Archive for May, 2010

To Free the Prisoners, A First Step

1-liberar-prisioneros5After seven difficult years, the just demands of the Ladies in White appear to be closer to a solution. With the mediation of the Catholic Church it seems they could begin moving inmates to prisons closer to their places of residence and prisoner patients to various hospitals, a move that will have to be complemented with the release, immediate or gradual, of all detained for political reasons, of which 55 are recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. If realized, this operation, as well as closing the path for violent solutions, would open the possibility of other changes that will happen in the danger zone, or using the language of football, in injury time, as the long period that the Government has to undertake changes, is exhausted.

In a little reflection I wrote in early May entitled “Confrontation, a Strategy?” I stated in one paragraph: Despite government resistance, the relevance of civil liberties requires, eventually, a change from internal politics and from that to a projecting external relations based on dialogue as a guiding principle and ongoing strategy. Then, we will start by releasing all political prisoners, ratifying human rights covenants, developing the legislation to implement these covenants and opening a national debate on issues that affect us, so that Cubans can participate as subjects in the destiny of their nation. It is simply a timing issue.

This year opened with a chain of events: a Spanish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) banned from entering Cuban territory; the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo; the replacement of several government figures; information about the growing corruption; the poorest sugar harvest of the past 100 years; international condemnation of the Cuban government repression, especially used against the Ladies in White; and the hunger strike of the opponent Guillermo Fariñas.  All of this, joined to the exhaustion of the model, the stagnation of the nation, citizen discontent, increased civic demonstrations and international isolation, make a picture that has forced the government to take into consideration what they had hitherto refused to consider.

A characteristic of closed systems is to try to stop time, which is manifested in the lack of projects. As the Government has exercised power in the absence of other political forces, it was able to determine what measures to apply, when to enter and how far to go. However, this government’s decision to put on its agenda the issue of political prisoners proves the failure caused both by the violation of human rights within the country as well as the confrontation in foreign affairs. A result can be synthesized from Lenin’s thesis about the Social Revolution: The below are not wanted, those above can not and do not allow outsiders. In this context, the choice of the topic of political prisoners is evidence that the Government is not in a position to decide what should be the starting point.

Human rights are the first among the many causes of the current crisis, so any attempt at a solution has to start at that point, and within it, by the release of political prisoners. In that sense you can not confuse the release of political prisoners, which is an effect of the systematic violation of human rights, with the solution of the crisis, but their release can only be a starting point to address changes that the country demands. It is precisely the continuing failures of the government and its attempts to get away with partial solutions which prove the impossibility of success unless changes are undertaken in all elements of the system, i.e., structural changes, the starting point of which, again, is human rights.

For the foregoing reasons the imminent release constitutes a shift in domestic policy that will impact battered international relations and could open the doors of international collaboration. The elimination of the common position of the European Union, the accession of Cuba to the Cotonou Agreement, access to funding sources and the normalization of relations with the United States, would be the order of the day, but above all steps in favor of Cubans themselves, victims of the policy of confrontation. However, do not forget that Cuba received more aid than all of Latin America combined and that it was squandered by the subjectivity and the infeasibility of the model. Therefore, external assistance, though necessary, is insufficient if not accompanied by changes to the interior.

If the Cuban government has the will to release the political prisoners, it would be like going back to 1968, when the revolutionary offensive to liquidate the remnants of the economic independence of citizens gave the coup de grace to Cuban civil society. For this reason, if the release of prisoners, which may be positive, is not accompanied by the implementation and respect for the rights and freedoms, and a legal basis for citizen participation in the affairs of the nation, and without changing existing legislation which threatens imprisonment of dissenters, the Government would be totally free to return to jail their opponents for the same reasons. Furthermore, the same government, strengthened by international cooperation would have the ability to use those resources for updating the model that led the country into deep crisis in which it finds itself, in the first place.

The absorption of social spontaneity by the State to cancel the citizen participation that sustains and nurtures human destinies, leads in a direction opposite to social progress. Both civil society and the state are components of a single subject. What is at issue is to define the functions assigned to each. Civil society in Cuba — legally established as a result of the Pact of Zanjón in 1878 — is a forum for interchange and coexistence of different interests, and that autonomy is a valuable tool for citizen participation. When the state has power over civil society, citizens are prevented from being political subjects, as the monopoly of this generates binding rules that allow the state to many anyone who questions its validity an enemy of the state. Therefore, alongside the communists attempt to update their model, there must also be the possibility for other stakeholders to propose alternative models. Hence the importance of fighting for the repeal of laws criminalizing independent citizen political participation.

