The West’s indifference allowed Castro regime to increase repressions, the Cuban opposition leader says
Perth Herald Tribune
April 17, 2017
Cuba after death of Fidel Castro did not become more modernized. Contrary to the popular view, the regime targets not only dissidents but also all of Cubans demanding freedom with its cruel policy of repressions, the Founder and Coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba José Daniel Ferrer said in our interview. He is concerned about the lack of condemnation, by European Union and the United States, of the Castro regime which inflicts physical and psychological tortures on Cubans dedicated to the cause of democratization of the state.
Mr. Ferrer in his answers is reminiscent of late Anna Walentynowicz, a mother of Polish Solidarnosc movement. With compassion and wisdom he is trying to pave the way to the full victory of democracy in Cuba. Mr. Ferrer teaches his own compatriots peaceful methods of advocacy for human rights and is acting openly as Walentynowicz behaved. Just like the Solidarnosc leader Mr. Ferrer believes in power of truth putting every effort that it would be available at every Cuban home. As Walentynowicz taught, Mr. Ferrer instructs that the motive for one’s action should not be a promotion for individual but common good of Cuba. Just like Walentynowicz Mr. Ferrer is not afraid to speak up for himself and care for others.
The UNPACU Founder is true leader, who is suffering together with his threatened, rejected and persecuted people, and encourages them to continue their fight from victory to victory to the final triumph of freedom and democracy in Cuba. His dedication to the cause of liberty and truth should be an example for all of freedom fighters around the world.
Perth Herald Tribute is expressing gratitude to our Cuban friends in exile, who reached UNPACU leader. We would like to thank especially to Mr. Bernardo Toar, Cuban activist, for making this interview possible. We want to also thank to Mr. José Daniel Ferrer for these courageous report.
Despite this repressive policy Cubans more often would express their discontent and desire for change in 2015 and the part of 2016 year. Gradually people were able to oppose fear that was imposed by the regime as a result of a more than half of century of state terrorism. But the regime increased harassment and repression against any dissent. In the last twelve months dozens of activists were tortured physically and psychologically and treated with the other types of cruel, inhuman and degrading methods in prisons around the country.
The dictatorship detained more activists. There were more assaults with special squads, who robbed activists of computers, printers, video cameras and mobile phones, as well as our family assets. Even the food and medicines of our families have been arbitrarily seized. In February the political prisoner Hamell Santiago Maz, 45 years old, died in dubious circumstances in prison in Havana.
Why the regime increased persecutions of political opponents after death of Fidel Castro?
International community did not condemn firmly the anti-human policies of the Castro regime. In result its aggression towards citizens slows down the democratisation process. Current dictator, Raúl Castro who has been sick and getting old, will continue pursuing its policies, which are designed to delay the transition to democracy. The good news is that the democracy nears to Cuba.
Castro’s successor will not be able to restrain for a long time people who want to get out of the misery and oppression they’ve endured for almost six decades. Our struggle continues, and the source of the strengths of Cuban nation is a conviction that this system must be changed.
What is current personal situation of the Cuban dissidents after the death of Fidel Castro?
There is a new wave of repression that exceeds with its magnitude the so-called Black Spring of 2003 when 75 dissidents were sentenced to long prison terms. After Fidel Castro death, his younger brother immediately feared the Cubans would demand freedom. He intensified control, harassment and other repressions of dissidents to avoid increase of popular protests. The police surveillance is more pervasive, the harassment more frequent and the likelihood of imprisonment much higher than it were months before the founder of this regime died.
Is it a reverse to the worst times of Fidel Castro regime or a new type situation?
It’s hard to compare it, because times are different. While during the worst times of Fidel Castro rule, the regime had Soviet support, it was much more closed and more repressive than after the fall of the Communist Bloc. In the early years of the so-called revolution, thousands of Cubans were shot or sent to prison and murdered there. The Soviet nuclear missiles were guarantee of the complete impunity of the regime.
From December 2014 the United States and the European Union have conversed with the Cuban government on human rights. Despite that fact Western partners decided to grant several concessions for the dictatorship that we, as dissidents, perceive as undeserved.
I want to emphasise what I am going to say in a moment. Due to the fact that the Castro received concessions from the West, which closed eyes on the crimes of the regime against its own citizens, we can tell without a doubt that Raúl behaviour became much more aggressive and repressive than Fidel.
How the Patriotic Union of Cuba movement, UNPACU, deals with this current policy of the Raul Castro’s government?
