Skip to comments.Cuba’s dissident democrats stir as the Castros lie low
Posted on 08/20/2006 1:51:13 PM PDT by nickcarraway
A WIRY figure with dark, defiant eyes, Oswaldo Paya is not easily intimidated. His house is under constant surveillance and he has received numerous death threats. Most of his followers are in jail.
Cubas leading dissident will not be deterred, however, from a campaign to promote democracy in one of the worlds last communist outposts. It is time for change, he said last week as the country struggled to adjust to its first new leadership in almost half a century. The oppression and lies must end.
Behind its sunny, palm-fringed facade as a trendy tourist destination, Cuba was racked by doubt and fear as it prepared to mark the 80th birthday today of Fidel Castro, its leader, not knowing if he was dead or alive.
The Comandante, as he is known, relinquished power two weeks ago to Raul, his younger brother, while he convalesced from surgery after intestinal bleeding. Neither of them has appeared in public since.
Speculation has grown that Fidel was on the verge of death though a local paper reported that he was already walking, talking and even doing some work and that Raul, the 75-year-old army chief, was finding it difficult to convince some of his more reform-minded generals that Castroism could outlive Castro. Last night President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was flying to Havana with a birthday cake for his favourite dictator.
Castros absence has stirred hopes among Cubas small but hardy band of dissidents, although none was expecting any sudden end to the repression that characterises the dictatorship he installed after seizing power from an American-backed strongman in 1959.
Paya, 54, has irked the government by exposing as a lie the official rhetoric about all Cubans being equal. He and his wife and three children have had to endure noisy demonstrations outside their front door denouncing them as puppets of Yankee imperialism. Paya has been threatened with death on numerous occasions in menacing telephone calls and messages. Essentially, theyve told me that Ill be killed before I get to see any changes in Cuba, he said.
None of it has stopped him gathering signatures for petitions to overturn communism. His Christian Liberation Movement is a rallying point for growing disgruntlement over Cubas apartheid system.
Through access to the convertible peso, as the tourist currency is known, the revolutionary elite can eat in the best restaurants and visit hotels while the proletariat is effectively banned from such places.
To qualify for a permit to stay in a hotel, ordinary Cubans must show a marriage certificate to prove they are on honeymoon. It is not uncommon for couples to marry and divorce two weeks later simply to be able to enjoy the rare treat of a few days in a convertible peso zone.
Members of the governing clan can also read what they want and access the internet. For the masses the only information available is the propaganda peddled in state-run newspapers and on the state-run television. They are denied even a glimpse of the foreign press, although Castro has sometimes quoted flattering commentaries from foreign left-wing papers in a bid to prove that things are not as bad as they seem.
As for travel overseas, only those with the right connections need apply for visas. Paya had to decline an invitation to a human rights conference in London in December after being refused authorisation to go.
Most people live with big restrictions because of the regime, the telecommunications worker said in his sitting room, which is dominated by a large picture of Christ.
There is a dominant caste, though, a sort of aristocracy that is rich while it tells poor people that we dont like capitalism. Weve got to bring this to an end. It is a sham. It is a crushing lie.
Paya came to international prominence in 2002 when he delivered to parliament a petition with 25,000 signatures demanding democratic change. Under the Cuban constitution, citizens are entitled to propose amendments to the law if they present enough signatures; this cheeky use of the rule book infuriated Castro.
As did the European Unions award to Paya of the Andrei Sakharov prize for promoting human rights. This gave Paya entry into that exclusive club of Third World dissidents with international recognition. Without it he would almost certainly be languishing in prison, like most of his followers, who were rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to between six and 28 years in jail for counter- revolutionary activities.
They took out our entire front line, said Paya, referring to the arrest of 75 supporters. Fortunately, we now have a second line. As a European diplomat put it: He is an exceedingly brave fellow.
In May, Paya unveiled a 170-page blueprint for a modified constitution. We can keep the good things, such as free education and good healthcare, but that is meaningless unless we also have a guarantee of basic rights and democratic freedoms, he said.
Needless to say, the government ignored it. One day, Paya hopes, it will catch on.
I pray for a long life for Don Paya and a short illness for Fidel.
I did and I passed the link to a multitude of people. Pretty sad, what can happen to a little nation, isn't it? Same thing could happen here, of course, without due vigilance.
If the Democrats take over in Cuba, nothing will change. A commie is a commie is a commie.
< /sarcasm >
Thanks for passing it around.
Cubans Reflect on Life Under/After Castro
The recent health woes of long time dictator Fidel Castro has Cubans thinking about the futureand the past. Castro has ruled the country since 1959. Most of the population has known no other government.
We are poor, but we are happy, said Ernesto, a cane field worker. We have free health care.
Ernesto says he was grateful for the free health care the time the police cracked his skull and knocked out most of his teeth. I was wearing a vote for Pedro t-shirt, Ernesto said with a nearly toothless smile. You know, the one from that Napoleon Dynamite movie. The police thought I was a counterrevolutionary. They beat me with sticks. Who is Pedro? they kept asking. I was in the hospital for six-weeks. If it werent for Fidel I wouldnt have had medical care. Im too poor to pay for a hospital.
The low crime rate was cited by Chiquita, a prostitute, as a great achievement of the regime. Who would rob me? she asked. I am poor. I have nothing to steal. It also helps me keep my weight down, which is important for my job.
Chiquita also praised the police. Since I started paying them part of my earnings they look out for me, Chiquita said. One time, there was this guy wearing this stupid Vote for Pedro shirt who was bothering me. He couldnt pay and he wouldnt go away. He was scaring away my customers. The police took him away. Why would anyone need to vote for Pedro anyway? Voting is just a way for capitalists to exploit the workers.
Jorge, recently released after completing a prison sentence for trying to leave the country expressed anxiety for the future. I was barely saved from the biggest mistake of my life when they sank my boat and brought me back, he said. My head was filled with imperialist lies. I thought I wanted freedom and prosperity. Now I understand these are just lures to ensnare the working class. Who will protect us from these lures if Fidel dies? I fear no one could meet the challenge.
A government statement attributed to Raul Castro tried to reassure the Cuban people by reminding them that his brother was not officially dead yet. Meanwhile, the Cuban army has been mobilized to deter the U.S. from using Castros illness as an opportunity to invade the island.
Meanwhile, National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon returned from visiting a recuperating Fidel Castro describing the 79 year-old Cuban leader as amazingly lifelike.
Excuse me but the US taxpayer trained and funded Castro's takeover of Cuba. Of course our political leaders all feigned surprise and shock, when he declared himself a communist after he ejected Batista's government.
But hey, let's not hold the media to any standards of truth, we may hurt their self esteem when they consistently fail to measure up.