Considerations of how to balance the needs, interests and contradictions, and the release of political prisoners could lead to other developments of great significance to the Cuban nation. It all depends, first, on the will of the government; and second on the ability of alternative forces in the rebirth of civil society and civic awareness training for Cubans and international support received from outside.

In Cuba, as has happened everywhere at different times throughout history, there will be changes. The opportunity now is that the policy of confrontation used yesterday to conserve power, today is definitely dead. Hence the shift of the policy towards a more sensible one must be accompanied with the restoration of broken bridges, which begins with the ratification of human rights conventions signed by the Government of Cuba in 2008. It is from this that freedom of expression and alternative, independent, citizen and participatory journalism can flourish, playing a valuable role in influencing the direction of change, since among the many challenges, the generation of public opinion figures prominently.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Back to Guáimaro!

On April 10, 1869, six months after the start of the Ten Years’ War, the foundation of legal developments of the future Republic of Cuba took place: the Constitution of Guáimaro. The uprising started in the Demajagua insurrection, and was followed by the Camagüey Patriots in the Clavellinas. These events did not respond a single center and they had different ideas as to how to lead the fight. According Hortensia Pichardo: Camagüey would be subject to control of Céspedes who was considered dictatorial. Céspedes understood that his authority should be respected, for having been the first in the declaration. The need for unity led to the meeting held on April 10, 1869, in which there was a heated debate, from which emerged the first piece of legislation which came into force in the territories occupied by rebel forces.

The ideas of liberty, hoisted by the revolutionary movement, grew out of libertarian thought as contained in previous texts such as the Magna Carta (1215), the Habeas Corpus Act (1674) and the Bill of Rights (1689), all three from England; but most importantly in the Declaration of Independence of the United States (1776) and the Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), France, where the sprouts of the previous documents were present.

These texts are reflected in the Project for Autonomous Government for Cuba by Father José Agustín Caballero (1811), which argues for the need to create an Assembly of People’s Deputies with the power to make laws and an executive branch consisting of a representative Monarch, accompanied by a Council which would give the Government a collegial character; the draft constitution for the island of Cuba (1812) by the Bayamo attorney Joaquín Infante, based on the ideas of Independence, is a document that provided for the separation of powers and which raises the enforcement of social rights and obligations aimed at equality, freedom of opinion, property and security; the Project of Instructions for the Economic and Political Autonomous Government of the Overseas Provinces (1823), prepared by Father Felix Varela, who in addition to providing the division of powers, considered it harmful to put into force political freedoms and rights only for the white Creoles, and therefore Varela prepared the first draft for the abolition of slavery in Cuba.

The Constitution of Guáimaro, structured in 29 articles, endorsed the traditional division of powers: legislative, executive and judicial. The first, placed in a chamber with powers to appoint the President and Commander in Chief, the second in the President of the Republic in Arms; and an independent Judicial Power. As established, the Chamber could not attack the freedoms of religion, press, peaceful assembly, education and petition, nor any inalienable right of the people.

To understand of this constitution requires taking into account the work of Freemasonry in Cuba. Vicente Castro de Castro led the creation of the Grand Orient Lodge throughout the territory of the country, including Tropical Star in Bayamo; Tínima in Camaguey; Lodge of Trinidad in Las Villas, and also those of Jiguaní of Manzanillo and other locations. The officials of these lodges became the revolutionary committees who led the uprisings outlined above. This network of lodges was precisely one of the main ways in which the ideas of republicanism penetrated Cuba along with the separation of powers, popular sovereignty and liberty of the person, individual freedoms such as expression, assembly and association, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and social justice.

Another important fact is the close relationship between the individual and social, between the internal and public; because the freedoms are exterior obligatory norms that are interconnected with inner freedom, which is its source. Ignacio Agramonte understood this, and he was one of the leading figures in the debate and the shaping of the Constitution of Guáimaro and member of the Lodge Tínima. In defending his Master of Law thesis he said: The right to think freely and the corresponding right of freedom of discussion, doubt, opinion, are phases or directions of that. Fortunately, these, unlike the freedom to speak and act, are not subject to direct coercion and may force one to remain silent, remain still, perhaps it is fair to say that it is the highest injustice. But how can you prevent doubts about what he says? What do you examine the actions of others, which seek to inculcate as true, everything, in the end, and formulate your opinion about it?

