Cuban dissidents are talking about unity,

Posted on Sunday, 04.17.11

Cuban dissidents are talking about unity

But internal bickering and rivalries need to be resolved before they can
form a broad opposition front.
By Juan O. Tamayo

Believing that the time is ripe for a new push against the Raúl Castro
government, Cuban dissidents are working to organize 12 recently freed
political prisoners into the nucleus of a broad opposition front, united
around a set of demands for basic freedoms.

The united front could give the dissident movement a more powerful
voice, earn it increased respect from the international community and
perhaps draw more support from everyday Cubans, said the organizers of
the effort.

But they acknowledge that the campaign will be onerously difficult, with
the opposition movement deeply divided and Castro making it clear that
he will not embrace any of the political and social changes likely to be
proposed by his critics.

"Never before was there such a solid consensus on the need for change.
Practically all of us are on the same line,'' said leading dissident
Hector Palacios. "But now almost no one has any hope that the government
will agree.''

The idea of forging a united opposition front has been a longtime dream
of Cuban dissidents but has been increasingly discussed in Havana over
for the past two or three months, five dissidents told El Nuevo Herald
by phone from Havana.

"We do have tendency toward convergence," said Elizardo Sanchez Santa
Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation. Added dissident Rene Gomez Manzano, "Yes, the idea exists."

The timing is right, all the dissidents argued, because the 3-year-old
Castro government itself has acknowledged the need for change, facing a
stagnant economy, rising official corruption, an increasingly frustrated
youth and a loss of revolutionary zeal.

"We are passing through a unique opportunity in the history of Castro
Cuba,'' independent journalist Guillermo Farinas told El Nuevo Herald by
telephone from his home in the central city of Santa Clara.

Last year's death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a
long hunger strike brought Cuba a shower of international condemnations.
And Farinas' own follow-on strike helped force Castro into unprecedented
talks with the Catholic Church.

Several dissidents already have launched or re-launched initiatives for

Oswaldo Payá said he handed former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during
his visit last month an initiative titled "All Cubans" that calls for
freedom of expression and access to the news media as the first step
leading to free and open elections.

The driving force behind the Varela Project, which gathered 25,000
signatures for its proposal for political reforms, Payá also has been
collecting signatures since October for Project Heredia, which demands
that the government end all restrictions and sanctions on Cubans' travel

Two of Cuba's best-known dissidents, Vladimiro Roca and Martha Beatriz
Roque, joined 10 others in December in signing "Future for Cuba," a
document that included 20 recommendations to Castro for easing Cuba's
economic mess. More than 2,000 people signed it later, Roque said.

Hector Palacios, head of the Liberal Union, said his group is again
updating its "Project for Change,'' presented in 1999, 2006 and again in
2008. "The government is talking about change, so it's time to propose
more changes," he said.

The most ambitious proposal came from Farinas, who argues that the 12
recently released political prisoners who remain in Cuba — the rest went
into exile in Spain — should form the nucleus of an opposition front
that also would include 35 other well-known dissidents.

The 12 include top dissidents Oscar Elias Biscet, Angel Moya and Hector
Maseda, freed in recent weeks after spending eight years in prison. And
the number 12 would be a nod to the 12 Apostles of Christ that might be
helpful in a Christian country like Cuba, Farinas said.

"It's time to gather around a nucleus of 12 people and a set of mutually
agreed-on principles,'' Farinas told El Nuevo Herald.

Other dissidents warned that the opposition movement is deeply divided.
Creating an opposition front "is an idea that I respect, but right now
the dissident movement is more divided than ever,'' Roque said.

Dispatches sent by U.S. diplomats in Havana in 2009 and made public by
Wikileaks sites describe Cuba's traditional dissidents as old, with
little popular support and penetrated by government spies who easily
exacerbate their already sharp internal rivalries.

Farinas argues, however, that the years the 12 dissidents spent in
prison makes them even better candidates to lead a national movement
"because they have not had the opportunity to have personal problems
with other members of the opposition.''

Biscet, a black physician regarded as the most influential of the 12
dissidents, said he has told Farinas the time is not right to push for a
united movement. But the time will come, he added, because Cubans are
increasingly realizing that the island must change.

"We have to work slowly," he said. "It's like wooing a girl from the
countryside. One must start little by little."

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