Goal of liberty crosses lines of partisanship

Posted on Sunday, 10.24.10
Goal of liberty crosses lines of partisanship

They’ve been called intransigent. Hard-line. Even dinosaurs. No matter. They proudly accept the characterization — a mucha honra, as we say in Cuban, with much honor.

They are the members of the Cuban Liberty Council, which split with the Cuban American National Foundation after the death of CANF’s founder, Jorge Mas Canosa. CANF was taking a more moderate approach to U.S. policy toward Cuba than older members wanted. The hard-liners bolted and formed the council.

Two other Cuban Americans have been called Obama boot-lickers. Traitors. Even communists. No matter. They proudly accept the characterization — a mucha honra.

They are Emilio and Gloria Estefan, our local kids done good. The politically independent super stars made a calculated move in April when President Obama asked them to host a Democratic Party fund-raiser at their Star Island home. They aren’t Democrats and didn’t contribute a penny; their goal was to get the president’s ear on Cuba’s awful human rights record.

No matter. It caused a firestorm among some older, predominantly Republican exiles who had marched with the Estefans on Calle Ocho just two weeks earlier.

The march, which attracted more than 100,000 people of all ages and political persuasions, was a defining moment. All sought to get world leaders to pay attention to Cuba’s atrocities. It happened after Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an 83-day hunger strike in prison. After the Ladies in White were beaten by mobs in Havana. After another former political prisoner, Guillermo Fariñas, went on a hunger strike and vowed not to end it until the Castros Crazy released all political prisoners.

Last week, Fariñas, who ended his hunger strike this summer after Cuba began releasing prisoners, was awarded the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. From his humble home in Villa Clara, the ex-soldier who became a peaceful change agent took calls from reporters. He praised the Estefans and exiles throughout the world for coming together to defend human rights.

And on Saturday, the Cuban Liberty Council honored the Estefans as “Heroes of Liberty” in downtown Miami, where 500 people came to see them accept an award given in the past to such luminaries as Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez.

Surprised? No one should be. Gloria and Emilio have a long history in defense of human rights.

“If you follow their careers, you realize that all that they have done has been to benefit the Cuban people,” said Ninoska Pérez Castellón, a founder of the council. Whether before the pope, asking that he pray for Cuba’s freedom, or during a concert tour in Argentina, where Gloria asked Cuba to end the embargo against its own people, the Estefans have sought to build conscience about a 51-year-old dictatorship that quashes the human spirit.

And for all of their “intransigence,” the council has embraced those with different approaches to helping Cubans secure democracy. Yoani was awarded her prize even though she supports opening Cuba to American tourists.

For Gloria and Emilio, the award is bittersweet as Cubans still aren’t free. Yet so much has been accomplished in just six months — a lesson Emilio learned from Mas Canosa, a childhood friend in Santiago.

“Jorge offered a great example. He spoke to any president who would listen. … I knew that in the long term, having us host the fund-raiser would give us the opportunity to help the president learn about Cubans’ pain.”

With honor, anything is possible.

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