The opposition in Cuba has a young leadership that fights for human rights and is already thinking about the reconstruction of the country in the near future, according to Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana.
“Our own [Vaclav] Havel and [Lech] Walesa are there in Cuban society,” Sánchez said during an interview in Miami with el Nuevo Herald.
“Their names are irrelevant because leaders emerge,” he said. “There are young leaders who are very charismatic in the opposition. I see them and it’s very encouraging.”
Although the Cuban internal opposition has been extremely persecuted and its accomplishments have been limited, Sánchez said that it is “working to dismantle the regime and is making gradual progress. What actually robs us of our sleep is the post-Castro era, the reconstruction of our national homeland.”
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“We have made progress reaching consensus,” he said, and cited as an example the meeting held by several opposition leaders Feb. 26 in Madrid, where they demanded the unconditional release of all political prisoners by the Cuban government, a halt to repression against human-rights activists and compliance with the agreements of the International Labor Organization on workforce and union rights. They also demanded that all international agreements signed by Havana — such as the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights — be respected.
Another new element cited by Sánchez is the plurality within the opposition, though he indicated that the mainstream is liberal. “I will always vote socialist, but that current is very discredited in Cuba,” he said.
The Cuban government has always depicted the internal opposition in the state media as “mercenary,” accusing it of being funded by foreign governments, and part of the population agrees with that. Sánchez said it has been difficult for activists to defend themselves from such “slander” since the government has a media monopoly.
Though the dissident acknowledged that the opposition received help from “Europe, the United States and to a certain extent from South America,” he said that this was normal and that the “Cuban government itself has spent its whole life receiving foreign funds that it uses to make the Cubans miserable.”
Sánchez, who was a member of the former Popular Socialist Party and identifies himself as a “leftist man,” said that for years he has not worked on “political issues” in order to focus on human rights issues.
Following the model of the civil movements that developed in the former Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe, the Cuban opposition has focused on reclaiming human and civil rights “because it’s a very important topic now and in the transition that has already started,” said Sánchez, who also mentioned his efforts toward national reconciliation.
Sánchez also said that the arbitrary detentions that the Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, known by its Spanish-language acronym CCDHRN, reports every month have increased because “the repression has grown, together with people’s discontent and hopelessness. There is an iceberg of discontent whose visible part is the growing movement of non-violent resistance.”
According to Sánchez, “Thirty years ago the number of open, active dissidents on the streets were barely 10; now we are thousands,” but he pointed out that those numbers are lower than potential migrants. “The people are just thinking of leaving,” he said.
The Commission also presents periodically a list of political prisoners, which now contains 114 names, of which 80 are peaceful dissidents, according to the report. Also on the list are former diplomats, state security agents, and Alan Gross, an American sentenced for taking technology to the Jewish community in Cuba to help it access the Internet by satellite.
The list also contains eight inmates who attempted to bring weapons from Florida to Cuba between 1991 and 2001. They received prison sentences of 25 to 30 years.
Sánchez said this was a controversial issue, since the Cuban government considers them terrorists and some European governments question the use of force. Yet “in the end, they are still political prisoners, armed opposition activists. That’s how Fidel Castro took power, and in Cuba, using arms to topple governments is almost a tradition,” he said.
In its report on human rights in Cuba for 2013, Amnesty International corroborated the Commission’s report on the practice of brief arrests adopted by Cuban authorities to prevent opposition members from meeting or attending a planned event. But only seven prisoners of conscience were included that year on the organization’s list.
Sánchez said he would continue to insist that Amnesty International include more prisoners “who never used force or violence, especially those who belong to the Patriotic Union of Cuba.”
About the reform driven by Raúl Castro’s government, Sánchez said the changes are “limited, too late and too little.” They are administrative changes, not structural, merely designed to “buy time,” he said.
“I don’t believe there is a clear idea about a way out at the end of Fidelism and Raulism,” he concluded. “Castroism will not survive, because when a caudillo [military-political leader] dies, the ideology also dies.”