From the Guáimaro Constitution, through that of Jimaguayú (1895), the Yaya (1897), and the constitutions of 1901 and 1940,  democratic ideas prevailed in the division of powers and fundamental freedoms. These freedoms were also endorsed in the revolutionary constitution of 1976 and the amendments of 1992 and 2002, but are now subordinate to the Communist Party. Freedoms can be exercised for one purpose: to build socialism and communism, and are, therefore, freedom for Communists until they stop thinking them as such. The worst of it lies in denying freedoms to the rest of the people who think differently and endorsing this unnatural state in the Constitution with finality. That is, the people, supposedly sovereign, can not transform a system about which those not yet born had no choice.

What a shame for José Martí, who chose as the symbolic date to found the Cuban Revolutionary Party, the anniversary of the Constitution of Guáimaro in April 1892, so as to highlight the democratic essence of the party and its aims. A century and a half after the emancipatory gesture initiated in La Demajagua, on the 151st anniversary of our first Constitution, Cuba may be the only Western country that can display an “achievement” in the legal field of having regressed to barely beyond the point departure of its Republican constitutional history.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

A Hymn to Dignity

Marti: The Eye of the Canary, a film long-awaited by the aficionados of the seventh art, was shown in the Charles Chapín cinema in Havana the first week in April. It is a feature-length film, half-fiction-half-true, structured in four chapters that introduce the inner world and character formation which determined the historic significance of José Martí. It was created by a first class team led by Fernando Perez, director and screenwriter; Raul Perez Ureta (2010 National Film Prize), photography; Erick Grass, artistic director; Edesio Alejandro, soundtrack; and in the major roles were: Broselianda Hernandez (Leonor Perez) and Rolando Brito (Mariano Martí), supported by the performances of young Damian Rodriguez and Daniel Romero (Marti) and Eugenio Torroella and Fernando López (Fermin). The critics are now busy with this inspiring film now, so I will concern myself with the characteristics of its director, the figure of Martí and the message it contains.

Fernando Perez Valdes, the most noted Cuban filmmaker of the 1990s of and winner of the National Film Award in 2007, is the father of this film. As a he child became trapped in the web of film thanks to the impact on him of The Bridge over the River Kwai (1957), a film that chronicles the construction of a railroad bridge by prisoners of war, and which highlights the cultural differences and the similarities of feelings between captives and captors. Driven by this perception he entered ICAIC, where he gained much experience, in parallel with his college studies.  He was a production and direction assistant, and worked on ICAIC News. His influences included Cuban filmmakers such as Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Santiago Álvarez, Manuel Octavio Gómez, Manuel Herrera, Sergio Giral and José Massip among others, and outsiders such as Andrzej Wajda, director of Ashes and Diamonds (1958) and Landscape After the Battle (1970); Bernardo Bertolucci, author of Before the Revolution (1964) and The Conformist (1970); and Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, author of The Garden of Joy (1925), and successful television series.

With this background Fernando began a rich production of documentaries ranging from Chronicle of a Victory (1975), co-directed with the late Jesus Diaz, to Omara (1983), and then from there he jumped to the movies with his fiction debut, Clandestine (1987 ), followed by Hello Hemingway (1990), Madagascar (1994), Life is to Whistle (1998) Havana Suite (2003) and Madrigal (2006). Films – all, multiplatinum inside and outside our borders — in which Havana, youth, women, the human condition, inner freedom, truth and love, are a common denominator. Now, following the pioneer of cinematography Georges Méliès, who passed from the magical world of fantasy to history with The Dreyfus Case (1899) he found that cinema is a new way of seeing, interpreting and transforming reality. With the new film, Fernando has demonstrated the potential of film to promote critical thinking about social problems that concern us, in the first place among artists and intellectuals as aesthetes of change, critical of our shortcomings and sources of connection with our traditions and universal knowledge.