Activists of UNPACU and the Ladies in White are the most persecuted groups in Cuba now. During the last months, the Castro regime not only detained more than forty of our activists but also organised attacks against more than one hundred of our homes. Police violates all of our rights confiscating arbitrary our possessions.
Everyone in Cuba has to violate unfair regulations and purchase food on the black market in order to survive. The political police threatened those who relate to the opposition that if they continue to visit black market, their businesses will be attacked, their licenses as self-employed will be removed, and they will be imprisoned for pretended illegal activities, among other pressures. Regime imposed on us on an arbitrary ban on travelling both within our own country and overseas. It has even sent special military squads with long arms to arrest our activists, steal the products meant for free distribution during the event and to intimidate neighbors. The only purpose of this repression is preventing a children’s activity. The regime thugs threat anyone, who relates to our organization with a dismissal from their jobs, denying their children right to study according to their choice and banning any relative from travelling abroad.
UNPACU activists have been involved in humanitarian work helping victims of national disasters. What is the reaction of the regime?
When Hurricane Sandy hit some parts of the eastern provinces in October 2012 we at UNPACU were able to help hundreds of victims. Thanks to the material support from Cubans in exile we provided assistance discretely avoiding persecutions. When Hurricane Matthew landed in October 2016 the regime treated us cruelly when we tried to help victims. Our activists were arrested and even imprisoned. Our homes robbed by the repressive forces that tried to prevent us from helping the victims of natural disaster in the municipalities of the Guantanamo province. For almost four years, our activists have carried out humanitarian work, organised sports and recreational activities in their communities.
Did the regime oppose you with equal repressions from the first day when you initiated Patriotic Union?
From the beginning when the UNPACU it was established on August 24th, 2011 our movement has become one of the principal objectives of Raúl Castro regime’s attacks. This opposition movement was targeted because it is developing a new dynamics of opposition against the regime in the totalitarian society. Our fight combines political activism with social work, including humanitarian, sports, and recreational activities. In less than one year, this new methods of opposition resulted in increase of membership.
On the same day when the Congress of the Communist Party was inaugurated our movement launched the action of mobilisation, which was the largest in history of peaceful opposition in Cuba. UNPACU was able to organise it successfully despite repressions. More than a thousands Cubans from the province of Santiago de Cuba participated in this action of mobilisation. This kind of mobilisation for democratic nation and even under an authoritarian regime would be unimportant. Under a totalitarian Stalinist-type regime that rules with Cuba, it had a significant impact, both for the population and for the dictatorship. Cubans learnt about it from our bulletins and DVDs. The dictatorship facing opposition of hundreds of normal citizens decided to ban this form of social activism.
Yes we were persecuted before but repressions never reached such levels as it is now. The increased repression negatively affected our pro-democracy struggle. Many Cubans cannot overcome fear and, despite their praise for our efforts, are afraid of getting involved in our fight for a free Cuba and in favour of those, who are in the greatest need.
How authorities are treating dissidents and other Cubans, who in these circumstances, decide to fight for their rights?
Appallingly. Anyone, including dissidents, who calls on authorities to respect human rights is persecuted, harassed, imprisoned, and tortured physically and psychologically. We are not feeling safe in our homes, which are frequently robbed by the regime’s repressive forces. Our telephone calls are routinely monitored. Several UNPACU’s members have been blocked from using mobile phones. Our correspondence is monitored, too. Our relatives, including children, are harassed. The regime does whatever they can to turn life of anyone who is opposing into a hell.
How free is the flow of information in Cuba in 2017?
The regime holds a monopoly over mass media and represses those who disseminate information outside the state control, but more Cubans are getting access to the audio-visual and printed information from independent sources from inside and outside of the Island. Repressive forces are not able to prevent the flow of true information. The widespread misery, and the never-ending struggle for immediate subsistence help people to connect and inform each other. The Internet is very poor and very expensive. It is mainly used for a communication with relatives abroad, and some young people try to find friends on social networks. There is no Internet access available at homes, as it is a norm in the free world.
What is a role of the Communist propaganda in 2017?
Most Cubans are tired of Communist propaganda; they dodge it as much as they can. Even those who are employed by the regime ignore it as much as they can. But it is almost inescapable since it is present literally everywhere. There is a Communist propaganda in kindergarten, at the primary, secondary and upper secondary schools, at the universities, on the radio, in the newspapers and magazines, on television, in the workplace, on the streets of the neighborhoods, in hospitals – everywhere. After the death of Fidel Castro, the propaganda and the cult of his personality became much more disgusting for Cubans.
