same aspirations for justice are what make this euphoria quickly fade, like a soap bubble, before the marxist twist of the revolution. As early as November 1959, the Civic Plaza in Havana is filled with Catholics who, at the foot of the venerated image of Our Lady, Patroness of Cuba under the beautiful title of Our Lady of Charity, cry out loud "Social Justice, yes, communism, no! ". Then began another new and bloody stage of struggle for Cubans, this time against an enemy unknown in its cruelty and underestimated in its audacity. But again the ideal of justice moved Cubans to a heroic and at the same time extremely painful confrontation, as civil wars always are.

Without calculating risks or measuring the chances of success, those with "hunger and thirst for justice" faced a totalitarian despotism that did not hesitate to take thousands of compatriots before firing squads, and filling the prisons. The cries of "Viva Cristo Rey!" were the best evidence of the most just motivation of that struggle, which had memorable episodes at the Bay of Pigs, in the mountains and plains around the country and in urban centers where, according to the mentality of the times, tradition, and what appeared to be logical, it saw the armed violent struggle as the only way to get one day, paradoxically, the Republic that, together with Martí, we dreamed cordial, "with all and for the good of all."

By the mid-60, the magnitude of the repression, the support of the Soviet camp of the oppressors, the abandonment of those we believed allies of the fighters for democracy and the complacency of a world, many of whose leaders and thinkers believed fatally destined to fall into the Communist orbit, crushed in Cuba the active resistance. The Camarioca exodus in 1965 and subsequent "Freedom Flights" gave the mortal blow to the brave and sacrificed Cuban underground.

It continued, yes, the quiet individual resistance of the worker who broke his machinery, of the desperate one who painted a sign, or the old woman who, despite the consequences, went to Church.

It was like this up to January 28, 1976. If one were to put a date at the beginning of the active dissident movement within Cuba, it would have to be this, the day that it was consituted that is more or less diffuse, the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, founded by Ricardo Bofill and a small group of collaborators.

Not that before that date there were no dissidents. There where, many and very prominent, such as President Manuel Urrutia, Prime Minister Miro Cardona and commanders Huber Matos and Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz, just to name a few among the many who, in turn, denounced in word or deed the marxian entrail of castroism. But they ended up in prison or in exile, while many others, like the unforgettable Porfirio Ramirez, died in an unequal struggle in the mountains of Cuba. The Cubans had not yet discovered the feasibility of the nonviolent struggle as an instrument of liberation.

Underlining its membership in the historic struggle of the Cuban people for justice, the Cuban Committee for Human Rights comes to light on the anniversary of the birth of Martí and cite Father Varela as one of the inspirations of their founding document. It's the same struggle, but it is boldly different: it seeks justice, but by peaceful means. The concept of nonviolent civil resistance is introduced into the history of Cuba. Take the truth as a weapon, placing it in practice in the civic field, what Scripture proposed in the spiritual realm: "the truth shall make you free". Hence its importance at that time and its transcendence for the future of Cuba.

One must note that during all that time, before and after the emergence of active internal dissent, exile was, and remains so today, the "other lung" of the Cuban people's struggle to reclaim their rights, the "other trench," which has resisted since day one, with possibilities and without them, with hits and misses, but with exalted fidelity, totalitarianism's attempts to be made permanent in Cuba. Almost all the leaders of the dissident movement also recognize that without the support of the exiles, it would not have been possible to carry out their work, or even survive.

"The force of reason is, and should be more powerful than the reason of force." 
- Bishop Agustín Román


What began at that scrawny Cuban Committee for Human Rights, that many classified as quixotic, is at present a notable force due to their courage, their determination and their moral authority. It is not a massive movement, but it is the largest of those who have been in any of the countries which were subjected to communist totalitarianism throughout the world.

Also, it is very diverse, it includes in its ranks Cubans of all social strata of the country, medical doctors like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, engineers such as Oswaldo Paya, lawyers like Rene Gomez Manzano, economists such as Marta Beatriz Roque, poets like Regis Iglesias, educators such as Roberto de Miranda, philosophers like Jaime Legonier , ex-military such as Vladimiro Roca, peasants like Antonio Alonso, trade unionists such as Carmelo Diaz , housewives like Berta Antunez, and simple country people such as the brothers Sigler Amaya and many more.