Jose Julian Marti Perez, the son of a soldier and a housewife, both of limited education, became a politician, historian, writer, speaker, teacher and journalist. A transformation caused by his innate intelligence, the love of his mother, the righteousness of his father and his relations with the director of the Boys’ School in Havana, Don Rafael Maria de Mendive, who put him in contact with the most valuable of the stream political and cultural ideas within and outside the colony. His great work began on the critical analysis of the errors committed by the Cubans in the Ten Years’ War, an effort to form a modern republic, based on the full dignity of man. Marti established a genetic relationship between party, war, independence and republic, guided by the maxim that only in the hour of victory can seeds sown in the time of war bear fruit, so who cared nurtured these germinated a true independence and a republic conceived in equality of rights for all born in Cuba and a free space for the expression of thought.

Marti, starting from on human dignity as a guiding principle, made every effort to achieve a change in the mindset of military leaders. For this reason the Gomez-Maceo Plan is separated and he wrote the Generalissimo: it seems a shame to have to say these things to a man whom I believe sincere and good, and in whom there are remarkable qualities to become truly great, but there is something that is above all the personal charm that you may inspire, and even every reason of apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute in any measure, through blind love, to an idea that I’m giving my life to bring my country a regime of personal despotism, it would be shameful and unfortunate that the political despotism which is now supported, and that is most severe and difficult to eradicate, because it would be excused by some virtues, would be embellished by the idea embodied in it, and legitimized by the win.

An aspiration that can be condensed as: Men have to live in the peaceful enjoyment, natural and inevitable freedom as they live in the enjoyment of air and light. That Marti, consecrated, is presented by Fernando in the part of the film that deals with the formation of his personality. The Martí who published as his first political article the Crippled Devil; the one who the day after the attack of the Volunteers in Villanueva Theatre published the dramatic poem Abdala; he who raised the defense of freedom of expression in the School of Mendive; he who, together with Fermín Valdés Domínguez, drafted the letter to his classmate Carlos de Castro y Castro: Have you ever dreamed of the glory of the rebels? Do you know how in days of old apostasy was punished? We hope that a disciple of Mr. Rafael María de Mendive would not leave this letter unanswered. In the lawsuit, the answer was firm and manly: I was the only one who wrote it, for which he was sentenced to six years imprisonment with hard labor.

The film shows precisely why many Cubans have come to reject the Martí distorted by the negative effect of the use that has been made of him for political purposes, at a time when we are thrown into a deep material and spiritual crisis which obliges us not only to search for economic efficiency, but to reset our ethical conduct from family relationships to public ones. This is a shared work in which art is called upon to occupy a primary place where dignity, inner worth, what we possess that is essential and irreplaceable that makes us human, must be rescued. Marti: The Eye of the Canary, is this, an emotional hymn that calls us to reflect, to change and to recapture our dignity.

Thanks Fernando!

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

The Recent Elections and a Multi-Party System

14-los-comiciosThe elections to choose district delegates, held last April 25, confirm the existence of a sector of the population with different opinions, shattering the illusory thesis that the Cuban people have a single ideology, a reality that cannot be undone by the intense campaign in favor of a vote for the Revolution.

The relevance of what happened is even greater because in Cuba are no outside observers from other countries or other parties that may challenge the data. For example, on April 25, one hour before the polls closed, 467,851 voters had not voted, an abstention rate of 5.47%, while in the final data, published on April 30, that figure dropped to 354,324 or 4.14%, i.e. at the last minute supposedly 113,527 went to the polls. One fact is striking because the elections were held in non-working day with a strong compulsion to vote early. If, after that effort there was actually an attendance as high in the last hour, it could be interpreted as another manifestation of discontent.

Compared to previous similar elections, it appears that the number of Cubans who dared to not go,or to deposit blank or void ballots is increasing. In October 2007 these three categories totaled 870,688, while in April 2010 rose to 1,083,510, ie more than 212,822 voters took that route, which accounts for 12.65% of the Cubans with the right to vote. This is a reality that cannot be justified by claiming errors or ignorance, for we are in a country with high literacy, and people have also received an overdose of information  calling on them to vote and explaining how to do it. In short, there is a nonconformist sector, which lacks the right of association to represent their interests and to participate in the destiny of the nation.

The plurality of ideas is a logical phenomenon, more so in a society where hopelessness increases, the economy retreats and wear on the political model is evident, as demonstrated by the many manifestations of civic engagement in the face of the debates promoted by the government itself, the street demonstrations of public dissent, or the increasingly common outspokenness  of Cuban intellectuals living in the island, which show a consensus on the need for change.