If Cubans dodge the Communist propaganda then what is its goal? How effective is it from the point of view of a dissident?
The objectives of propaganda are to justify the failure of the system, to blame the United States for our internal problems, to deceive the people by trying to make them believe that the “capitalist” world lives worse than we do, to discourage the disaffected, to demonize multi-party democracies and market economy. Although a propaganda of the regime is becoming ineffective, it remains one of its best instruments, like repressions, for holding control over citizens.
A lie that is repeated may incline audience deprived of other sources of information to believe or to doubt therefore access to the alternative source of information and education that transmits truthful and objective information is extremely important.
How important is an independent broadcasting such as Radio Martí for Cuban dissidents and Cuban people?
Every honest and objective source of information is crucial to dissidents and the people. Radio Martí has always been hated by the dictatorship. The regime spends a lot of resources for jamming of Radio Martí’s broadcast and blocking of websites in the already controlled Internet, which only a small percentage of Cubans can access. TV channels and other independent media that report on the Cuban reality have played a vital role in the change of mentality and the loss of fear taking place in the population.
People who are suffering the deepest misery in the society where the vast majority spends their energy searching for daily food, it is necessary to take the information to each home and create attractive mechanisms to get people interested in situation within our borders and abroad. That has been one of UNPACU’s priorities, which is why the regime persecutes both our informative media and the production and reproduction of our audio-visual programs.
How can Cuban freedom fighters be helped by people living in democratic countries?
They can show their support us on social networks, send letters of solidarity to persecuted activists and the families of political prisoners, and send letters to regime’s officials with condemnation of the repressive policies.
If anybody who comes to the Greatest Antille wants to show help he or she can visit families of opposition and tell them that they are not alone. They could also bring some DVDs or flash drives with audio-visual material downloaded from You Tube and other websites with documentaries, books about democracy, human rights, nonviolent struggle, and anything related to our work. Those who are in a position to do it and want to do it could bring either a computer, a printer, pens, writing sheets, medicines, a mobile phone, a camera, T-shirts with our logotype or messages like, for example, “I’m Australian, and I support Cuban opponents”.
It would be very helpful if people from abroad could write to their respective governments and ask them to support our struggle, show solidarity with political prisoners and Cubans persecuted for political reasons. The number of things that can be done from the outside to help those who fight for freedom in Cuba is almost unlimited.
How important is a human rights activism around the world on behalf of Cuba’s dissidents, political prisoners and generally Cuban people on social media?
Activism in social networks in favour of human rights, dissidents, political prisoners and the people, in general, is of vital importance. Without this, our activism could not be carried out directly with the population, street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, in the countryside, towns, and cities. Social media keep those in the world interested in Cuban issues informed, and somehow protect opponents, journalists and human rights defenders.
The first area of our activism is the one performed face to face with the population. Growing number of Cubans is getting involved in this activism. It implies greater risks but creates strong fraternal bonds among fighters. This type of activism and that one in social networks must go hand in hand; they must be closely linked.
How can the democracy activists from around the world change their activism to improve and strengthen support for you and Cuban’s freedom fighters?
Despite the aggression of the tyranny and the complicit silence of many democratic governments, those who are willing can help strengthen in us in our struggle.
We have still some serious problems to solve such as the lack of real unity among opposition in Cuba and the Cuban exile. It seems like everybody wants to act independently according to his or her own ideas. Tyranny takes advantage of this situation. The regime’s intelligence and counterintelligence organizations are mocking us for lack of effective mechanisms that would be able to counteract their infamous and gross actions. The UNPACU has made many efforts in this field but hasn’t found the necessary will and knowledge in other groups. For instance, agents that we have expelled from our ranks for cooperation with the tyranny apparatus joined other groups without effective leadership, which are often dependent on exiled patriotic organisations that are unaware of many aspects of our reality in Cuba. A high percentage of the necessary and scarce resources destined to the cause for Cuba’s freedom and democracy falls in the hands of supposed opponents who are nothing but agents in the service of the tyranny.
Neither have we achieved effective communication and collaboration with friendly governments like the United States to prevent tyranny from ridiculing them and us. The dictatorship has used with a great success the Program of Political Refugees of the United States Embassy.
Another aspect of a struggle of the UNPACU is discouraging a withdrawal. Many Cubans choose the fast track to reach freedom in other lands. In the UNPACU, we respect the right of everybody to emigrate, but we promote our commitment to struggle. UNPACU recognizes a sacrifice of those who are fainting in the fight in Cuba for a free and prosperous country.