Among them are whites, blacks and mulattoes, Catholics, Protestants and Santeros, liberals, conservatives, christian democrats, socialists and all other non-Communist political denominations. And they are from the extreme western end of the island, as the Pro-Human Rights Party, in Guane, to the extreme eastern end, as the Youth Movement for Democracy in Baracoa.

In its shadow and with its momentum has been reborn in notable measure the civil society of the nation: journalists, librarians, cooperatives, professional associations, farmers, workers, artists, intellectuals and independent disabled, among others.

They have achieved international recognition at very high levels, as witnessed by major prizes for the promotion of human rights granted to different activists by the European Union, non governmental organizations and other institutions in different countries. What is more important, every day they earn more respect among their fellow citizens.

It should be noted, also, that in Cuba, as elsewhere, important semantic differences that had importance in the past have been erased. Today, in the Cuban context, opposition and dissident are synonymous, because under the classification of "dissidents", "dissent" or "the human rights people," as the general population calls them, it includes persons such as Oswaldo Payá , for example, who never belonged to the ranks of the regime, and others who believed for more or less time in the mirage of the revolution.

We can say, therefore, that the current internal dissident movement is a vivid display of the entire Cuban nation and that it is, today, the most important agent of change within the island. In it is fulfilled the parable of the mustard seed, thus from a tiny seed has emerged a corpulent tree. It would not be prudent to exaggerate their importance in terms of the correlation of forces with the dictatorship, but neither would it be to ignore its potential as channeling the desire for justice, now widespread at the popular level, that originated when those desires were expressed by only a few.

The dissident movement does not have an effective articulation throughout the Cuban territory, but I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that it demonstrates already the ability, when the moment arrives and with adequate support, power, together with other independent bodies, religious and fraternal, that offer answers to peremptory uncertainties, the instability and initial disorder that inevitably accompany any significant change in a previously totalitarian society.

In summary, since the issue has arisen: if they ask me what the real importance of the current internal dissident movement, I would say it is the Cubans having revealed to themselves the possibility of banishing violence from political struggles and the effectiveness of non-violent methods in the pursuit of justice.

Cuba inherited old concepts which indicated that the only honorable way to resolve grievances and disputes was through blood, however evident it is today that to win by force means that it is the stronger or the better armed then the other, but not that one necessarily is in possession of reason or rights. The armed or physical confrontation became erroneously, the only acceptable proof of courage and honor.

That mentality which ferociously pushed Spaniards and their Cuban sons to confront each other when the latter justly demanded their independence, continued to mark the Republic, and that is how we saw patriots who won indisputable merits out in the fields confronted each other afterward with the same violence because of political disparities or ambitions of power, providing our nation’s history with very sad pages like the death of Quintín Banderas in the times of Estrada Palma, the racial and veterans confrontations during the government of José Miguel Gómez and the excesses of the government and the opposition during the Machado eras.

It is not wanting to judge by modern parameters, and in the light of experiences they had, to people acting according to the culture of their time and by what they had learned as good and honorable, and who, on the other hand, well are indebted for much good that they did. This is an attempt to dispassionately understand this harmful and counterproductive tradition of violence that caused rivalries and grievances passed from generation to generation, without the possibility of solution. There was always a debt to settle, and it was paid off with blood, the blood of brothers.

Along with this, we must clarify that none of this implies that one can condemn a people at one time if he is forced to resort to violence in an extreme situation, as sometimes one resorts to an amputation to avoid death, especially where the obstinacy of the oppressors shuts out all other attempted solution. Countries, like persons, have the right to defend themselves against aggression. This resort to non-desired violence, has, nevertheless to be imposed temporarily by circumstances, and not be a favored option, much less a practice or method of justifiable struggle.

The syndrome of violence that marked our Republic and to which I referred to earlier, has had its most cruel expression in the present regime. We can never forget the executed by firing squads, the tortured, the fallen in combat, those murdered while trying to escape the island. We can not nor should we forget the experience of living in fear, the heroic Calvary of political imprisonment, nor the horror of the acts of repudiation. It is precisely out of respect and gratitude to the fallen and what we have all suffered that we have to fight for their grandchildren and the grandchildren of all Cubans of the present, can live a different Cuba to the one we had to live in both them and us. A Cuba where the problems are resolved "among Cubans" in harmony and civility, not by some imposing it on others. A Cuba, finally, "where the first law of the Republic is the respect of each Cuban for the full dignity of man."

