Paradoxically, the most successful event that organized the Centro para Apertura y el Desarrollo en América Latina (CADAL) was one that did not take place.
Never before in its 11 years of existence, has an activity of CADAL generated so much expectation and had so much impact as the organization of the second “Foro Democrático en Relaciones Internacionales y Derechos Humanos” in Havana, scheduled for Tuesday, January 28th, 2014, together with our Cuban counterparts Arco Progresista, Comité Ciudadano por la Integración Racial and Nuevo País.
Like a year ago in Santiago de Chile, CADAL planned to hold an alternative event to the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), but this time in the only part of the region where a single-party regime rules, suppressing the exercise of fundamental rights, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly and association.
It was clear that if the Cuban dictatorship acted in a repressive way, as the Cuban citizens are used to, the Forum would not take place - which is what happened. However, the organization of the Forum was a challenge to the illegitimate Cuban government, exposed regionally and internationally due to the realization of the CELAC Summit, and a concrete exercise of democratic solidarity between a foreign organization and local actors which peacefully claim a political opening in their country.
Knowing how this Forum was organized, on which an amount not exceeding 2500 dollars was spent, it was a success in once again revealing the repressive nature of a regime which is not willing to give way to a political opening. Making the event public was an adequate decision, as is CADAL’s policy. Organizing this event also exposed the regime’s desperation because of the Forum’s program with confirmed participants in order to discuss in their country the “The special declaration of democratic defense of the CELAC and its incompatibility with the authoritarian one party system in Cuba”.
It is true that advertising the Forum, including the list of confirmed participants, implied that the political police visited their homes to threaten each of them and arrested some for several days. By threatening the participants, the State Security tried to get access to information about the Forum’s location, about which the participants were informed by word of mouth by Manuel Cuesta Morúa.
He was arrested a few days before the date of the Forum, which is why a lot of the participants could not be informed about the location.
And even though CADAL was consulted about the location, these were transferred to Manuel Cuesta Morúa before his arrest, because we took extra caution to not reveal the person offering his house as location of the Forum.
On the other hand, there was hardly a foreign minister of a democratic country and embassy in Havana who had not received the note about the organization of this Forum and in many cases they answered formally and even ten foreign diplomats in Cuba had confirmed their participation. Likewise, both the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and Organization of American States’ (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, received direct messages to which they replied, and later informed about the claim to the Cuban authorities.
Regarding the historic memory, for most foreign officials who spent these days in Cuba and did not show solidarity with those who were kept from exercising the human rights to freedom of assembly and free speech, this behavior will eternally be a dark stain on their public careers.
The challenge of the Forum was not only addressed to the Cuban dictatorship but also to the other member states of the CELAC, to the developed democracies which have embassies in Havana and the officials of regional organizations such as the OAS and the EU and international bodies such as the UN.
A regime such as the one in Cuban, which is politically closed and obviously violates human rights, can only stay in power by combining its relentless internal suppression with regional and international complacency.
Thus, the Cuban dictatorship was not the only party responsible for the restraint of the realization of the Forum but also the other representatives and organization officials who attended the CELAC Summit in Havana and who approved with their silence the violation of the right to freedoms of assembly and expression.
Personally, I want to include the following:
1. My thanks to the commitment and courage of Manuel Cuesta Morúa for having participated in this initiative, despite all the costs of doing so, and to the other Cuban democrats who showed genuine interest in participating in this almost unprecedented activity.
2. My gratitude to Javier Zúñiga, special advisor for regional programs at Amnesty International who in a blunt message stated, “The attitude of the Cuban authorities is an outrageous attack on the freedoms of expression and assembly which must not be ignored by the many leaders who are currently meeting in Havana”.
He added that “It is outrageous that those who disagree with the Cuban government cannot express their disagreement publicly and collectively. The heads of state of CELAC member states and authorities of regional and international organizations such as the UN-secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, ought not ignore the fact that while they are arriving to Havana to attend to the summit, Cuban activists are repressed by their government”.
3. I hope that I can soon use my tourist visa to Cuba which the Lieutenant Colonel Ángel Rodríguez Blanco returned to me after “meeting me” when I was leaving the plane and after being deemed inadmissible and kept from setting foot into the country. This happened on Monday, January 27th in the José Martí Airport.
Finally, this experience makes the importance of continuing to defy the Cuban dictatorship in its own territory very clear, and helped to better understand the commitment and dedication of the democratic actors on the Island and strengthened the importance of our claim for a foreign policy which supports Human Rights among the democratic countries which have assembled in Havana.