Finally, we have to struggle for change against of mentality of promotion. So many wants to be “general” and never to be “soldier”, “sergeant”, and “lieutenant”. This is an evil that has been affecting us, Cubans, since the times of our struggles for independence, in the nineteenth century.
What type of activism is the most effective? How does this activism contribute to the goals Cuba’s freedom fighters?
We have lived for over half a century under a single-party system, a Stalinist regime, which has seriously injured our society. Cubans, to a greater or lesser degree, have suffered from helplessness, apathy, lack of hope, distrust of our own strengths, and laziness. Many people just want to find freedom in other countries or that others would fight for them.
The tactics of opposition are effective only if they address needs and the way of thinking of our compatriots. The UNPACU movement combines political activism with an extensive social work, including humanitarian aid, sports, and cultural, and recreational activities. We are helping to reject fear of the state that has kept total control of life for decades.
We are helping our citizens to regain self-confidence. We want that they know that if the regime closes doors and harasses them for their activism, our organisation will open doors, and support and accompany them. They should feel they’re not alone.
In the late 1980s nations in the Central Europe, or countries like Philippines, that were captured by the Communist occupants, had a strong desire for freedom and independence. They would demonstrate on streets and use other forms of non-violent opposition. There was always a flame of liberty burning in the heart of the active part of those societies. What is the state of Cuban mind after almost six decades of Castro totalitarianism?
Admittedly, we haven’t reached levels of activism and protest like those of Poland organised by Solidarnosc, but we do have more opposition activism than other Communist countries of Eastern Europe shortly before the collapse of Communism. At present, the desire to escape from this slave island is still very strong.
During six decades of Communist rule, the desire for freedom in Cuba has been great. In the first ten years of Castroism, many Cubans rose up against the tyranny. With the material support and Soviet advice, the regime suffocated every act of rebellion. Whenever the dictatorship felt that things were on the verge of a social outburst, it has facilitated massive exodus towards US soil.
Every day more Cubans understand that only by fighting for our rights and freedom will we achieve a democratic, just, and prosperous Cuba. The level of repressions puts many in the state of fear but is not able to root out our desire for freedom. This yearning will continue to grow until liberty is achieved.
How does Cuba’s dissident movement want to utilize this yearning for freedom?
The opposition movement can progressively improve the state of mind of the population by joining forces and expanding political and social activism throughout the country, involving a steadily growing number of citizens, with the support of the Cuban exile and democratic nations.
If all opposition groups, from within and from the Exile, would work together with the strategies and tactics that the UNPACU movement has been developing, the number of public opponents would be five or even ten times higher, and the protests would be much more numerous. The key lies in intelligently combining political and social activism under a single banner across the nation. Of course, the regime wouldn’t fold arms and will attack with all their might. Nor would the opposition be paralysed, it would continue with renewed strength until freedom is reached.
The memories of the democratic Cuba before the Castro revolt must gradually disappear since not many citizens of pre-Castro are alive. Generations of Cubans were educated and trained by the propaganda of the Communist Party. It appears that Catholic Church and other churches in Cuba are not oases of free thought as it was in Central Europe before 1989. What are the sources of the future democratic renewal of Cuba?
It is true that the churches in Cuba cannot be compared to the Polish Catholic Church from before 1989. However, the Cuban Catholic Church does provide programmes with teaching of human rights and democracy principles, and the youth is being prepared for future.
In the midst of persecution, independent groups make an outstanding effort to prepare people for freedom and democracy. Relatives of many Cubans who live in the United States transmit news and ideas that contribute to the understanding that democracy is the best of political systems. Even these Cubans who are being sent by the regime to work abroad in the so-called missions usually return home with clearer idea of the difference between a dictatorial regime and a democratic government.
No matter how much the dictatorship strives to avoid influences of the free world, they keep coming to our country every day. Cuban Democrats, with the support of Democrats from other nations, must continue to expand our projects aimed at educating the population, especially young people, about democracy and its importance.
What vision of Cuba for next five years has Cuba’s leaders of the opposition?
We will see how the regime continues to repress and impoverish the nation, but also increasing amount of people rejecting fear who will be willing to fight for their rights and freedom in a better way. We will see the regime increasing efforts to maintain control of society, but gradually losing it. There will be more demonstrations for human rights and freedom. Raul Castro and the few from the old guard will eventually disappear, and their successors will try to establish a Russian or Chinese model.