The conduct and methods that sunk Cuba and keep it under to the present, are not the ones that are going to save it. To assume the thankless task of trying to break the burdensome legacy of violence is the greatest merit of the dissident movement, because, if achieved it would be an inestimable good for Cuba, not only for today and for us, but also for the future, for those who are still to come.

More concretely, I would say that the greatest importance of the internal dissident movement in Cuba today, is that it has proven that political action can be consistent with what conscience knows and that is that the force of reason is, and should be more powerful than the reason of force.

"If what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, better not do it." - Bishop Agustín Román  


Everyone knows that there are none so blind as those who will not see. I believe that only those may try to deny the importance of the current dissidents in Cuba, but, if one needs a convincing testimony about it, I think none better than the dictatorship itself: if those opponents did not represent a real challenge to the regime, then why do they repress them with such virulence? ... Why jail them? ... Why try to discredit them constantly?

The skeptics should be reminded that although the end result sought by the Cuban people has not yet been obtained by dissidents or anyone else, they have shown that non-violent civic resistance can jeopardize totalitarianism, as it happened with "Concilio Cubano" in 1996, in 2001 with the Varela Project and in 2003 with the ferment opposition that caused the "Black Spring" of that year, all of which shows that in these methods the potential to trigger the definitive change.

And at this point, it is clear that it would be logical that all Cubans, both on the island as in exile, ask ourselves what can we do to help the dissidents? ... We the exiles should ask ourselves what to do, between them and us, imparting all the possible effectiveness of the legitimate struggle for the liberation of the common homeland.

I could not offer policy prescriptions nor strategies for action, because I am not a politician or a strategist. I am a Cuban priest, a simple shepherd of souls, and as such, could only refer to what I learned in the light of the Gospel, remember what some of our great thinkers have suggested and recommend that we not forget the proven wisdom of our peasants, that which today is called common sense.

I said at the beginning of the urgency to reflect on these issues as we did today, because of the special circumstances that the Cuban nation is living at this moment. That same sense of urgency we should have with regards to the steps we must take. It is not for me to say what are those steps, but, whatever they will be will move us forward, and not backwards only if we take them through paths of virtue. ¨No homeland without virtue," said to us the first who taught us to think and it occurs to me that I could suggest some of the virtues necessary for our steps to lead us to the goals of the common good, that we want for Cuba:

1 - Firmness of principle and clarity of the objectives. We must be aware of what we want for Cuba: true sovereignty, rule of law and respect for human rights. This sums up all the other just demands such as, for example, the release of political prisoners, democracy, free elections, just proceedings, and so on. We should put forward, in addition, our non-acceptance of formulas that attempt to impede or obstruct the right of Cubans to freely choose their destination or promote continuity of this system or something similar, under the appearance of democracy, openness and reforms.

2 - Equilibrium. Humans are very susceptible to the passion that makes them lose clarity in their vision of things. Cubans are no exception to this rule, on the contrary, therefore, we must remember the wise words of the well named prophet of exile, our unforgettable Bishop Eduardo Boza Masvidal. He told us about this, I quote: "The equilibrium is not to dance the tightrope, but it is to adopt a clear and defined attitude that asks nothing borrowed from anyone, but is born of good doctrinal training and a dispassionate and objective study of reality "End of quote.

3 - Unity. Unity in diversity, which is as it should be, but firm unity, because if we have always needed it, it is essential to us today. You do not have to explain it to any Cuban how much damage disunity has done us. It is time to separate the wheat from the chaff. Do not forget what the Lord Jesus himself tells us in chapter 12 of St. Matthew: "Every kingdom divided against itself will become desolate. And every city or house divided against itself will not stand."

4 - Prudence and energy. The Servant of God and architect of Cubanness, Father Varela, recommended to the Cubans of his time in his "Moral and Social Maxims" not to mistake weakness with caution, noting that it "tells the man what he should choose, practice and omit in every circumstance." I would emphasize this valerian maxim, remembering that the first that prudence indicates is to think before acting. Varela also noted in "El Habanero", something which seems written for our day. I quote: "It is not time to entertain ourselves with particular accusations, or useless regrets. It is only to operate with energy to be free." End of quote.