This is more than one million Cubans who, although now absent from political participation, could be active, but lack space and independent institutions to do so; because the Cuban government not only does not know the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but has not ratified the agreements for these matters which impose on States the obligation to promote universal respect for and enforcement of rights and liberties, a key step for Cubans to be able to play a role in the destiny of their country.

The recently concluded elections are closely related to the ban on a multiparty system. The declaration of changing everything that needs to be changed, if true, can not exclude this vital issue. It is not about making the Communist Party the most democratic Communist Party in existence, but about bringing the same rights to other Cubans.

This is no single historical, legal or moral argument that justifies this measure.  All political parties are composed of one part of the population, not all of society. In our history, from which emerged the first legal parties in the second half of the nineteenth century, parallel to the Liberal Party the Constitutional Union was established; when the idea of independence was not included in the existing parties, José Martí proceeded to found the Cuban Revolutionary Party for that purpose and not to prevent others; to represent the interests of workers, absent the parties of the late nineteenth century, Diego Vicente Tejera founded the Cuban Socialist Party (the first democratic socialist party of Cuba), with these same arguments in 1923 joined the Communist Association of Havana in August 1925 and the Communist Party of Cuba: When the Authentic Party left to meet the aspirations of a section of his own party, in 1948 Eduardo Chibas founded the Orthodox Party. All of which shows that political pluralism, the expression of diverse interests, aspirations and ways of thinking, constitutes a fundamental instrument for political participation of citizens and therefore their existence is a factor of social progress, which it does not exclude, but in fact implies.

It is even more absurd when the Communist Party does hold its five-year congresses for over thirteen years, which means that its own leaders and their direction lack any mandate awarded by the Congress, as the Party’s supreme organ. The Congress is required, in the first place, to bring legitimacy to its decision and it requires a free debate, at least with its own members. For the reasons stated above, the declaration that the Communist Party will become the most democratic, or that the role of the Party will be strengthened as the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, cannot be understood just as the aspiration to play this role with regards to all parties that exist, when the Party a priori refuses to recognize the existence of any others; in short it is obviously absurd.

It is necessary to recognize the right of association, so that Cubans belonging to no party can participate as true subjects in the political decisions that affect everyone. In this regard, Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution, which endorses the leading role of the Cuban Communist Party, will need to be replaced by a multiparty system, as a social necessity.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

The Union of Young Communist (UJC) and its Aquilles Heel

Young people, by their dynamism and potential have been one of the most influential groups in Cuban history.  During the 19th century, they stood out for their opposition to slavery and their support of national autonomy and independence. In the Republic, they were the principal force in the defense of sovereignty and promoters of civic citizenship virtues as the Protest of the [19]13s, the Minority Group, the Revolution of [19]30, struggle for university autonomy, and against the military coup d’etat of 1952 demonstrate.  Aligned with the libertarian tradition, youth headed the revolutionary movement that took charge of power in 1959 and in great numbers undertook new challenges.

Five decades later, in October 2009, with the removal of its First Secretary, Julio Martinez, and the naming of his replacement Liudmila Alamo, the Union of Young Communists (UJC) began preparing for its 9th Congress.  Its robotic functioning is reflected not only in the faces of its delegates, but also in that each subsequent Provincial Assembly is a faithful copy of the preceding one.  Presided over by Jose R. Machado Ventura, (member of the Cuban Communist Party Politburo) and Liudmila Alamo, each assembly presents the same speeches: thousands of military who have requested discharge, thousands others who are inactive, an infinite number of grassroots organizations that are not functional, a marked decrease in the production sector ranks, hundreds of workplaces lacking a basic structure and little disposition for work, learning, and studying.

Three factors explain this outcome.  First, the move of the Revolution towards a totalitarian regime and based on a single will, its determination to meet social needs, as well as the absolute control of the State.  This made the elimination of civil liberties necessary.  Another factor, the undeniable truth that autonomy for civic organizations is like oxygen for living organisms. The third, is that in that civic vacuum, using “social engineering” and based on massive and directed participation, the creation of a young person consecrated to the revolutionary cause was attempted: The New Man, to the detriment of all differing needs, criterion, or interest. Let’s see how the process unfolded.

