A welcome word among Cuban exiles: `Unity’

Posted on Tuesday, 03.30.10
A welcome word among Cuban exiles: `Unity’
By Daniel Shoer Roth

He had neither bathed nor eaten since Saturday, March 20.

That day, angry and frustrated, Sergio Rodríguez Lorenzo dressed in white, climbed into the bed of his ’98 Silverado pickup truck, and asked his son to drop him off in front of the 2506 Brigade Memorial on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

He opened his cot, slept under the stars and, quietly, began a hunger strike in solidarity with Guillermo Fariñas, a former dissident colleague in Cuba, and with the Damas de Blanco, the mothers, wives and daughters of Cuba’s political prisoners.

A group of exiles, who saw Rodríguez Lorenzo dozing, set up a makeshift tent the next day. They brought flags of Cuba and posters with the image of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died last month in Cuba after a hunger strike.

Inside the tent hung a painting of a solitary flower that wept tears onto a dark night.

“The strike has been successful,” Rodríguez Lorenzo told me Thursday, on the same day that thousands marched in Little Havana for freedom and human rights in Cuba. The 46-year-old handyman was imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, but was not part of the case of the 75 dissidents. “Thousands of people have passed through here, the press has interviewed me and the tourists get off the bus to take photos of me.”

Initiatives like his strike and others of greater magnitude, such as the march for freedom organized by Gloria Estefan, have flourished in South Florida in recent weeks, buoyed by an unusual twist — international support for Cubans seeking democracy.

It is not unusual for the exile community to protest human rights violations and the lack of civic freedom on the island. But this time, sectors and groups that are usually fighting among themselves to defend their views on how to achieve democracy have come together under one voice.

It is a voice of love of country — and of never giving up.

“Unity among us is very difficult. . . . But there are points on which we agree: such as [the plight] of prisoners and the brave attitude of the Damas de Blanco, because you have to be courageous to take the pressure of the mob around them,” wrote Marta Beatriz Roque, a prestigious figure in Cuba’s opposition movement, by e-mail. “You have to show the world that the Cuban nation . . . lacks freedom.”

Roque welcomed the exile initiatives. “We support them and especially if they come from people like the Estefans, who have Cubans’ affection,” she said. “It needs to be successful and, also, it can launch other efforts to help those of us here who are trying to do our part — and those who are losing their life.”

The impressive Calle Ocho demonstration sparked similar efforts in New York, Los Angeles and European cities. During the Miami march, I walked alongside the group Exilio Unido Ya (Exiles Now United), formed four months ago on Facebook. The group, which supported Lorenzo Rodríguez during his recently culminated strike, has more than 600 members. You don’t have to share an ideology or belong to a political organization to be part of it.

One of the founders is Vicente Díaz, 35, who was exiled in 2000. His goal was to mobilize young people — and not so young — in a single movement.

“Exiles are going through a transitional stage of disorganization,” said Díaz, who was wearing a bracelet from the maternity ward at Baptist. Díaz left his newborn son briefly at the hospital to be a part of the march, a historic milestone.

“All organizations pull for their own interests and that sometimes weakens the fight against the real enemy,” he added, stressing that for him there is no difference between the new generation and those from the “historic” exile who arrived in the 1960s and ’70s. Both are political, not economic, exiles, emphasized Díaz, who said he would not set foot in Cuba until the Castro regime “is completely swept away.”

I left him to approach Nancy Rodríguez, 70, who was screaming euphorically, “We are united,” while crying inconsolably. “We needed this,” she said. “It’s been a long time since I have seen such shared feeling.”

That’s precisely what I felt the most.

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