The Cuban democrats will continue to fight and, as long as they will have support of the democratic world, we will encourage people to fight until the state becomes a democracy. The political changes taking place in Venezuela and Latin America and the stance of the United States and the European Union will play a vital role in the next five years. In that period also sudden changes may occur. In the worst case scenario, the most retrograde forces of the dictatorship may plunge this country into bloodshed, and this would lead to military intervention under the UN mandate. The United States, satisfying demands for a solution to that humanitarian crisis from its large Cuban community, may also intervene.
In the end, with more or less cost, we will win a free and democratic Cuba that will forever condemn this dark period of Castroism that lasted too long.
What is the consensus of the leadership of the Cuba’s opposition towards the path to democratise the country?
If there is something we opponents agree, that is the idea that nonviolent struggle is the path to Cuba’s democratisation. Peaceful strategies and tactics are still not understood fully by all in this conflict, and there is no consensus which of these strategies is more useful. The agreement on the strategies and tactics to be used by all is a pending matter that Cuban opposition has. There have been very positive steps in this regard, but much remains to be done.
Do you have any plans to negotiate conditions of freedom with the representative of the current regime like for instance representatives of the Polish movement Solidarnosc discussed with the Communist authorities at the Round Table?
It would be the best way to solve our serious problems, but the regime does reveal the slightest sign that it is willing to negotiate. Therefore, we must continue to work to attain the necessary strength to force the government to sit down at the negotiation table and, if they are unwilling to negotiate a solution, to throw them out of power with the energy of people desiring better future.
Did any reformist forces inside the Cuba’s Communist regime emerge that could begin to change the political situation?
In every dictatorship, especially in this current phase there are always leaders with reformist mind. Due to the hard-line policies of the regime against any reformists, they conceal their ideas. In Cuba, we witnessed what has happened to leaders, which were regarded as reformers at other times.
Reformists are waiting for better moments, that is, for the physical disappearance of Raúl Castro or for the moment he is unable to govern. The role of reformers will depend very much on the regional and international scenario. It will hinge upon the American and the European Union policy and on the permanence or fall of regimes such as that of Venezuela in Latin America.
What are your expectations regarding the new US Administration approach to the relations with Cuba?
We welcomed in December 2014 the new policy announce by the administration of President Barack Obama sincerely thinking that it can help also our efforts. The regime attacked us because perceived it as a danger to its stability since more people were expressing their opposition. Unfortunately the American administration was not able to condemn the repressions of the Castro regime. In result, the attacks against Cuban democrats are becoming more intensive.
The US government has changed, but the new president still did not formulate his policy toward Cuba. We believe that the United States, Canada, the European Union and other democratic nations should be show more solidarity for the Cuban people and the Cuban opposition which is fighting for the rights of our fellow citizens. They must openly and firmly condemn the abuses of the Castro regime.
Where do you find strength for the continued struggle facing so much opposition and repression?
Many Cubans fully agree with our proposals, but if we don’t show strength, imagination, and ability to circumvent obstacles and repression of tyranny, very few will support our projects, however fair and necessary they may seem. The UNPACU has a political program. The UNPACU offers solutions to many problems, informs people about their rights, encourages them to organize defense for these rights, and serves the Cuban people as much as it can. The UNPACU also supplies food to an abandoned old woman, seeks medicine for the sick, or organises a contest on anti-establishment music or a sports activity. The movements organizes peaceful protests against forced evictions and supports demands for more water supplies. The UNPACU is convincing people that victory in small battles will lead to triumph in greater battle, which is complete democratization of Cuba.
In 2012, the regime, with plenty of resources in its hands, wanted to compete always using repression, with the children’s and youth activities organised by the UNPACU. On several occasions, many children and young people that had taken part in the activities organized by the regime decided to come to us. After that many including Communist militants commented on their ridiculous methods of competition with the UNPACU. In result the dictatorship restricted our activities, but we are not apathetic and continue to seek for alternatives and to develop our activism, even under more difficult circumstances.
What if the Castro dictatorship will choose limited reforms that would not lead to the democracy but other ephemerid of an authoritarian regime and decide to use force against opposing citizens?
We intend to achieve freedom and prosperity for Cuba in the least traumatic way. Nevertheless, we are willing to increase our efforts to the degree to which the regime hinders the process of change.
Perth Herald Tribune joined the campaign “My Weekly Denunciation Of the Castro’s Dictatorship”, launched by the UNPACU and the Forum for a United America to raise awareness of the situation of the Cuban people worldwide.