In January 1959, rather than being restored, the 1940 Constitution was modified to confer upon the Prime Minister the powers of the head of government, and to the Council of Ministers, the functions of Congress–this began an unconstitutional period of 15 years. Immediately after, the prime minister announced a government program that would increase agricultural production significantly. along with the consumer capacity of the peasantry. By eliminating its awful chronic unemployment, Cuba would provide to its citizens the highest quality of life of any country. For this reason, steps were taken to form a one-party system, and to make in its image a similar youth organization that would represent the aspirations of all young people.  All revolutionary youth organizations were joined in the Association of Young Rebels, which in 1962 at its First Congress, assumed the name of Union of Young Communists (UJC); the leadership of the Federation of University Students (FEU) was redefined and university autonomy, codified in Article 53 of the 1940 Constitution, disappeared. The Union of Pioneers (April 1961) and the Union of High School Students (August 1962) completed the group of associations charged with incorporating children and youth in the Grand Project.

Resistance and indifference on the part of thousands of young people, as well fashion, beliefs, and preferences contrary to the state’s purpose were repressed beginning in 1965 with internments in Military Units of Production Assistance (UMAP) and through the 1971 Law Against Vagrancy, which established compulsory work for males older than 17 years of age; these were actions in which the UJC had a defining role.

The lack of autonomy–an outcome of the unconstitutional period–became legal with the 1976 Constitution.  Article 7 of the Constitution endorsed the following: In its activities, the State depends on the masses and social organizations, which in addition directly accomplish state functions which in accordance with the Constitution and law they agree to assume.  In addition to this change, an economic system, with cracks that allowed the “harmful” market and ideas of autonomy to seep in, was introduced. Ten years later, with Perestroika in the Soviet Union representing a direct threat to the revolutionary project, the government took a gamble with the Rectification of Mistakes and Negative Tendencies program, aimed at the continuation of the construction of socialism, maintaining the one-party system, rejecting the market model, and returning to the mobilization of the masses. Despite these measures, the effects of Perestroika were evident in the emergence of informal youth associations in cultural spheres. These groups, like the Paideia Project, questioned the established value system and began to promote public consensus in favor of autonomy initiatives.  When these organizations crossed the line of what was permissible, the state began dismantling them.

The UJC lost a great deal of relevance when, during the Special Period, it had to criticize egalitarian practices that the State itself had favored. Now, without support, they had to explain to and convince young people of the necessity of introducing elements of capitalism, including inequality, to save socialism. That is how, despite the 1959 speech, which assured increased production and consumer capacity, the end result was a loss of productivity and the distribution monopoly. The results were immediate, tens of thousands of young people were escaping from the country, among them many UJC militants who, once outside national borders, decided to end their conversions into “The New Man.”

The maximum leader’s words provide an idea of how profound the crisis was. In October 1997, in the Central Communique to the 5th Party Congress he said, “I think now more than ever, more than at any other time, since the present is the most difficult time ever, we need to make a special effort with our youth and in their training, because it is unacceptable for those who will follow their generation to be less than they are.”  In December 1998, at the 7th UJC Congress, he affirmed, “We have to transmit our ideas to our youth groups, so they they, in turn, can transmit them to all youth and all people.”  And, in November 2005, he denounced the presence of corruption at all levels, the constant thefts in work centers, decline in productivity, labor not working hard, the lack of revolutionary conviction, and the alienation of young people from the political system.

In the face of the failure of the attempt to have the State satisfy all material and spiritual needs, and of having to resort to the methods of capitalism to save the socialist project, the UJC, like a transmission belt, has shown its ineffectiveness before a youth whose aspirations and needs march in a different direction.

Translated by HEFA

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

The Montecristi Manifesto at 115 Years

On March 25, 1895 the statement known as the Manifesto of Montecristi was signed in the Dominican city of that name. The document, of a programmatic nature, signed by José Martí, in his capacity as delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party and the General in Chief of the Army, Máximo Gómez, contains the ideas and goals that characterized the revolutionary movement that would guide the War of Independence 1895. The commemoration of the anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the relationship between this statement and the current reality of Cuba.

If the Revolution of 1959 claims to be the continuation of the War for Independence began in 1868, and Jose Marti — an analyst critical of the mistakes that led the war to fail and lead organizer of the contest in 1895 — is credited with masterminding the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, then it is assumed that the purposes advanced in that statement would be the principles that would guide the revolutionary process of 1959. Let’s take a look:

The Montecristi Manifesto begins by establishing the link between the two wars of the nineteenth century: the revolution for independence started in Yara after glorious and bloody preparation, entered Cuba into a new period of war, under orders and resolutions of the Revolutionary Party abroad and on the island.

