Sunday, 19 Jun 2011 07:28 PM
By Otto Reich and Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat
Winds of change are opening doors that have been closed in oppressed
countries for half a century, not only in the near East but also in the
Caribbean. In central Cuba, one recent day seemed like any other until
those winds blew through the main entrance at government-run Radio Placetas.
The station is owned and operated Cuba, Fidel Castro, Raul Castroby the
Castro regime, as are all radio stations in Cuba. Consequently, the
station transmits only programming approved by Cuba's ruling Communist
Party, broadcasting a predictable and monotonous replication of life
under a totalitarian regime.
The fresh winds this time took the human form of three young black Cuban
women, who opened the doors and demanded to be heard: Yaimara Reyes
Mesa, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera and Donaida Perez Paseiro. Miriam, the
station director, rushed to confront them. It is rare for citizens to
demand air time in Castroite Cuba. In a calm and respectful voice, the
three women insisted that the station air an opinion different from the
government's official line about the recent death of dissident Juan
Wilfredo Soto Garcia, who perished at the hands of police in the nearby
city of Santa Clara a few days before.
"We are Cuban citizens, we live in this city. Don't we have a right to
be heard?" said Yris. "This station only transmits the policies of the
Party and the government," replied Miriam, the director, shocked that
anyone would dare try to access the microphones of a "public" radio
station for any unapproved message. "Then we will remain here until we
are heard," countered the dissident Donaida.
Whipped into a fury by the station's ever-present Communist Party
delegate, employees surrounded the three protesters with hostile shouts
of "Whatever you tell us to do, Fidel, we will do…" (Pa' lo que sea,
Fidel, pa' lo que sea). The unlikely heroines were unmoved; "We will not
leave until the public knows that Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia was beaten
to death by police." And remain they did, until police arrested them.
Yaimara, 29, Yris, 35, and Donaida, 39, are members of the Rosa Parks
Feminist Movement, a nonviolent protest organization that advocates for
the re-establishment of civil rights for all Cubans. They were
protesting the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, a 46-year old
activist and former political prisoner who died after being beaten by
police in a park in the provincial capital of Santa Clara on May 8 of
this year. The beating took place after dictator Raul Castro sternly
warned the illegal but increasingly active opposition groups during the
April closing of the Cuban Communist Party Congress: "...it is necessary
for us to clarify that we will never deny the people the right todefend
their Revolution, since the defense of independence, of the conquests of
socialism and of our plazas and streets will continue to be the first
duty of all Cuban citizens."
This was Castro's order, in Orwellian doublespeak, to police and
paramilitary forces to attack freedom activists anywhere and anytime
they saw fit.
After long imprisonments of peaceful dissidents led to international
condemnation of the bankrupt, half-century-old Castro dictatorship, and
failed to stem the rising tide ofpublic defiance, brutal street violence
seems to be the regime's principal recourse to stem a rising tide of
popular resistance. The regime has reason to fear: Yris, Donaida and
Yaimara are said to be the tip of an iceberg of grassroots opposition to
the dictatorship. Young, black and from impoverished provinces, they are
representative of the 93.1 percent of young Cubans who, according to a
recent public opinion poll commissioned by the International Republican
Institute,would vote in favor of changing Cuba from "the current
political system to a democratic system with multi-party elections,
freedom of speech and freedom of expression."
Shortly after being released from her arrest for the Radio Placetas
sit-in, Yris joined other civic activists in a public march in her city.
Violently intercepted by Regime police, Yris was thrown to the ground
and beaten unconscious. After her release, before the pain of her
injuries had begun to fade, she cried: "I will not renounce the struggle
for Cuban freedom." The march concluded a twelve-day cycle of protests
organized across Cuba by the National Civic Resistance Front (FNRC).
Street protests like those by the FNRC were unheard of in a country
where fear has ruled for decades. Their newfound frequency indicates
that discontent against the Castro regime is overtaking fear, and
motivating veteran activists to find freedom through nonviolent
resistance. As distracted journalists and academics focus on Raul Castro
and his purported plans of pseudo-reform, they would do well not to
ignore Cuba's growing Resistance and its will to bring about democratic
change. At this time of year the winds in the tropics can be
unpredictable and strong. And after 52 years of abuse, old and weak
doors may not stand for long.
Otto J. Reich, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant, is a former U.S.
assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Venezuela. Orlando
Gutierrez-Boronat is national secretary of the Directorio Democratico
Cubano in Miami.