5 - Justice, truth, forgiveness and reconciliation. I said earlier that the cause of the internal dissident movement, the cause of all of us in the end, is the continued pursuit of justice for the Cuban people. Cuba cries out to heaven for justice, justice is essential. The truth is the complement of justice and should be the first condition of our work and firm foundation of the society. Every Cuban will recognize the truth of their responsibilities and errors if we want to enter the new Cuba with the cleanness that we want. At the same time, the country equally needs of forgiveness and reconciliation in order to have possibilities of a future. A society that remains with its wounds permanently open condemns itself to a continuation of its conflicts and eliminates its possibilities to live in peace. Justice, truth, forgiveness and reconciliation are not mutually exclusive or contradictory terms. Our very remembered Pope John Paul II said with respect to the following, in his message for World Day of Peace on 1 January 1997. I quote: "Forgiveness, far from excluding the search for truth, demands it. The wrong must be recognized and, where possible, repaired ... Another essential requisite for forgiveness and reconciliation, is justice, which finds its justification in the law of God ... In effect - the Pontiff added - forgiveness does not eliminate or decreases the demand for reparation, which belongs to justice, but seeks to reintegrate equally individuals and groups into society. "End of quote.

6 - Faith, hope and charity. The most important I have left for last, because it's what surrounds and makes everything else possible. Faith in God because without Him every effort will be useless: "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain," affirms Scripture. Hope in God, because through Him comes us all that is good: "Blessed are they who have placed their trust in the Lord," proclaims St. Matthew in his gospel. Charity, that is love of God and of our brothers, because we have already seen too much the fruits of hate in our people. Because charity is what God wanted for us, sent to us over the sea the image of the Mother of his beloved Son under the inspiring nickname: the Mother of Charity, Mother Love, Mother of the country. If what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, better not do it.

If all of us who want the good of the nation, of the important internal dissident movement and the persevering of exile arm ourselves with these virtues, we will be effective. If we are committed to not let personalism, or the passions dilute them, we will have won. If we keep them and transmit them to all our people, we will have secured for Cuba a happy future.

I end with an expression of loyalty, affection and paternal recognition to the work of the Catholic Church in Cuba during this difficult stage in our history. On February 3, 1959 the first joint pastoral of the Cuban Bishops saw the light, which focused on the topic of education, those shepherds launched demands and questions applying to all of the deceptive revolutionary project that began then. Earlier, only two days after the triumph of the revolution, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Monsignor Enrique Pérez Serantes, reminded the new government and the entire people why they had fought, saying: "We want and expect a purely democratic Republic , in which all citizens can fully enjoy the richness of human rights "End of quote.

Since then, the facts, well documented also show us the suffering Church, harassed sometimes more covertly than others, but always harassed, on the side of the people of Cuba. This was, perhaps, its most eloquent point with the pastoral "Love hopes all things", of 1993, but there is also a long and rich history, which one day will be known in all its details, of the generous, brave and quiet labor of the Church in favor of the legitimate interests and needs of the Cuban people in these times. It's not for nothing that the loudest cries of "Freedom!" Heard in Cuba in recent times took place in public places during the visit of John Paul II in 1998.

I also equally affirm my personal appreciation and respect for the internal dissident movement in Cuba and I do it from the heart of a Cuban naturally proud to be exiled, of belonging to this exile committed to the national destiny, full of men and women of faith and action, whose merits and virtues are not always fairly valued. When a happy end could be brought to the prison riots in Atlanta and Oakdale in 1987, I remember the excitement made me exclaim that day that if I were not Cuban, I would pay to be. Without a trace of arrogance, with great respect for all peoples of the world, I repeat it today: I would pay to be a dissident, I would pay to be an exile, because both are the same: Cubans, good Cubans trying to be better.

I should apologize for having forgotten the time limit, but I thought that the important choices we have before us Cubans right now, asked for these considerations that I wanted to share with you, taking advantage of the invitation of Father Felix Varela Foundation, which again I want to thank. Maybe I failed to add one of the virtues we need, is to say more in less time. But you, who are so generous, will understand, because you are Cubans like me.

Thank you very much everyone.

Bishop Agustín A. Román
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus
Miami, December 16, 2006
This remarkable and humble man of God lived a life in accordance with the principles and faith that he evangelized. Below is a short documentary where the good shepherd looked back over his life.

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