The revolution started in 1868 assumed constitutional form with the Magna Carta, of an eminently democratic character and approved by Guáimaro in April 1869. In it, besides embodying the classic division of powers, the legislature placed in the House of Representatives, the Executive Branch President of the Republic and an independent judiciary; it “established that the legislature, where sovereignty resided, had no powers to attack the freedom of religion, press, peaceful assembly, education and petition, nor any inalienable right of the people.”

Thus, from its inception the Wars of Independence had a democratic and humanist character, a feature that becomes more relevant to the content of the Manifesto of Montecristi, as we see in the following five paragraphs:

War is not the insane triumph  of one Cuban party over another, or the humiliation even of a mistaken group of Cubans, but a formal demonstration of the will of a tired country tested in the previous war by throwing itself lightly into a conflict than can end only with victory or the grave.

The war is not against the Spanish, who, secure that their children are safe and in the care of the mother country what in winning, could enjoy respect, and even love, of the liberty that will only accrue to those left behind, improvident, on the way; and he added, “We Cubans started the war, and as Cubans and Spanish we finished it.”

From its roots it has to be the country with viable ways, born of themselves, so that a government without reality nor penalties cannot lead to partiality or tyranny.

To know and determine reality; to compose in a natural mold the reality of the ideas that produce or stop events, and from these events are born the ideas; to order the revolution with honor, sacrifice and culture so that not even the honor of a single man is injured, nor is a single Cuban sacrified for no reason.

Neither is war sufficient if it is simply an itch to conquer Cuba with the tempting sacrifice, political independence, that without right would ask of Cubans their arms if with it there was no hope of creating a country with greater freedom of thought, fairness of customs, and labor peace.

As we see, the Manifesto clearly expresses an inclusive character that takes into account even the enemies that will be faced on the battlefield; a war that Cubans started to, in the end, give Cubans and Spaniards together the chance to create a country without partiality or tyranny; it clarifies that it is not about an insane triumph of one Cuban party over another, nor even the humiliation of a group of Cubans who are wrong; but rather that is about a revolution with honor, sacrifice and culture that doesn’t damage the honor of even one man, nor unnecessarily sacrifice a single Cuban; in short, a conquest for political independence, with the hope of creating a country with more freedom of thought, fairness of customs, and labor peace for the working man.

Without further comment, these thoughts contained in the statement made 115 years ago tell us that something was lost on the way to its realization. The Manifesto of Montecristi is the ideal expression of Marti, namely democracy, liberty and the dignity of Cubans. A transparent intention from the first paragraph ending with the signing of Gomez and Marti for the common responsibility of representation, one on behalf of the Army, the other on behalf of the party, created to manage and assist the war, two institutions with autonomy that bind to an end: to conduct the war and shape the Republic of everyone.

In commemorating the anniversary of the Manifesto of Montecristi, in contemporary Cuba would not only be wrong, but also those who consider themselves successful, remember the date locked in a deep structural crisis and in the absence of inclusion, democracy and fundamental freedoms, a reality that is expressed in the fact that today we do not have freedom of expression, the right of association, to come and go freely in our country, to be entrepreneurs, even to live with earned income. In the end, we do not celebrate without: creating a country with more freedom of thought, fairness of customs, and labor peace for the working man. All this despite the fact that these resolutions were contained in the document prepared by the intellectual author of Assault on Moncada Barracks.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Zapata Tamayo: A Plea For Human Rights

7-zapata1Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42, was a Cuban laborer accused of disobeying authorities and sentenced to three years in jail, back in 2003. Due to his protests against the inhumane living conditions inside the prison, the was subsequently tried in several instances, until the total of his combined sentences went over 30 years in prison.

Amnesty International recognized as a prisoner of conscience, but Zapata died on February 23rd, 2010, after more than 80 days on hunger strike.

Even though he is not the first one to die for this, the fact calls for us to look back – one more time – and analyze the conditions where Cuban prisoners are being held and the deplorable state of human rights in Cuba.

Here, there are more than 200 political prisoners simply because they tried to exercised their internationally recognized rights, those that are limited or prohibited in “the most democratic nation of the world,” such as freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is not a gift. According to Rosa Luxembourg, freedom of speech can never be anything else other than the freedom to think differently. And for that humanist who was Erasmus of Rotterdam, the intolerant human trend to try to impose our own ideas onto others was the original sin of our world.

In Cuba’s constitutional history, freedom of speech was first recognized by the Jimaguayu Constitution (1895) and explicitly in La Yaya Constitution (1897), as well as in both the Constitutions of 1901 and 1940. After the 1976 and 1992 Constitutions were approved the exercise of freedom of speech was criminalized when the goals of that exercise were against the principles of socialism and communism. This limitation clearly contradicts the line of thought and ideals of thousand of Cubans who lost their lives to achieve that higher ideal. Ignacio Agramonte, when presenting his thesis in Havana University’s School of Law, said: Ignorance, forgetfulness or apathy towards men’s given rights are the only causes of public disasters and government corruption. And Jose Marti, Cuba’s National Hero, summed it up in only one expression: “Respect for freedom and other people’s thoughts, even those coming from the most insignificant individual, is my fanaticism.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the UN General Assembly in 1948 – with the active participation of a Cuban delegation – says, in its Article 19: Every individual has the right of freedom of opinion and expression; this rights consist in not being harassed due to his/her opinions; the right to investigate and receive information and opinion and the right to disseminate them; without limitation of border, using any form of communication.

This document has inspired more than 60 similar legal declarations internationally, such as: the European Convention of Human Rights (1950), the International Accords in Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the American Convention on Human Rights (1969), the African Letter of Human and People’s Rights (1981), the Islamic Declaration of Human Rigths (1990), and the World Human Rights Conference, celebrated on June 1993 in Vienna, where 171  countries reiterated the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of those rights.

When you forcibly impose the line of thought of one party – which, as its name indicates, represent only one part of the society – then freedom of speech is subjugated and persecuted. That imposition mentioned by Jose Marti in Cuba’s Constitution is what lies behind Zapata’s death: “I want the first law of our Republic to be that Cubans fully honor men’s dignity.” A plain analysis of what happened, amid the logic indignation, reveals the following:

First of all, the international recognition of human rights as universal, indivisible, sacred and inalienable rights explained the number of protests coming from personalities, institutions and governments all over the word after Zapata’s death. Amnesty International condemned of the death, as did the recently elected president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, and Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, all of  them calling for the release of all political prisoners and the respect to human rights on the island.

Second, Zapata’s death and the deteriorated health conditions of many of the prisoners, and the new hunger strikes demonstrate that the freedom of those Cuban in prison can not wait any longer. There are plenty of reasons: (1) human rights are one of mankind’s birthrights, therefore, their violation is a criminal attempt against a person’s dignity. (2) Also, the liberation – through a special license due to health reasons – of 22 of the 75 dissidents imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003 nullify any reason to keep the others in jail under the same sentences. Finally, (3) that liberation would represent a significant step towards the complete adherence to the internationally recognized laws that are included in the UN Constitution and other international legal instruments.

Third, the recently adjourned Unity Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean, that took place in Mexico the same day that Zapata died, agreed to create a community for countries in the region – with the sole exceptions of the United Stated and Canada. There, the Cuban delegation, by led by the President of the State Council, Raul Castro, stated this new institution should respect the political system of each country. However, the problem is not the political system, but the lack of rights and fundamental freedoms. Cuba’s membership in that institution – without the prerequisite of a radical change in the deplorable state of human rights – would be such a flagrant contradiction that makes it completely unsustainable. The OAS’s Inter American Democratic Convention of 2001 states that the people of Latin America have a right to a democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote it and to defend it… “that a representative democracy becomes stronger and deeper when it has the permanent, ethic and responsible participation of citizens within the provided legal frame and according to the constitutional order. It is unthinkable that a new regional organization could compromise those aspects.

If the Cuban government wants to integrate to this or any other regional organization,it  should take the only admissible road: the road to respect towards human rights and towards fundamental freedoms. This is its permanent debt with the Cuban people and a first step could be the ratification of the international accords that were signed on February 2008, but whose ratification is pending. The key word in today’s Cuba, even moreso after Orlando Zapata’s death, is HUMAN RIGHTS.

Translated by Mailyn Salabarria